Welcome to Common Gunsense

I hope this blog will provoke some thoughtful reflection about the issue of guns and gun violence. I am passionate about the issue and would love to change some misperceptions and the culture of gun violence in America by sharing with readers words, photos, videos and clips from articles to promote common sense about gun issues. Many of you will agree with me- some will not. I am only one person but one among many who think it's time to do something about this national problem. The views expressed by me in this blog do not represent any group with which I am associated but are rather my own personal opinions and thoughts.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Can guns "go off" without someone pulling the trigger?

In my blog post that has stirred up the "gun guy" blogosphere, "Where there is an open mind....", one of the questions I asked was whether it was possible for a gun to fire without someone pulling the trigger. Here is just one example of the incidents I have read about. I don't know about you, but I believe this qualifies as a gun firing without it's owner pulling the trigger. It is also an example of the public safety hazard of permit to carry holders carrying their guns around in public places. People are not always responsible with their guns.

So here, now, are some of the answers of those who chose to respond to my questions.

  • No modern firearm will discharge without pulling the trigger. “It just went off” is basically an admission that the person pulled the trigger. Learn the “4 rules.” Violate them at your peril."
  •  "  Yes, I believe it is possible. I also believe that it happens but happens so rarely as to be almost non-occurring. Most of the times 'a gun just went off' someone somehow pulled the trigger."
  •  Do you mean intentionally pulling the trigger or mechanically operating the trigger? I think guns can fire without the user intending them to. I do not believe that modern firearms in good repair will not fire without the mechanical operation of the trigger."
  • The key here is that guns only "go off" through intent or negligence. A gun left properly holstered is a danger to nobody, and arguments that we need to restrict concealed carry to prevent accidental deaths hold precisely no water."
  • " Anything's possible, but the simple answer is "no." There are many safeguards in modern guns" 
  • Do I -b-e-l-i-e-v-e- think that cars can inject gasoline into their cylinders without someone pushing the gas pedal? Well, I know Toyotas can. And I'm aware of several makes of gun (all very crude, and I would never recommend them to anyone) which will fire if dropped, roughhoused, or otherwise jostled. A quick examination of these firearms internals will show you why. Almost all modern firearms of halfway decent or better quality will almost without exception be immune to this sort of malfunction."
  •  It is theoretically possible for a mechanical malfunction to cause a firearm to discharge unintentionally. With modern firearms it is a very low-order probability."
  • In the vast majority of cases the trigger must be pulled for the gun to fire. While it is possible for the gun to go off by being dropped or otherwise mishandled, it is extremely unlikely."
  • Any gun designed since (roughly) the McKinley Administration and built by a remotely reputable manufacturer LITERALLY cannot, I repeat, CANNOT fire without the trigger being pressed unless the firearm has been specifically altered to do so. Yes, I've seen "True Lies" too and was heartbroken to learn that bad action movies aren't always factually accurate but that's just part of growing up."
You get the idea. Some of the commenters admitted that it is possible for a mechanical malfunction or possible for a trigger to get jostled or discharge if dropped. Some answered that it was just not possible for modern guns to "go off" without the trigger being pulled by the person holding the gun. That, by the way, does not appear to be true based on the incidents of guns discharging accidentally when dropped or jostled. I don't know if there is a consensus on this one. I only know that I get e-mails and stories about incidents such as the one linked above fairly often. There is a blog titled "Ohh Shoot" that highlights such incidents. 

In looking for more information about accidental discharges (ADs), I found this link and a discussion about accidental discharges. It seems as if most cases of accidental gun discharges are negligence by the gun owner. Some are due to mechanical issues with the gun itself. But they do happen and it is a recognized phenomenon however they happen. To get back to the topic at hand, I am suggesting that loaded guns carried in public places are potentially dangerous. Some of the cases I have read about have ended in injury or death. Some have been narrow misses. And for some, it's just plain lucky that someone wasn't hit by the bullet that was discharged from their gun, as in the linked incident above.


  1. This sort of thing is why I, and ever other instructor I know, emphasize that a gun needs to be carried in a good, high quality holster, made specifically for that particular firearm, that completely covers the trigger guard. This applies to firearms carried in pockets and purses as well as those carried on the belt. When the trigger is properly protected like this, it is almost impossible for a firearm to discharge unintentionally.

    In the case you mentioned, the woman was probably carrying the gun in an ordinary purse, rather than one designed for for concealed carry with a built-in holster. Carrying a gun in a purse without a holster is not a good idea. However, these sorts of incidents are preventable with the proper equipment.

