Words mean things. In firearms safety terminology, we’ve seen some changes. It used to be that whenever a shot was fired unintentionally, it was called an AD, or Accidental Discharge.

In recent decades, the distinction has been made between the AD and the ND, or Negligent Discharge. The standard became this: if the shot was fired because of a defect in the firearm, such as a broken firing pin or defective sear, it was an AD – but if the gun wasn’t defective, the incident was automatically presumed to be a Negligent Discharge.

When speaking of both types of discharge together, the accepted term is now UD, for Unintentional Discharge.

And, most recently, we are hearing UC: Uncommanded Discharge. This describes a pistol that “goes off by itself” in holster, box or waistband.

Decades in court have taught me that before we assign that liability-laden word “negligent,” we must get all the details and fully investigate.  In one incident at a gathering of uniformed police officers seated close to one another, the keys hanging from one’s duty belt slipped unnoticed into the holster of an adjacent officer. When one of them stood up, one or more keys pressed the trigger and the pistol discharged in the holster. The old standard would automatically demand a Negligent Discharge finding, even though neither officer did anything negligent and a proper finding would have been Accidental Discharge.

Here, in POLICE magazine, two very experienced experts put things in context and offer some more logical and descriptive terminology.

I would urge you to read it. As always, your comments are invited.


  1. In the British Army there are only neligent ones.
    That gun goes bang, anywhere but pointing down range, after you’ve been told to fire; you are on a charge.
    Much as I admire the USA’s attitude to firearms. Negligence is something I wish you’d throw the book at people more for.
    Heard of US gun ranges where there are holes in the furniture! Any UK club; you’d have been thrown out instantly and no other club would have taken you.
    If you didn’t secure a gun properly and someone other than you accessed the firearm; you’d expect to lose your licence and be fined. You’d have a good chance of prison if they used it.

    • nicholas kane,

      In other words, the Brits subscibe to “zero tolerance.” I think Mas described a true accident, which could not have been prevented, or even avoided, by a reasonable human. While it is noble to strive for perfection, perfection is not attainable. If a person handles firearms for decades, I would expect him to make mistakes. Hopefully, the mistakes would not result in an injury to any living thing. I don’t care about floors, ceilings and furniture.

      In the final analysis, reality will always force itself upon us. Idealism only exists in our thoughts, it is not part of the real world. If I think I am looking at something ideal, it is because I am looking at a clever illusion.

    • In some US Army Reserve Officer Corps (ROTC) training exercises, trainees armed with rifles that even have red muzzle blocks clamped in are often instructed to fire every last round of all the blank ammunition that they are carrying. “Test Fire” can be a remark required to precede the last rounds fired. A failure to call out thusly in advance is generally taken as an indication of a negligent discharge, and is often consequential. Good to know before you ever touch a weapon. Shooting live rounds on the ranges is carefully managed. I have never personally heard of a discharge injuring anyone on a U.S. military target range. You might think that some injurious accidents might have somehow occurred, however. They may have had different names?

  2. “…. we can clearly see that firearms discharges routinely referred to as negligent discharges, fall into the category of either an unintentional voluntary or an unintentional involuntary discharge. By definition, if someone’s finger was on the trigger, the accidental discharge can be ruled out. The unintentional discharge could also be ruled out if the shooter knowingly points a loaded firearm and pulls the trigger with deliberate intent of discharging the firearm.”

    Clearly, the authors of the linked article wish to suppress the use of the term “negligent discharge” in common training usage. They seem to be arguing that it is a term that can only be applied in a formal legal setting. I can appreciate the logic of this approach. In our litigious society, it is dangerous to bandy words like “negligent” casually. It is safer to stick to less pejorative terms like “unintentional discharge”.

    Still, I can’t help but believe that there are times when we should “call it like it is”. Take the infamous case of Alec Baldwin and the Rust Shooting. Note the guidance given by the authors of the article:

    “By definition, if someone’s finger was on the trigger, the accidental discharge can be ruled out.”

    We know, from testing of the single action army revolver, that it was not defective. Therefore, Alec Baldwin’s finger must have pulled the trigger for the weapon to discharge.

