In the last entry here, I detailed my screw-up on a firing range, in hopes that others could learn from it.  There has been some interesting commentary on it elsewhere, but the most valuable of that comes from two men who were actually there when it happened. John Johnston hosts the very useful shooter’s podcast Ballistic Radio.  John and his co-instructor Melody Lauer are rising starts in the private firearms training industry, and they’ve put together a class called The Armed Parent which has drawn so many accolades that Significant Other and I traded them each one of our courses for one of theirs later. Here’s John’s perspective:

Next, Paul Carlson of Safety Solutions, who hosted the class.  Paul is in my opinion one of the best of the current crop of firearms instructors: .

First, though John and Paul seem to feel they bear some responsibility for what happened, I need to repeat that I was the one who pulled the trigger, I’m the one who effed up, and I think the blame for it rests entirely on me.  As to Paul’s comments, I can say that fatigue wasn’t a factor, at least on my end; there was some arthritic discomfort going on but not enough to distract. Rather than being tired, I was if anything a little hyper, because as Paul noted we had a thunderstorm closing in on us and it was imperative to get the shooting done before we had 20-some people standing in an open field holding metal objects and attracting lightning.  Anyone who has trained with me regularly know that if I perform a dry-fire demonstration with a functional weapon I normally clear it with the muzzle toward a backstop, check it by sight and feel, and have the nearest two or three people “confirm unloaded.” Knowing that the person I took the revolver from and her range officer would have both checked the weapon (an assumption later confirmed) it was probably time pressure that made me take the short-cut. My fault. So, yes, haste was definitely a factor too, and a significant learning point from this incident.

Some critics seem to think I believe it is safe to point a loaded gun skyward and pull the trigger. That’s a total misinterpretation. I have probably published more condemnations of warning shots and “celebratory gunfire” than anyone else in the business. Pointing at the backstop, most of the people I was demonstrating for would not have been able to see the demo without breaking the 180 degree safety line. Upward, with a gun that had been confirmed empty by three people, was the least unsafe direction.  It was in the confirmation process that the failure occurred, which is what made this incident such a “black swan event” and particularly worthy of discussion.

I don’t see “hot range” (guns always loaded) versus “cold range” (guns loaded only on command) as relevant here. On a hot range, the gun would have been unloaded and checked all at once; on the cold range, as here, the protocol would be a previously unloaded gun checked again, as was done.

Paul mentioned one of our students, an elderly gentleman with some significant physical issues including deafness. On day 3 he had become dizzy and, thinking he was going to pass out, turned on the firing line with his unloaded pistol crossing another student. He was taken off the line, given medical attention by an EMT, an MD and an RN, and sat out the rest of the day without being allowed on the firing line. Back on the last day on probation, and moving slowly due to his physical condition, he found himself approaching the firing line while other students were already there with guns out. He began to draw before reaching the line. Paul and I were both on him and stopped him while the muzzle was still pointing into his holster.  I allowed him to continue, not because the gun was unloaded, but because it had not broken the plane of the holster.  He successfully completed the course under strict supervision, chiefly by Paul.

In conclusion, the shot that left the range is on me entirely.  I have no excuses.  I can, I hope, offer analyses and explanations that will be useful to others.


  1. Thank you for sharing. An excellent case in point warning and learning experience for all.

  2. Hi Mas
    So, sounds like some were considering a spanking might be in order for a number of issues.
    I thought about aircraft or auto crashes. Most all occur through a series of conditions, not one thing. And your incident points to that consideration. It happens.
    And I wonder how many critics have NEVER had a negligent discharge.
    I’ve had 3 in my 71 years with no injuries, thank goodness.
    Hang in there. You’re doing fine.

