We have traded notes on this before….
When a pistol without a mechanical safety is involved in an unintentional firing, how can we distinguish between “accidental” and “negligent?’
I have read someplace a semantic distinction between the two, but if something as simple and common sense as a safety is left off a semiautomatic pistol, why try to make a distinction between accidental and negligent?
My argument, going over hard toward the value of a true safety on such guns, is that excluding a manual safety from the design of a pistol is itself negligent—it leaves the owner no option for engaging that additional measure of caution when handling their pistol.*
Of course, if the pistol user then does not engage the safety when it is on the gun, that is an actual act of negligence on his or her part, just as leaving the pistol where unauthorized people might get their hands on it is negligent.
I suspect that people who like pistols that do not include a manual safety like the fact that it is “ready to fire” instantaneously when they draw the weapon. That suggests that maybe they anticipate being in some kind of “quick draw” shootout! But can anyone point to instances where the amount of time it might take to disengage a safety made the difference between winning and losing a gunfight?
*By the way, the inclusion of what some call a “trigger safety” in a design is not really a safety, it is merely a bit more trigger to be pulled before the pistol discharges.
Thanks for your email. You touch upon some of the most important and maybe most misunderstood concepts regarding armed self-defense.
On gun designs and safeties, these three pistols, none of them have a manual safety.
The HK USP Compact 9mm is set to decocker only from the factory, this is how it’s issued to several police and military across Europe (notice the spurred hammer, unlike the American version with the bobbed hammer). The P7 features a built-in cocking lever located at the front of the grip which is automatically pressed when you grip the gun. These three are all excellent fighting guns, arguably some of the best ever made. What they all have in common? All three will fire if there’s a round in the chamber. There’s no manual safety to mess things up.
Regarding the difference between negligence and accidental discharge.
By definition negligence means “failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances”.
Accident on the other hand is “an unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance” or “lack of intention or necessity”.
A person playing with a gun, pointing it at people’s faces and saying “don’t worry, its not loaded”. That’s negligence. A person shooting with someone downrange, also negligence, no matter how good of a shot you think you are. Basically negligence would be a willful disregard for basic gun safety rules. You know you are doing something wrong yet you choose to do it anyway.
An accident on the other hand is what happens in spite of your best efforts to be safe. This, this can happen to anyone. Shooting a quick follow up shot without the intention of doing so because of a poor grip, finger tension and/or recoil. Pulling the trigger on a gun, believing it to be empty when in fact its not. These would all fall under understandable human error.
Why is it important to tell the difference? Because negligence simply isn’t acceptable, period. But an accident, that can happen to anyone no matter how careful you are. If we believe that all accidental discharges are negligence then we are tempted to believe that ourselves, not being negligent people, are immune to accidental discharges also. Not true. If you shoot enough, sooner or later you will make a mistake, or something will fail, or you will get distracted, or you’ll swear you emptied that gun even if you completely forgot you chambered a round right after safety checking. The difference is that accidents will rarely involve breaking all safety rules at the same time, and even though you may unintentionally break one, as long as one of them remains a tragedy can be avoided.
As for safeties, I believe that today there’s no need for them, at least not in modern fighting autos. In fact I believe they create a false sense of security trusting the safety. God knows theres been plenty of tragedies involving guns with manual safeties.
Technically speaking they did have an important role in early auto pistols when guns such as the 1911 or Browning Hi Power were single action only, or because guns lacked better safety mechanisms and could fire accidentally if dropped or knocked. Keep in mind that no one ever accused a revolver of needing a safety. You may think “oh! But that long DA trigger pull in the revolver is safer…”. Well, my Manurhin MR73 is probably the finest combat revolver ever made and it has a rather short and crisp double action, perfect for a combat gun. Anything that would get caught in the trigger of a Glock and cause an AD would likely do so in a MR73 as well, or any finely tuned S&W or Colt with a good trigger job. At the end of the day after studying accidents year after year what I have learned is that guns shoot when someone pulls the trigger in one way or another. Most often it as simple as that. Sometimes defective gear (a bad holster) or poor safety practices (carrying a gun loose in a purse, or appendix carry in my opinion) can cause accidents to be more likely. A tshirt gets caught in the trigger and bending over a gun carried AIWB puts enough pressure to cause it to fire, for example.
I know of an AD involving a Glock and a leather holster that had deformed in such a way that the lip of the holster caught the trigger of the Glock as it was being reholstered. At the end of the day, theres still a trigger being pulled. The same would have happened with a revolver.
Regarding your last question I can say yes! Safeties do kill people all the time! I’m reading a Spanish book about police shootings called “En la Linea de Fuego: La Realidad de los Enfrentamientos Armados” (In the Line of Fire: The Reality of Gun Fights) . The book studies several officer-involved shootings in detail. You would be surprised by how often trained police officers forget to disengage the safety or forget to chamber a round. In many of these incidents they did have to draw as quick as possible, often doing so when already being shot at, more often than not it seems shooting single handed. There’s a youtube channel called Active Self Protection. They show footage of actual gun fights caught in video. There you see that this happens all the time. Gunfights start in fractions of a second, often catching the victim by surprise. People forget safeties, forget they have empty chambers and they often shoot one handed, sometimes keeping the attacker away with the other.
Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre is the author of “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and “Bugging Out and Relocating: When Staying is not an Option”