    Furthermore, there is video of Alec Baldwin practicing with the subject revolver and, in this video, one can clearly see Baldwin’s finger on the trigger. His claims that the revolver “just went off on its own” have been shown to be nothing but self-serving falsehoods.

    One can say that the Rust Shooting represents a case of “unintentional voluntary discharge” since I have no doubt that Alec Baldwin snapped the trigger in the belief that the revolver was only loaded with dummy ammunition (no live rounds).

    However, the fact that he was pointing it at live human beings when he snapped the trigger does, IMHO, raise this case to the level of a “negligent discharge”. The negligence comes from pointing the revolver in an unsafe direction and not just from the act of manipulating the trigger. Attorney Andrew Branca has made a very good case that Alec Baldwin is guilty of involuntary manslaughter under the Laws of New Mexico.

    In a just World, Alec Baldwin would be called to answer for his crimes. However, our World of Today is unjust, and Alec Baldwin is rich, famous, and a member of the protected left-wing Class. Therefore, he will be allowed to commit manslaughter and skip away “Scot Free”.

    Tell me, does injustice transform Alec Baldwin’s negligent discharge into just another case of unintentional voluntary discharge? If the legal system dictates the use of “negligent”, as the authors suggest it should, then it does! Congratulations! We have a clear case where “Two Wrongs have made it Right”. At least, they made it Right for Alec Baldwin!

    I know the truth. The false narratives of the American Left will never strangle the truth although they are powerful enough to continually suppress and hide the truth.

    Frankly, I have come to believe that the American Left does not even believe in the concept of “truth”. They think that they can shape the truth with their narratives and their media propaganda operatives. They think that the truth is whatever they say it to be.

    However, I, and millions of Americans, still hold onto the concept of “truth” which is a big problem for the American Left. People with a Worldview still based in “truth” are “politically unreliable” from the perspective of the American Left. The Truth is a deadly danger to them and their tissues of falsehood and deceit.

    • TN_MAN,

      I cut Alec Baldwin some slack, because he was on a movie set, filming a movie, with a prop gun handed to him by a prop man, whose job it was to check the gun. Looking back, it would have been better if Alec pointed the revolver at the ground, and pulled the trigger seven times to see what would happen. But, he has been shooting guns and shooting movies for decades, so why bother? Murphy’s Law ruled that day.

      • “I cut Alec Baldwin some slack, because he was on a movie set, filming a movie, with a prop gun handed to him by a prop man…”

        I am afraid that you still do not see my point, Roger.

        Even if (a) we accept that the item used was a “prop gun” (It was not. It was a REAL SAA Revolver being used as a movie prop. “Prop gun” implies a non-functional dummy firearm.) and (b) we totally accept that it was the responsibility of the movie armorer and other staff to check the firearm before handing to the actor, we are still left with a negligent act on the part of Alec Baldwin. He pointed a REAL SAA Revolver at live human beings and then used his finger to pull the trigger and drop the hammer.

        All the “blame shifting” to the armory staff, in the World, does not EXCUSE Alec Baldwin from his unsafe handling of a REAL SAA Revolver.

        I grant that other members of the staff dropped the ball and allowed live ammo on the set and into the cylinder of the revolver. Even so, it was Alec Baldwin’s unsafe handling of the firearm that was the direct cause of the death and injury. The failures of the staff were indirect contributors to this failure.

        Furthermore, Alec Baldwin was a producer on this movie and was aware of previous complaints and failures in the area of safety. Therefore, It was his responsibility to handle the firearm with due caution (indeed, given the previous known safety problems on the set, I would say he should have exercised EXTRA caution above and beyond normal levels).

        While I don’t object to the armorer being charged, I do object to Alec Baldwin being given a free pass. Charging the Armorer while excusing Baldwin indicates that the armorer is being made into the “Fall Gal” for this incident. She is the scapegoat being used to provide cover for Baldwin. To charge her (alone) is unjust in my book.

        The plan is clear here. The armorer is being made into the scapegoat. Meanwhile, the investigation and charges against Baldwin had been (and continue to be) slow-walked until the statute of limitations runs out. IANAL but I believe that the time limit is five years for involuntary manslaughter in New Mexico. Once the authorities “run down the clock” for Alec Baldwin, he will be “home free”. He will be “beyond the reach of the law” for his crimes. This has clearly been the desired goal of the entire New Mexico prosecution operation from the beginning.