  3. I can only imagine how mortified you are by this event, Mas. I applaud your describing the situation and inviting comments so as to let everyone learn the lessons involved. I have had two NDs in my life, and while neither resulted in injuries, both were educational. The first scared the crap out of me, the second was embarrassing. Both reinforced with me that the primary rule of gun safety is muzzle discipline and the second is trigger discipline. The first was with a 20 ga double barrel which discharged both barrels at once the first time I closed the action out in the field dove hunting. I was about 14 at the time, and my finger was no where near the trigger. My dad tried it and it did the same for him. The gun had a malfunctioning action and was unsafe. It became a wall hanger. The second was when I launched a bullet over the berm with a BHP that I hadn’t shot in a long time. No excuses, I simply didn’t have my trigger fiinger where it should have been. I am very grateful my dad and mom and their hunting buddies stressed safety so much WRT muzzle discipline.
    Relatedly, I took one of my pistols to a local gunsmith last week, and in his looking over the gun, he was not paying much attention at all to where the muzzle was pointing. I imagine he wondered why I moved behind him while he was looking at the gun. Familiarity is a dangerous thing at times.

      • yep – a true accident. – although it was probably negligent to some extent in that we didn’t have a gunsmith check the gun out prior to taking it afield, given it was very old. That same gun was taken to school to use in a staging of “Li’l Abner” without any admin approval other than the choir director’s request. Certainly different times.

      • Mas chose to stand up, and show what “better” can be AND showed us how to get there… at the cost of personal embarassment and some snarky comments from the Peanut Gallery.
        That behavior itself is worth emulating.

  4. Me too. Best I can hope for is that if it ever happens again is that it is (again) in a safe direction

  5. Sir, you are to be commended for your honesty and ‘transparency’!

    If it takes a ‘big man’ to admit his mistakes… it takes an even bigger one to publicize them, and hold them up for all the world to see, and learn from!

    During my days as a tradesman, I didn’t make that many mistakes; but when I did, I made it a practice to point it out to the customer before they noticed it, and offer to make it right.

    At first I assumed that screwing up would cause the customer to think less of me. But I came to realize that owning up to my mistakes ended up with the customer having a higher opinion of me. As one said, “Everybody makes mistakes; anyone who claims otherwise is bullshitting you. But not everyone owns up to them… Now I really know what kind of person you are.”

    Likewise with this incident: for anyone paying attention, it will only increase their admiration for you: as a teacher, and as a human being…

  6. Mas, my only one was an AD when I was about 20 or so, with a Slavia single shot .22 cal air rifle in our basement (my usual range at the time). It was pretty much identical to Toms, my range safety training safer the day since the pellet simply slammed into the concrete wall and stopped there. I disposed of the gun through the police with a somewhat heavy heart since it was my first, but decided this was the only reasonable course of action 🙁

  7. Mas,
    I’ve had one negligent discharge. It was 0130 and I was unloading my Colt Defender. After forty years as a shooter I was tired and pulled the idiotic mistake of racking the slide first, then dropping the mag. Guess what happened when I pulled the trigger. Fortunately, a roofer buddy fixed the half inch hole in the roof before the next rain. However, he took a picture on his cell phone and made sure I wouldn’t forget.

    The important point is not that I’m an idiot, just ask my ex or my teenage kids. The point is that when I’ve admitted this to other shooters first, almost all of them have a similar story. The most important rule to always remember is don’t ever have that muzzle pointed at anything where you can’t live with the consequences if the gun goes off. Never.

    A final note, I’ve observed that hunters and folks who carry have pretty fair safety habits. The people who are most careless are collectors. Once you think of a firearm as something other a weapon it’s easy to look at some fascinating feature and forget where the front end is pointed. I say that as a long time collector and as a guy who’s carried since 1981. Some guys at gun shows scare the daylights out of me, and it’s always the guys who never or rarely shoot a firearm.

    Thanks for the article. I’ve also found that admissions of unpleasant truths can often benefit me in the long run.

  8. Mas sed~~~>>”Upward, with a gun that had been confirmed empty by three people, was the least unsafe direction. It was in the confirmation process that the failure occurred, which is what made this incident such a “black swan event” and particularly worthy of discussion.”

