Mythbusters negligent discharge

The Mythbusters negligently discharged a canon, firing a canonball right though a suburban home, situated 700 yards from their test range, and before bouncing off another house and into a minivan.

This is a classic negligent discharge, I should never have happened. Col. Cooper’s 4th rule of gun safety is “Identify your target, and what is behind it“. If your weapon is a huge piece of artillery, your target is a flimsy concrete barrier, and behind the target is a neighborhood, then you don’t fire!

[ Many thanks to Rob, Sven & Blake who sent this in. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Nathan

    The video link appears to be broken. Here’s a link to a news report of the incident:

    • noob

      Apparently the backstop was actually meant to be barrels filled with water, but the cannon cleanly missed and went over a concrete wall (probably the shot went high).

      If they survive the safety review, maybe next time they’ll have to do this inside a cave!

    • Zermoid

      Tried the link, got this:
      “MythBusters Cannonball Expe…”
      This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by ABC News.

  • Paul C. Gentile

    While this cannot be labelled “just one of those things” I don’t think it’s fair to call this a negligent discharge either. We don’t get to see what goes on behind the scenes on this show but, given their liberal use of firearms and explosives you have to figure they have more safety precautions that pretty much any other show on television.

    Though most of the details I have read are a little vague it seems this thing got away from them and, given the fact this was partly performed on a government bomb range safety was at the forefront.

    Yes I think, given what happened they should reexamine their safety standards/policies but keep in mind guys…these are not just a bunch of mindless morons.

    • 18D

      They hit an unintended target. That’s negligent. It’s negligent any way you look at it.

  • W

    the rules of gun safety should be emphasized when dealing with artillery. that is gnarly

    • Jck

      The rules of gun safety were followed. It ricocheted.

  • I seen this story on several gun blogs and what most of them failed to point out is the the range was there before the houses and the range insisted that that house not be built behind the firring line. The city approved the houses being put there so whose fault is it mythbusters or the government.

    • And by range range I mean a government range being shuned by the government. And these are the people that make gun laws, no wonder its messed up.

    • Aurelien

      Well you advance the common sense : don’t blame people for things that were there before you.
      Ie don’t blame the water if your house gets flooded in a flood zone. Don’t blame the noise of the planes if you knowingly put your house next to the airport.
      And when you buy a house right down a firing line, s*it might very well happen.

      If you knowingly bought it, blame your own self. If you did not know, blame the guy that sold you the house.

  • Matt

    I was doing some reading and watching some of the videos that the news stations have put out, which are not always trust worthy mind you, and I like to think the cannon ball may of actually skipped “over” the hill and less “shot” right over it. Those guys are pretty smart and if the range controller said it was safe I think we can understand who is also to blame. That range controller should of exercised more common sense in this situation.

    • Sian

      This. According to Mythbusters, the cannon jumped before loosing the ball, sending it a bit higher than they had aimed.

  • Frank

    The articles I’d read on it said that their shot missed the water target, penetrated a cinderblock wall, then actually hit the hill behind the target before ricocheting off into town. It may be the case that the hill worked okay for small shrapnel and bullets with a penetrating shape, but the ostensibly spherical cannonball (made of what, I wonder?) hit at a shallow angle and due to that shape skidded and bounced instead of digging in. I understand from documentaries on the Civil War that this was sometimes the case; a cannonball could bounce along the ground and strike several lines of soldiers.

    Still, considering everything ELSE that happened – multiple wall penetrations, bouncing “up” stairs according to one report, then crashing through and into a vehicle, well. Concrete barrier, hill, one house’s wall, stairway, house’s other wall, then another house’s wall, and then coming to rest in a car. It’s the Magic Cannonball Theory!

    • Julio

      “I understand from documentaries on the Civil War that this was sometimes the case; a cannonball could bounce along the ground and strike several lines of soldiers.”

      I believe it was actually a major part of the art of field artillery to skim the cannon ball low along the ground through the ranks of the advancing infantry, i.e.: it was a deliberate tactic and no accident, since keeping the cannon ball a man’s height from the ground over a long distance increased its lethality and accommodated errors in rangefinding and changes in range as the enemy advanced.

      • Yep

        My guess would be that the cannonball went straight through the block wall and “water barrel” walls without too much trouble. If the range’s berm is basically a mound of dirt pushed up by a bulldozer like the berms at most ranges I’ve seen, then it’s at a very convenient angle for launching an errant large round cannonball skyward.

        Very interesting comments further down about the range being there before the housing projects & the Army explosives testing range folks insisting that the development not be built there (& being ignored)…

  • Chase

    This happened in the next town over, Dublin, from my home of Livermore, California. It was an exciting read in the morning newspaper.

  • Lance

    Next episode of Mythbusters how much can a million dollar lawsuit affect ratings and future seasons.

  • Fredrik

    Now I don’t know what kind of permissions the Alameda County Bomb Range have but shouldn’t an artillery piece be fired on a firing range approved for artillery?

    Now incident do happen and shouldn’t affect the show, just make them think twice when it comes to safety. Heck even experts make mistakes or have a slip of the mind.

    I’m sorry if my English is bad, it isn’t my native language.

  • Tom

    Yes it is negligence. They will admit it by paying out a hefty sum prior to a court appearance. Jeff Cooper’s rules apply to cannon balls as well.

  • SpudGun

    Hopefully, this incident will finally put to rest the argument about using cannons for home defense and the issue of over penetration. 😉

    Considering all the whacky crap the Mythbusters get up to, having just this single accident demonstrates what a normally good safety job the team does on the show.

    • 18D

      Yeah, real safe, like when they tried to curve a bullet. Real nice muzzle discipline on that episode! Safety is something they don’t do well!