        I said, when this shooting first occurred, that Alec Baldwin would never be held accountable for it. My words are being proved true.

      • TN_MAN,

        I agree Alec is guilty because, as a producer, he is the man in charge. He allowed an unsafe environment to be created. As you said, because of his position and political views, he will not be charged.

      • @Roger Willco and TN_MAN:

        I cut Alec Baldwin some slack, in that he’s an actor, not a firearms expert.

        That said, it’s not a lot of slack, for three reasons:
        1. He reportedly skipped the firearms safety meetings that were supposed to be mandatory for everyone (but “mandatory for everyone” apparently doesn’t apply to people named Alec Baldwin);
        2. Firearms safety can be (and has been) made intentionally simple — just Four Rules — understandable even for non-firearms-experts and Hollywood actors; and
        3. Breaking one rule is scary and/or startling, but harmless — one must break two or more to hurt someone.

        But a lot of people want to give him a pass because “he’s an actor, not a firearms pro”. Bullsh!t. Keanu Reeves trained with SWAT and Special Forces instructors to prepare for his John Wick movies (and probably The Matrix, too). Tom Cruise trained to prepare for Collateral, Robert de Niro for Heat, Chris Pratt for Zero Dark Thirty, Bradley Cooper for American Sniper, Linda Hamilton for Terminator 2. The whole cast of Black Hawk Down trained with pros. These are just notable examples; it’s a long list. They all trained primarily so that their firearms handling would look more believable on-screen, but I guarantee as part of that training they were drilled in safety protocols.

        You telling me Alec Freakin’ Baldwin can’t schedule an hour or two with a Cowboy Action Shooter to learn how to safely and competently handle that SAA revolver, to prepare for a Western movie? Or that as the executive producer of the film, he does NOT have the power and responsibility to ensure everyone on set (including himself) is doing their job and following the safety protocols to the letter?

        Or am I to believe that because his name is Alec Baldwin, none of the normal rules of safety and liability apply, and it’s entirely the armorer’s fault? (I agree she is not blameless in this — for failing to check the revolver and failing to keep live ammo off-set, along with other errors — but to say it’s entirely her fault doesn’t pass the smell test. She didn’t point the gun at a human being and pull the trigger; Alec Baldwin did, violating ALL Four Rules in the process.)

        I can reasonably cut only so much slack for the guy, and he exceeded it. But as often happens with celebrities and well-connected elites — particularly Leftist ones — the “wheels of justice” are anything but; I expect he’s going to skate on any charges, and others will be held accountable for his negligence.

        The grandest irony is that Alec Baldwin has long been an advocate for more restrictive firearms laws and darn-near presented himself as an expert to whom we should listen. And then he does this, proving that he’s not competent to tell us how we should or should not be using our guns.

        (If I were a judge being pressured to sentence him to “community service”, I’d require him to serve his hours working with NRA programs that teach actual gun safety. As it is, if he faces any such penalty, he’ll be allowed to work with Giffords or Everytown instead. Because “justice”, or something.)

  3. IANAL, so this is purely my opinion, but…

    Words mean things. To the uninitiated, the difference between an Accidental Discharge (AD), a Negligent Discharge (ND), or an Unintentional Discharge (UD) doesn’t mean any more than the difference between “Stand Your Ground” (SYG), Castle Doctrine, and simple Self-Defense laws.

    But the varying levels of legal liability and responsibility attendant with those distinct definitions means a world of difference to someone caught up in an investigation.

    If we are to be well-versed in firearm and self-defense laws, we need to be as clear on the AD/ND/UD distinctions as we are on the SYG/CD/SD ones.

  4. I would suggest the acronym MFD (no, not that!) for mechanical failure discharge, in which the firearm discharged due to a failure of its mechanism. This would be distinct from an ND, when the weapon fired due to a negligent act, and an AD, when the weapon functioned properly but discharged due to a true accident as described above.

  5. In studying articles regarding the SIG P320 in the holster discharges, (without any apparent direct human involvement), I have also seen the term ‘Surprise Discharge’ (SD) used. To me that is less confusing than UC for this phenomenon.