    Shared responsibility! Mas, your own mind has probably beaten you up more than anyone else’s opinion, or professional analysis.

    As I said in my original post, these handguns are PERFECT machines, humans aren’t. With that, comes the realization that Eff-ups happen. An instructor at Massad Ayoobs level, one would think NOTHING should Eff up. Well, here in Baltimore County, MD, an instructor for the B-more police department put a .40 caliber round in a students head. As well, we have all seen the guy shooting himself in the posterior on his right side, I do believe he was a sheriffs deputy.

    No one was injured in your incident (‘cept maybe hearing-wise) and a VALUABLE lesson was learned by all of us, including the know-it-alls who are impervious to flaw.

    Stay safe!

  9. Mas:
    Perhaps you might do an article about “Shooting with Arthritis”; I’m only five years behind you, but have severe arthritis in my left hand and mild, though worsening, arthritis in my right hand. Also, two artificial hips and a rebuilt left knee. IOW I HAVE TO STAND MY GROUND.

    It’d be interesting how you deal with it, and I’d volunteer to input how I’ve done it (I can still put two mags from an SA XD Mod.2 9mm 4″ into a single jagged hole at five yards, but not nearly as fast as I did ten years ago.

    My golfing days are done (5 handicap in 2009), but I can till enjoy shooting; it takes a LOT of adjustment and compensation (can’t rack a slide with left hand, for example, and getting a good grip with left hand).

    • Have AR also. I shoot more .22 and less magnum. The fun is just about the same and cheaper! Yes, I still carry and shoot a .357 just not as many rounds as in years past.

    • If you can dress around a full size gun, the recoil springs on those are usually less stout than the compact styles. 9mms have softer springs than .45s. And some grip tape down the sides will do wonders for getting a grip on the slide.

      Though revolvers typically can’t match the ammo capacity of autoloaders, loading one is no different between a .32 H&R and a .500 S&W.

    • I would like to endorse this. I can still run the controls on a pistol but I can feel the arthritis closing in on me. If you could give some pointers on easier and safe ways to get into a supported shooting position, it would be helpful to those of us with bad knees also.

      • I learned to shoot one-handed, played with two-hand grips when they became all the rage, and went back to one-handed when I started having to use a cane to get around.

        Needless to say, my dreams of shooting 3-gun are dashed, too…

  10. I’ve had 2 in 74 years, no injuries, thank God! The first was purely a case of doing something stupid. I was 16 YO. (When you know it ALL! I was cocking then letting the hammer down slowly on a loaded .22 revolver. It was pointed down and toward the bade of a cabinet. no appreciable damage. The second was 25 years later. I had unloaded, checked, then cleaned and applied a light coat of oil on a Winchester 94 .30 .30. when finished I reloaded the gun with a cartridge in the chamber. I had a small cut on my right thumb with a band aid on it. When I started to lower the hammer the combination of plastic band aid and gun oil let my thumb slip off the hammer and I put a round through my living room wall. I was already back from 2 years in the military and this was very embarrassing and could have been tragic. Muzzle discipline has always been the top consideration. It is EASY to see the error after it happens. The trick to being safe is concentrating on ALL the safety rules.

    A series of errors is usually why NDs happen. More rules followed, more concentration, less inattention, add up to more safety. If it can happen to Mas it can happen to anyone, Including me (and you).

    • Bill T,

      My ND happened the same way. I was correctly taught to lower the hammer using two hands, not one. My left thumb is inserted between the cocked hammer and where it falls. My right thumb then gently lowers the hammer.

      During a 2 x 4 match in June my revolver was hot and I didn’t want to touch it. I decided to try lowering that hammer with one hand, like a cowboy. My right thumb slipped and the bullet fired harmlessly into the grass. Whew! Now I always use two hands (two thumbs).

