A critical aspect of gun safety is understanding how firearm-related incidents can occur and knowing the best practices to prevent them. Two of the most commonly discussed types are negligent discharges and misfires.
While both are preventable, it is vital to understand the differences between each type, including the causes and consequences.
What is a Negligent Discharge?
A negligent discharge (ND) is the name of an incident involving a firearm discharging ammunition unintentionally due to the shooter’s carelessness or lack of diligence. Typically, the negligent nature of a discharge is caused by a failure to observe gun safety rules.
Negligent discharges are differentiated from accidental discharges (AD). ADs are incidents where the gun fires involuntarily and unexpectedly, but the shooter is not directly responsible for the incident.
Most negligent discharges occur when pulling the trigger of a firearm while violating at least one of the four fundamental rules of gun safety:
Treat all firearms as if they are loaded.
Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.
Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
Examples of negligent discharges
The most common type of negligent discharge is due to a violation of rule 3; leaving the finger resting on the trigger, then pulling it before being fully ready and intending to shoot.
Each safety rule covers a fundamental aspect of weapon control: Chamber discipline, muzzle discipline, and target discipline. Therefore, the more rules a shooter violates, the more likely it will result in an injury or loss of life.
One of the most famous examples of a negligent discharge in recent history is the Rust shooting incident, involving Alec Baldwin fatally shooting cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza with a single-action revolver.
In a recent interview, Baldwin described the incident as the firearm going off unexpectedly when letting go of the hammer with the trigger already depressed, stating that the gun was “supposed to be empty.” This incident demonstrates a violation of multiple rules:
Rule 1: The shooter assumed the gun was unloaded and failed to verify it personally.
Rule 2: The shooter pointed the firearm at someone they did not intend to injure.
Rule 3: The shooter cocked the revolver and pulled the trigger without expecting it to fire (they were not ready to shoot).
It is critical to remember that all negligent discharges are preventable. The only way to avoid potentially fatal incidents when manipulating a gun is to apply the four fundamental rules at all times.
NDs in the Armed Forces
Many military organizations, including the U.S. armed forces, consider all unintentional discharges negligent. They effectively make no distinction between a negligent and accidental discharge of a firearm.
Although there are technical differences, these organizations assume that trained military personnel should always keep their weapons under control. Consequently, military doctrine views any unintentional discharge as a failure to keep the weapon under control, regardless of the underlying reasons.
For example, Article 134 of the Manual for Courts-Martial (MCM) states that “Discharging Through Negligence” is a chargeable offense punishable by up to three months of confinement.
What is a Misfire?
A misfire is a shooting incident where the shooter pulls the trigger of a firearm, the firing pin hits the primer, but the cartridge does not fire. Misfires are one of the most common types of firearm malfunctions.
This incident is also known as a Failure to Fire (FTF) or a dud. Many shooters colloquially refer to misfiring guns as going “click instead of a bang.”
Unlike negligent discharges, misfires are not necessarily the result of shooter error or negligence. There are many potential causes for misfires, each with different recommended remedial actions.
The most common causes of misfires are:
Failure to ignite the cartridge’s propellant
Failure to ignite the priming compound
Dirty or obstructed firing pin
Weak or broken firing pin
How to recognize a misfire
If your gun does not fire, the first and most critical action is to stop, keep the barrel pointed in a safe direction, and verify that what you heard was a “click” and not a muffled or weak detonation sound (a “pop” or “poof”).
If you heard a “pop,” you may have experienced a squib load instead of a misfire. Discontinue firing immediately, unload your gun, and check the barrel; there may be a projectile stuck inside. Firing again after a squib load destroys your firearm and results in injury or death.
If you heard a “click,” wait a few seconds (5-10) with the barrel pointed in a safe direction to ensure you are not experiencing a hang-fire. Hang-fires appear to be misfires at first, but the firearm eventually discharges, sometimes several seconds after pulling the trigger, due to an ignition delay. Hang-fire incidents are typically caused by shooting old or improperly-stored ammo.
What causes misfires
If you have ensured that your firearm went “click” instead of “bang” and did not unexpectedly discharge within ten seconds, you may have experienced a misfire.
The most likely culprit of a misfire is due to bad ammunition. Unload your firearm and inspect the cartridge that failed to fire. If you see a solid indentation on the primer (similar to those on successfully fired spent casings), the firing pin worked as intended, but the propellant or the priming compound may have failed to ignite. Dispose of the misfired cartridge and resume shooting.
If you see a very slight indentation on the primer (or none at all), you have experienced a light primer strike, indicating one of two possible issues:
The ammunition has an overly hard primer
The firearm has a firing pin issue
Try firing ammo from a different box, brand, or manufacturer. If you have no issues shooting other ammunition, your misfire may have been due to a hard primer.
Ammunition with hard primers is typically military surplus intended for specific service firearms. If loaded in a different gun, the firing pin might not have sufficient force to ignite hard primers, causing misfires.
If you consistently experience light primer strikes across multiple brands of ammunition, you may have a faulty firing pin. The first remedial action is to verify whether your gun has been properly cleaned and maintained. Sometimes, a firing pin may fail simply due to residue and particulates obstructing it.
However, if you continue experiencing light primer strikes even in a clean and lubricated gun, your firing pin may be worn out or broken. In this instance, the only remedial action is to replace the firing pin with a new one.
Be a Safe and Responsible Gun Owner
At We The People Holsters, we believe that knowledge and application of safety rules are critical to gun safety and personal responsibility. In addition to regular practice at the shooting range, it is crucial to carry your gun in a holster for optimal gun safety. We offer top-quality, 100% hand-crafted Kydex and leather gun holsters, ideal for safe everyday carry.
Our inventory also features gun belts, magazine carriers, free practice targets, and many other accessories for gun owners.