  6. ‘even though neither officer did anything negligent’

    isn’t wearing a holster that a random twig could fire the gun in it negligent?

      • Think that’s what’s known as ‘shooting me down in flames’ 🙂

        When I wore blue it was in London and as they discovered this week, when hundreds of police officers simply said “I’m not touching a gun for you now” after they threw a murder charge at a firearms officer. We could simply refuse to carry a gun.
        Handing me a holster I considered unsafe, would have resuted in me simply handing it straight back.

  7. Very informative and eye-opening information. I was one of those who took a firearms instructor training class from a well-known firearms training academy, whereby our instructor told us in no uncertain terms that there was (paraphrasing) “No such thing as an accidental discharge, unless the firearm was / is / somehow instantly became defective. If you pull the trigger, cause a trigger to be pulled without the intention to do so, then the gun functioned normally and that is a negligent discharge.”

    Great article on the different classifications of firearm discharge! Thanks for sharing Mas!

  8. Terminology changes – back in the early 1980’s the Australian Army changed it from Unintentional Discharge to Unauthorised Discharge after a soldier said he meant to fire his weapon. He got off and they changed military law manual.

    Have seen old M60 go off when loaded due to worn bolt catch just as we were leaving for a foot patrol. Gunner did every thing ok with pointed in safe direction etc before loading and snapped link belt as per training. Short investigation and armourer found the fault.

    Had potential to be very serious.

    Seen a few idiots on ranges who put loaded magazines into pistols that needed one to drop the hammer. The .40 going off when you have taken off ear protection on a cold range is very loud as I was about five feet away.

  9. I’ve read some firearms discharge reports that should have qualified for a Nebula Award for science fiction. I’ve also read some others where idiots who were favored figures got excused for reckless, wanton disregard of safety protocols.

    Having said that, I do have to agree that the term “negligent discharge” should be used with great care. However, the linked article seems to be splitting hairs ala attorneys. When it first appeared, the term unintentional discharge seemed to be a non-judgmental label for an unexpected loud noise. Or, for something like the incident where keys operated a trigger that Mas mentioned.

    I’m not feeling accepting of the “uncommanded discharge” label. That would seem to be something that falls under the AD label as a defective mechanism. I suppose it does have a cover the posterior purpose while testing is ongoing.

  10. Strongly agree with Mas. I used to supervise both a police force and the risk management department. Preemptively admitting negligence horrified the risk management people. I get that the police wanted to get officer attention about doing stupid stuff but you don’t have to hand a win to every ambulance chaser to do that.

  11. Just semantics as far as I’m concerned, but UD does make more sense. Unfortunately, unless we use it under stress a thousand? times, we’ll still slip when saying it under pressure. It reminds me “shoot to kill vs. stop the threat” thing years ago. Either way, I would think a decent attorney/expert witness could get around it.

  12. Maybe driving cars is comparable. I got my driver’s license in 1980. I drove for 15 years without being involved in an accident. Since then I have had three minor accidents. Two occurred while I was driving professionally, so they never would have happened if I had not taken those jobs. All three were my fault.

    So, for 15 years, I was a perfect driver, but then reality intruded itself.

  13. It’s my observation that sooner or later everyone will have one go off that was unplanned. That’s why making sure the muzzle is always pointed in a safe direction is so important. Never assume you’re too careful. Assume that sooner or later you’ll screw up and keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

    • It’s been pointed out, if you subscribe to Cooper’s Four Rules, one must violate at least two to hurt someone.

      Supposing you inadvertently muzzle-flag someone, violating Rule #2. If you’re keeping your finger off the trigger — Rule #3 — there should be no injury (I had written “no problem”, but if you’re inadvertently muzzle-flagging someone, that’s already a problem).

      Suppose you unintentionally violate Rule #3 and your finger touches — and pulls — the trigger before you meant to. If you’re keeping Rule #2 and the muzzle is not pointed at anything you’re unwilling to destroy, you’ll get a big loud jump scare, but no injury.

      IMO, that’s the genius behind the Four Rules: they work in layers. Violating one doesn’t harm anyone; an unintentional injury can only happen if someone violates two or more.

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