  11. Even the best can make a mistake and you were humble enough to take responsibility for the same. Quite refreshing in this day and age. I was a deputy sheriff between 1975 and 1980. Revolvers were all we were permitted to carry on duty and we provided our own back then. However, when passing a revolver to another person, the practice at the department where I was trained was to open the cylinder, grasp the weapon through the cylinder opening and hand it to the other person with the grip toward that person. This way both the passer and the receiver knew what condition that weapon was in. I still pass a revolver to another person in that manner. Thanks for the knowledge and experiences you share. I makes us all better students of the art.

  12. Thank you for being an honest and brave teacher. You have improved my life for decades. My respect keeps growing.

  13. I read Paul’s account of the story. You both took full responsibility as any responsible gentleman would. To say mistakes happen is obviously not any more comforting when you are a professional and lives are at risk. Yet stuff happens. While i know this incident is what life long nightmares are made of, on a positive note consider this may actually save a life. After all we all have at some time made such a mistake. When the pros do it we all realize we are human. Your experience will make me a safer shooter for sure. Thank you for sharing your experience and perspective. You are still my favorite gun guy

  14. Someone might have addressed this question within one of the threads pertaining to this topic, but- if nobody was observed to be injured, at what point is one required to contact law enforcement following an accidental or negligent discharge? I would imagine context makes a difference with respect to decision-making (e.g., people, activity, setting factors, local laws) but if anyone knows of any “hard and fast” rules or any other additional considerations- that would be helpful.

  15. I wrote about my ND on the previous post, but I just want to restate my opinion that it is because of your honesty, no matter what it may show of your abilities, is what has made you one of the best gun scribes in the country, and many other countries as well. Some gun writers would attempt to hide from such a thing, or blame it on the person who handed you the gun, etc. You took complete responsibility, even though there were others involved up the line.
    I repeat the words of many others, you are indeed a big man. It is because you are respected due to the way you carry yourself in all situations. Thank you.

  16. Mas, I have more respect for you and your writing than you will ever know. What happened, and your honesty only increases both.

    I grew up with a lot of cyclists in my area. Therefore, when driving, I adapted the habit of not looking for a car, truck, motorcycle or bicycle but for an empty road. Too often we tend to see what we are looking for and our minds ignore it and we pull out into that vehicle. I have applied the same attitude in shooting. I don’t look for ammo in the chamber, but for an empty chamber. Anything else has caught my attention. I have been fortunate to live 60+ years with this in mind. Just my experience and hope it helps someone else.
    Thanks for all you do for all of us.

  17. Mas,

    Thank you. We should all take away that if you, with far more experience than I will ever have, can mess up, then I need to be even more diligent. Your honesty and humility increase my opinion of you, not decrease it.

    • Not to boast, but I have never had an inadvertent discharge with a handgun. I honestly credit the Barney Fife episodes (available on YouTube) where the actor Don Knotts does a safety demonstration, holstering his revolver and just missing his foot with an accidental shot with his only cartridge. He waves the gun around beforehand like an orchestra conductor’s baton at a concert, blithely crossing the muzzle on multiple potential victims. These episodes are printed indelibly on my mind and I believe I am conscious of them whenever I bear a handgun. Mas’s accident is just another case where a lot of good can come from examining and reviewing a fortunately harmless error.

  18. One hiccup and people lose their minds, I guess? Let he who is w/o sin cast the first stone. It makes me like Ayoob even more and hate internet critics to an even higher degree. Mas has done more for use of deadly force doctrine and firearms training than any 100 other trainers. He is w/o peer. Ayoob owned it, learned from it, and moved on. That’s what pros do. I like it.

  19. Mas,

    Making an error is human. To not learn is stupid. To not speak up
    if it doesn’t seem right is more of the same. Its an error, people are not perfect. That you relied on insuring the muzzle was not pointed in an known hazardous way was training. You can blame pain and fatigue but the presence of mind to keep the muzzle off anything was also how we stay safe. The four rules worked. Owning up to it is the kind of honesty we all should aspire to.

