Although it is truly a rare event, there are honest to God accidents that take place without negligence being a contributing factor. We, being the gun culture, tend to be an “eat our own” breed to begin with, so when news breaks about an unintended discharge the automatic response is to correct folks who might call said unintended discharge “accidental.” For the majority of incidents, this is a correct assessment. Guns don’t typically just “go off,” though if your finger (or anything else that fits inside the trigger guard for that matter) pulls the trigger it will in fact go bang, hell, that’s what it is designed to do! But what about the times when there was no fingers near the trigger at the time of the “unintended” discharge? Believe it or not, there are plenty of ways this sort of thing can happen! And at it’s most basic principle this is why we always keep our bore pointed in a direction that we deem safe.
If you are having a busy day at the range, a cook off can be a potential example. During a cook off a chamber is left with a live round in it after it has been shot enough times to produce enough heat where it can, over a short period of time, ignite the powder in the gun without the primer needing to be struck. This can happen when the gun’s safety is on, and nobody is touching the gun. There can sometimes be defects that are to blame, such as a “high primer”, an occurrence that takes place when the primer is not fully seated into the primer pocket during the manufacturing process. In a semi automatic design it is possible for the face of the bolt to hit this exposed primer hard enough to cause an out of battery discharge. Many of you have probably at some point experienced a similar situation with a semi automatic rimfire, which is usually noticed as a very quickly fired pair when the trigger was pulled only once. On the rimfire gun this can often be linked to the gun being dirty and the firing pin sticking.
A reader asked about the accidental discharge I witnessed. I was working at a small shop as an apprentice gunsmith. We had a few customers in the shop and both myself and the shops owner/chief gunsmith went to assist on the sales floor. During that time a gentleman brought in a small Bersa chambered in 380ACP and simply said it wasn’t working. The salesman first checked the firearm to ensue it was unloaded. By the time the shop’s owner could get over to take a look at it the traffic in the shop had died down significantly. I was about 4 feet away as I watched him asking the guns owner questions as he began to trouble shoot the problem, which started with him also checking the firearm to ensure it was clear. This was a visual inspection of the chamber, and from my point of view I would have agreed this gun was in fact clear. After a series of questions and answers that narrowed down the guns symptoms greatly from “it doesn’t work” to “it will not fire or eject.” we asked him if he had any of the bullets he was using. He produced a box of 32ACP and immediately we knew where the issue lied. I loaded his empty magazine with red “snap caps” in 380ACP and handed it to the gunsmith. Here is where things went a little crazy. Mind you the Bersa had been checked by 2 people and had been laying with the action open right in front of us the entire time. The gunsmith picked up the Bersa and gave a quick glance at the empty chamber as he inserted the magazine loaded with the solid aluminum dummy rounds. Keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction with his finger nowhere near the trigger he pulled back on the slide and released it attempting to chamber one of the snap caps. What was heard next was a loud pop. A round had just fired out of the gun.
On further investigation we found exactly what had happened. One of the 32ACP rounds had gotten itself lodged in the chamber, the rim of the cartridge head was physically stuck at the very end of the chamber where the rifled barrel began. It was stuck in there so well that even as the gun was pointed almost straight up with the action locked back as the magazine was inserted, it didn’t budge. The point of the snap cap hit the primer with enough force to set the round off. Now, between the unsupported chamber and the amount of gas that blew by the bullet as it was fired, the energy was extremely low. Did it have enough power to kill someone? Probably not, but I’m not volunteering to find out. This was a true accident, and it was without injury because despite everything that happened by a freak accident, the most fundamental rules of gun safety were still followed. Here we had a gun that was physically checked, twice by one person and once by a separate person, and for that matter I was looking right at an empty chamber from my point of view. I feel confident when I say that 99% of the people out there would have concurred with that assessment.
So where am I going with all this? Nowhere I guess, I was asked about a story and in a longwinded and hardly on topic way I answered that question. What I can tell you is that from that day forward I physically ran a dowel down each gun that came across my bench, rather it be in for a cleaning or for something completely unrelated to the operation of that gun. They say every gun is loaded until YOU prove otherwise, but I guess the question you got to ask is “loaded with what?”
Until next time
*Notice on the bullet a lack of deformity. It wasn’t going fast enough to hurt itself. Also notice the flared casing as the .380 bore was significantly larger than the outside diameter of that cartridge. Lastly notice the primer and it’s lack of a typical primer strike. The dome shape came from the solid aluminum 380ACP dummy round that was forced into it as the pistol went into battery.