Thursday, February 4, 2010

It Only Takes One

The bruise on my big toe was passing from the black stage to green and yellow. Didn’t hurt any less but it was still going away. I hadn’t really thought about it for days until I stared dumbstruck at the IM message on my computer. Then it throbbed as bad as the day I had hit it.

The message was from a friend in a city I lived in some years ago. One of his friends, a guy he had grown up with, was dead. It had been a stupid accident. The dieing hadn’t been quick. He had dropped a handgun and tried to catch it. When it stuck it fired. The bullet hit him in the chest. He had called 911 and was still conscious when the ambulance arrived. He finished bleeding out on the way to the hospital.

So why was I obsessing about the bruise on my toe? Less than a week earlier the same thing had happened to me. I had been in a rush and hadn’t properly snapped the safety strap on my USMC style shoulder holster. When I leaned over to police my brass the weapon, cocked and locked, slipped out and landed hammer spur first on my toe. It took less than a second and had been pointed at my chest when it struck. I got away with profanity and a limp for the rest of the day.

Stupid? Yes, that’s why we call them accidents. Why had the other guy died?

For one thing his weapon was a Czech CZ-52. Say what you will about the CZ-52, it’s a pretty serviceable, hard hitting sidearm for those that take the time to make friends with it. Unfortunately the Czechs were more concerned with coming in on budget than safety features. Mine was a Colt 1911. I’m not saying a 1911 will never go off when dropped, but this one didn’t. That brings me to the other reason I’m alive – fate, or in other words, pure dumb luck.

All of us practice gun safety. But it only takes one moment of carelessness or thoughtlessness for disaster to strike. A long gun leaned against a fence that falls over. Better yet, reaching across to the passenger cab of a car or truck and taking a weapon by the barrel rather than going around the vehicle and taking it up properly. Then there is always that heart stopping BANG, often followed by someone exclaiming “But it was empty!” Sometimes it’s the voice of a child.

Kids and shootings accidents are a match made in hell. I grew up before gunlocks, and when gun safes were for the rich. I knew where my Dad’s guns where. I knew they were loaded. This was also in an age where there were still consequences. I knew the quickest way I would ever meet Jesus was to be caught playing with one of them.

Gun safes and trigger locks have their place, but they are no substitute for parenting. My father didn’t just tell me not to play with the guns, buy why. He also taught me how they worked. I knew where the safeties were and how to tell if a firearm was loaded. I have had accidental discharges, but not until I was an adult and should have known better. Thank goodness they never damaged anything but my pride.

Knowledge is one of the best cures for shooting accidents. Safe practices are a must. Know where your bullet is going to stop. What’s on the other side of those trees? Will your backstop absorb shotgun projectiles? How about handgun or rifle bullets? Is it tall enough?

Not all shooting accidents are accidental discharges. There are also ricochets. Hair triggers can cause embarrassing moments when a weapon discharges before the shooter intended it too. They can also be tragic. You might think it would be impossible for someone to load the wrong ammunition into a firearm. It isn’t and it can be disastrous.

The only way to stop all shooting accidents is to stop all shooting. There are lots of folks out there that would embrace that notion. I hope they hold their breath until it comes true. To me the best course of action is to follow the advice of the old sergeant from Hill Street Blues:

“Be careful out there!”


  1. Glad your still around to have a sore toe. There has been a rash of accidents and negligence on ranges lately and we as shooters need to make sure we pay attention and stop them.

    Big thing we are emphasizing on the range now is after you shoot, whether for pleasure or training, stop and take a few deep breaths. relax and think about what you are going to do next so you don't forget anything and set yourself up for any sort of incident.

  2. Great suggestion above. Always good to stop and think a minute before turning and leaving the shooting line.