    Don’t beat yourself up, keep learning, keep teaching.


  20. Sir,
    I sincerely hope you didn’t think that I was in anyway mocking or conveying contempt of you for pointing the firearm in the air and pulling the trigger. If so, please accept my apology. That was not my intent. There is no doubt in my mind that you have forgotten more than I will ever know about firearms (I’ve carried at least one all my adult life) and all aspects of their use.
    All I can say is that it takes a real man (or woman) to admit they made a mistake.

  21. Hey Mas, when your in the game long enough it`s going to happen. I guess you shot a round up in the air ? to me that was a safe AD. Thanks for your honesty. Hope to see you at second chance. Best regards Frank

  22. As I said previously, you’re giving us the opportunity to learn from someone else’s mistake.

    Okay, I don’t handle firearms on a daily basis, or at all these days, but it’s always worth remembering that when you look, make sure you see what’s actually there and not what you expect to see there.

    And no one got hurt because, Mas, even though you *knew* it wasn’t loaded, you still observed basic firearms safety by pointing it in a safe direction when you squeezed the trigger.

    Thank you for the lesson.

  23. I think this happens to a lot more people than people admit to. It has happened to me also (hate to admit it also) over the years. I believe that if you pull the trigger (no pun intended) enough it can happen! I have been to gun ranges and have heard an abnormal report, only to look over and see someone with a bewildered look on their face wondering what just happened! (thankfully they were pointed in a non threatening direction) Usually a new hole in the bench or through the covered shelter. If no one ever gets hurts, we all learn from this, and it only makes us all a little safer in the future!
    Thanks for the Honesty Mas, “Everyone” benefits from it!

  24. Discussion of blame, acceptance of responsibility, etc. are fine as far as they go – but what can be learned about procedure? I suggest that with revolvers, as with pistols and rifles, a touch of each chamber that might hold a round be incorporated. Then two senses, vision and touch, will be engaged in the check for errant rounds.

    • It actually is part of our procedure. I skipped over it in this case, with the obvious results. Lesson learned.

  25. I respectfully submit that there are very few people in our world who have the levels of accomplishment, experience, and knowledge of firearms, self-defense, anything associated with the gun culture – that Mas Ayoob has. However, ONLY Mas is willing to share everything he’s accumulated, and to admit anything that he’s experienced – even if it is embarrassing to him personally – if he thinks it will help someone. In the same way, ONLY Mas has the ability to write about all of the above in a way that keeps us totally engaged. Thanks, one more time, Mr. Mas Ayoob!

  26. For any of Mas’ readers who are devoted fans of actor John Travolta and who strive on a recurring basis to emulate Travolta’s epic dance floor performances seen in the film “Saturday Night Fever”, before you soon attempt to become the next Disco Duck of 2018, take a moment to read the article linked below and to watch the primary video posted therein.

    In the grainy photo extracted from that same paused video, note the bright muzzle flash emanating from the barrel muzzle of the dropped handgun pictured on the floor of a disco in Denver, Colorado. Uh oh!

    With sincere apologies to K.C. & the Sunshine Band,

    “Do a little dance, drop a little gun, ND tonight, ND tonight, baby!”

    and …

    With sincere apologies to Leslie Gore,

    “It’s my pistol, I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to, you would cry too if it happened to you.”

    The Washington Post: An FBI agent did a back flip in a club, dropped his gun and accidentally shot someone, police say

    • Curtis,

      You mentioned the muzzle flash from the handgun dropped on the floor. That made me think the pistol fired when it was dropped. I watched the video. When the pistol hit the floor, it didn’t fire. It fired WHEN THE AGENT PICKED UP THE PISTOL. That tells me the agent reached for the gun, put his finger on the trigger, and pulled the trigger while picking up the gun.