    A note on terminology: In the gun training community, we use three distinct terms for this sort of thing. An Unintentional DIscharge (UD) describes any event where a gun discharges without the operator specifically intending for it to do so. UDs can be divided into Accidental Discharges (ADs) and Negligent Discharges (NDs). ADs are those caused by some sort of mechanical flaw with the weapon, they are quite rare. NDs are caused by some sort of operator error and represent the majority of UDs. When someone says "It just went off" (implying an AD) they are almost certainly wrong. It went off either because the operator pulled the trigger, or they put the gun in a position where some object could get in the trigger guard. This is why we spend a lot of time in classes emphasizing trigger finger discipline and proper equipment.

  2. Guns can go off accidentally without having a finger on the trigger. As one commentator pointed out, it is a design issue.

    A case in point is the Sten Submachinegun. The Sten's open bolt design combined with cheap manufacture and rudimentary safety devices was a cause of accidental discharges. For example, if a Sten with a loaded magazine and the bolt in the closed position, was dropped or the butt was knocked against the ground, the bolt could move far enough rearward to pick up a round (but not far enough to be engaged by the trigger mechanism) and the spring pressure could be enough to chamber and fire the round.

    The operative word is "reputable", but there were manufacturers who made cheap firearms called "Saturday Night Specials". Does the name Bryco ring a bell to you?

    http://firearmsid.com/Recalls/FA_Recalls 2.htm


  3. The article doesn't give much detail, but it sounds like she was carrying a gun in her purse, probably loose, and when the purse was dropped the gun went off in the purse, meaning something in her purse caught the trigger.

    This is a case of her being stupid and irresponsible in her method of carry. The article does not mention whether she had a permit for the gun or not. How to properly carry a firearm would have been covered in her training.

  4. Any mechanical device can fail. However like medical devices and machine that harness large amounts of energy designers are aware of this and design accordingly to insure failures result in the lest risk case. In most cases when the human is involved errors are possible. It is why I should obey the four gun rules when handling a firearm or when servicing electronics with lethal voltages follow electrical safety rules.
    To the latter I can speak personally of what can happen if one doesn't
    death by electrocution is a harsh memory.

    There is an old saw for this. If you make something more foolproof a better fool will arise. This is why there are warning messages on drills and lawn mowers.


  5. Are there warning signs included with guns?

  6. "Are there warning signs included with guns?"

    Yes. In these lawsuit prone times most manuals that come with firearms spend more space on safety warnings than on actually telling you how to operate the gun.

  7. Something inside the purse was inside the trigger gaurd when it fell. Carrying a loose gun in this fashion is negligence.

  8. This is why we object to those who have no working knowledge of firearms involved in firearms lobbying.

    Any modern firearm can be repeatedly thrown against the wall and it will not discharge. That's pretty much the design standard these days.

    As for the unlikely event that Laci (the dog) manages to come up with over $3000 for a Sten gun http://tinyurl.com/2cou72k and manages to jump through all the legal hoops to get one (they are machine guns) then I will worry that he (she or it?) might drop the open bolt design World War II sub-machinegun.

    Guns just don't go off. You have to pull the trigger. You need to worry about the person, not the gun.

    "People are not always responsible with their guns."

    Your irrational fear does not curtail my fundamental rights.

  9. No idea of firearms technology? Give me a break Sean.

    You neglect to address this list:

    http://firearmsid.com/Recalls/Firearm Recall Index.htm

    The site is a forensic firearms site. Are you telling me that they don't know their stuff? And I see such manufacturers as Browning, Remington, Colt, Franchi, Glock, Ruger, and Smith and Wesson on that list.

  10. Laci (the dog) the "no idea" was directed at our hostess, not at you.

  11. Well that's different. Now the "hostess " is upset.

  12. Thank you, I think.

    FYI, I am qualified as a legal firearms expert in PA.

  13. japete wrote, " That, by the way, does not appear to be true based on the incidents of guns discharging accidentally when dropped or jostled. I don't know if there is a consensus on this one. I only know that I get e-mails and stories about incidents such as the one linked above fairly often."

    This statement implies you believe, without reservation, whatever is written or said in the news. Why?

    Is it not possible that the offending person lied? You claim to want to take the high road, but when "gun guys" offer that most new, modern firearms are not capable of unintentional discharge you balk. Interesting.

  14. I don't think the question has been truly answered. It appears to me that guns do discharge without someone pulling the trigger and, in the case linked, the gun did, indeed, discharge. The woman did not pull the trigger. It has been suggested that she should have had it in a holster in her purse. I wonder how many women holster their guns when carrying in a purse. Have you ever carried a purse? A holstered gun would take up most of the space so the problem becomes one of not following safety rules. Unfortunately, this happens a few too many times for the explanations given.