      Here’s another case where our machines are smarter than we are. The humanoid is at fault in this case because he touched the trigger. The gun (the machine) is faultless in this case.

      Maybe when the AI takes over, it will bring in a better world. Maybe we humans are the problem. Maybe we need to be culled and controlled by machines which are smarter than we are.

      Of course I am kidding, but that would make a good movie. 😉

  27. Thank You for publishing these posts about your mishap. Overlapping safety rules made it only an embarrassment and a good reminder. An old friend violated some chainsaw safety rules about the same time as your event, and he paid for it with three orbital fractures around his left eye. He was also being pushed; doing his work while also watching two summer interns. He took shortcuts in dropping a ten inch tree, got his chain pinched, and held onto the saw, trying to pull it out instead of escaping from the falling tree. One of the reasons I enjoy shooting is that guns are so much safer than chainsaws, with about twenty fewer rules to remember. I have added a new rule to my list because of my friend’s injury. I hope you don’t mind the long list: Chainsaws

    1. Always wear your safety gear when running your saw: hard hat, eye, face, hearing protection, cut resistant protection for your legs, heavy boots, gloves (depending on work conditions).

    2. Safety devices on the saw must be in working order: front hand guard,chain brake, chain catcher, throttle lockout, and right hand guard.

    3. Hold the saw on the ground or lock it between your knees for starting. No ‘Drop Starts.’ Set the chain brake before cranking.

    4. The engine must idle reliably without turning the chain.

    5. The chain must be sharpened properly, including properly set depth gauges.

    6. The chain must be adjusted to remove slack and still run freely.

    7. The operator must understand the forces on different parts of the bar as the saw runs: push, pull, kickback and attack.

    8. Both hands must always be on the saw when the chain is running. The thumbs must be wrapped around the handles. Both feet should be firmly planted on the ground.

    9. The operator must always know where the end of the bar is, and what it’s doing.

    10. Don’t let the upper (kickback) corner of the bar contact anything when the chain is running unless the tip has been buried with the lower corner.

    11. Let off of the throttle before pulling out of a pinch on the top part of the bar.

    12. Make a plan for every tree you cut. Assess hazards, lean, escape routes, forward cuts, and back cuts. Evaluate the forward or backward lean, and the side lean of every tree you cut. Know your limits.

    13. Clear your work area and your escape path of brush, vines, and other hazards that can trip you or catch your saw.

    14. Escape from the bullseye when the tree tips. 90% of accidents happen within 12 feet of the stump. Go more than 15 feet, and stay out of the bullseye until things stop falling.

    15. Keep spectators away more than twice the height of the tree in the direction it will fall.

    16. Don’t cut alone.

    17. Keep your body and the swamper’s out of the line of the bar in case of a kickback.

    18. Set the brake when taking over two steps or when moving through tripping hazards. Keep your trigger finger off of the throttle when you are moving.

    19. DO NOT operate a chainsaw from a ladder! Operating with your feet off the ground requires special training.

    20. Do not cut above your shoulders.

    21. Springpoles must be shaved on the inside of the apex between the ascending and descending sides. If the apex is higher than you shoulders, stand under the springpole and cut it low on the descending side. It will release upward, away from you.Leaning and heavily loaded poles that are too small to bore cut for a hinge should be shaved on the compressed side until they fold.

    22. Do not cut a tree that is holding up a lodged tree. Do not work under a lodged tree. Think about a mouse trying to steal the cheese out of a trap.

    23. Instruct your swampers and helpers to NEVER approach you from behind or the sides to within the reach of your saw when you are cutting. If you pull out of a cut with the chain running, or have a severe kickback, the swamper can be killed if he is coming up behind you!

    24!! Quit When You Are Tired! Thanks, Reed; don’t know how I missed this one.

    25!! Pause and review; reflect, when you are being pushed. You may be pushed into danger. Do not let pressure cause you to ignore safety rules! Thank You, Clint. Glad you survived!

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