  15. You assume the gun was at fault. Again, as said, the gun only discharged due to the trigger being pulled. Without the trigger being pulled, either by a human or an object in a purse, the gun would not have discharged. What about that don't you get?

    Just as a light will not go on without it's switch being flipped, a gun will not discharge without it's trigger being pulled. That is not a malfunction. There certainly is negligence involved, but not mechanical error.

  16. Here's a really strange one you can add to the list:

    "Spontaneous Discharge of a Firearm in an MR Imaging Environment"

  17. Well, in this case, the trigger was not pulled by the woman. You still have not explained that.

  18. Wow- thanks for sharing. This is indeed a strange incident.

  19. I've often heard this business about modern firearms not firing when dropped. I don't know if I believe it since there are stories in the news about guns going off. Are they all old and/or cheap guns?

    The more common incident must be when the gun is falling and someone tries to catch it or like the pocketbook case where a pen or the lipstick gets jammed into the trigger.

    I would guess the dropped gun going off is a lot more common than the pro-gun crowd like to admit and that it happens with many modern and quality weapons too. But, the problem, as I see it is not these incidents which are quite rare. The problem is the carrying of guns in the first place. The CCW permit holders and especially the open carry fanatics who are inadequately trained are the problem.

    Besides the unlikely possibility of their dropping a gun, there are too many other ways their guns can be misused. It's a bad deal for everybody.

  20. Well there are over 200 million guns in private hands in the US. I would imagine that the percentage of guns that misfire each year with out the trigger being pulled would be statistically insignificant. This does not mean that one should treat a handgun like a rubber ball but they do not need to be treated like an egg either.

  21. Well, in this case, the trigger was not pulled by the woman. You still have not explained that.

    What else did she have in her purse? Lipstick, pens, keys, anything else that could have gotten into the trigger guard? Yes, she didn't pull the trigger. But the gun also didn't go off by itself. Something moved the trigger. I would wager it was one of the many items jostling around in her purse.

  22. I think it would be a good idea if people took at least as much care with firearms as they take with dangerous household cleaning chemicals.

    It is very easy to drop a bucket or bottle of household cleaning chemicals and have it splash into someone's eye, or all over a nearby child. And if you go to the poison control centers, they will have many stories of same and of the horrible damages that that causes. Not to mention what happens when aerosol cans get hot or punctured.. I could go on and on.

    And yet, modern cleaning chemicals are much safer than they used to be, and the number of accidents happening with modern cleaning chemicals (like the much safer Formula 409 and 'scrubbing bubbles') is steadily going down even though places like 'Costco' and 'Sam's Club' will sell you veritable 'grime assault' quantities of these chemicals.

  23. Our gun went of not once but twice on a hunt trip. Thank God no was hurt. First time we thought it was a fluke. Took it out the next day (finger NOT in trigger)just switching the safety latch over fired the gun 2 times. Needless to say, it is dismantled and sent off to the gun smith. So YES this does happen and more often than you know. Talking about it at a campfire with some guys, another hunter told us the same thing happen to a buddy of his and put a whole in the floor board of his vehicle. Another hunter told us he had heard a hunter shot through his trailer. All guns did go in and all guns were diagnosed with safety malfunctions. Do NOT be ignorant to this. ALWAYS keep gun pointed away from ANYONE and ANYTHING.

  24. Sorry for the late comment. I'm new to this blog.
    Source: http://www.cnbc.com/id/39740539

    In October 2010, CNBC aired a documentary, "Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation," on accidental discharges of the Remington Model 700 bolt action rifle. In a statement to CNBC, Remington said, "The Model 700 is the most popular, reliable, accurate and trusted bolt-action rifle in the world... ."

    CNBC reported that "customer complaints, and more than 75 lawsuits, have alleged the 700 is susceptible to firing without the trigger being pulled. At least two dozen deaths and more than 100 injuries have been linked to accidental discharges involving the 700’s trigger mechanism."

    More from CNBC: "They include the death in 2000 of nine-year-old Gus Barber of Manhattan, Montana, who was killed on a family hunting trip when his mother’s Remington 700 went off as she was unloading it. Barbara Barber has said she is certain her hand was nowhere near the trigger."


  25. An acquaintance of mine was transferring his Glock 17 by the slide, barrel down (he had not been firing it) and it fired a hollow point round by itself. Taking a chunk out of his palm, and grazing his thigh then hitting the floor and stopping. The police even inspected the case and noted it had NOT been struck by a firing pin. This freaks me out! Bad ammo Luck?