      • SpudGun

        Hi 18D,

        Just to follow up on your point, I went on to You Tube and re-watched the curving bullet episode. And whilst it was uncomfortable to watch, the only things the Mythbusters swept with loaded guns were a few remote control cameras.The rest of the team and the camera operator were stood behind the shooter in their ‘bullet proof’ glass booth.

        There were, however, a few shots of Grant waving his pistol about as a practice, the slide was pulled back and the pistol was obviously empty, so not the greatest of discipline but not life threatening in any way feasible.

        I enjoy the Mythbusters show and the gun myths they tackle, most of the time, I know what the answer will be – such as trying to ignite a gas tank with a bullet (been there, done that) – but sometimes they do throw up surprises like firing bullets into the swimming pool.

        We will have to differ on our opinions.

  • John Doe

    Can’t blame them. They do live in California after all 😉

    • Nadnerbus

      I would not be surprised if our benevolent overseers in the full time legislature are not busily scribbling up some fresh legislation to make sure something like this never happens again. There always seems to be time to ban things up in Sacramento.

  • Jeff Smith

    Does anyone know what myth they were testing?

    • Jeff Smith

      Also, it’s incredible that a canon ball could travel that far and still have enough power to cause that much damage. That’s an impressive piece of equipment.

      I think I know what I want for Christmas….

    • Jeff

      The morning news stated they would test with bowling balls, then move to chisled stone balls, and see if they could knock down a castle wall.
      This will not be part of the coming season’s shows, too bad, it would have been fun to watch.

  • Karl

    LOL. When was the last time someone died by cannon ball? If that would have happened.

    • Karl

      side note: I’m not actually lol’ing at the possibility of someone dieing by cannon ball, more so at the statistic.

      • Nadnerbus

        “I’m still devastated from losing my wife last year.”

        “Oh my god! How did it happen?”

        “Cannon ball hit her while she was on the toilet.”

        Yeah, there is some potential for humor there.

  • Karl
    “‘MythBusters’ hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage — who were not present when the accident happened — travelled to Dublin, California to meet with the families affected by the accident and to apologize.”

    They were conducting the experiment on the firing range at the Alameda County Sheriff’s Regional Training Center, a venue they have used many times before without mishap.

    Hyneman told ‘The San Francisco Chronicle’ that, as the cannonball was fired, the cannon suffered from “muzzle lift,” which sent the projectile arcing across Dublin.”
    “According to the Alameda County Sheriff’s office, the show has used the firing range more than 100 times with no accidents before Tuesday’s incident.”

    • Karl

      Found a post from someone with some cannon experience…

      “The accident occured due to “muzzle lift”.

      With hindsight I think that the carriage built for Tory’s carronade is just too small and light. Historically carronades were known for being liable to overturn or break their breaching if fired ‘hot’ or using a full charge due to the recoil force being relatively high up on the carriage. If I were to give advice to the Mythbusters (and assuming that anyone from there is reading and can pass this on) it would be to redesign the carriage so it is considerably larger and heavier. The current carriage appears to have been designed based on the carriage used by field guns, they should probably be using something closer to the carriage types used by naval cannon – NOT the types used by naval carronades which were too top heavy. Maybe a hybrid design, which uses the basic cannon carriage coupled with the mechanism used for elevating carronades. This should give a carriage that is heavy enough to handle major recoil while also giving them very accurate control as to where the gun is pointing and hopefully eliminating any unwanted lift of the muzzle when the gun is fired with a full load.

  • Mac C

    It wasn’t an ND. The title of this piece is misleading.

    • From the World English Dictionary:

      Negligent — adj
      1. habitually neglecting duties, responsibilities, etc; lacking attention, care, or concern; neglectful
      2. careless or nonchalant

      There was negligence in firing a round projectile from a cannon in the direction of a residential neighborhood. They failed to take into account some Murphy factors, and a real disaster was narrowly avoided. Perhaps this is a case of 20/20 hindsight, but I think they could have found a safer place to do the testing, where people not involved with or aware of the testing wouldn’t be in the line of fire within the potential maximum range of the cannon.

      • BamaGerb

        By your ( Webster ) definition Mythbusters fits in neither category.
        I live near an airport. Got homeowner insurance too. Won’t blame pilot if they have mechanical failure and crash into house. How ever if the pilot requests too little fuel or just plain effs up then it’s on him.
        I do not think it is an accident no one got hurt. Jamie and Adam take all possible variables out when they do ” experiments” except for what cannot be controlled. Read the news… Much worse is going on that is widely accepted.

    • 18D

      If they hit a house, it’s negligent!

    • Josh

      Let’s see Mac:

      This took place in CA, right? California Penal Code section 246.3 covers negligent discharge of a firearm; in order to be convicted of “Negligently Discharging a Firearm,” the following three facts must be proved by the prosecutor:

      1. that you willfully fired a gun or BB device,
      2. that you did so in a grossly negligent manner, and
      3. that the discharge of the gun could have resulted in a person’s death or injury.

      What part of that doesn’t fit?

      Note that California defines a firearm as: “The term firearm includes rifles, shotguns, revolvers, pistols, or any other device designed to be used as a weapon from which a projectile is expelled by the force of any explosion or other form of combustion…”

      • Cymond

        They messed up, and big time.

        However, I don’t see what they did “in a grossly negligent manner”. They conducted the firing in a bomb/firing range, supervised by experts, with a target that would stop the projectile. Any decent attorney would point out that they took reasonable precautions and the outcome was due to an unforseen fluke.

      • Josh


        Any decent attorney would point out that they took reasonable precautions and the outcome was due to an unforseen fluke.

        What was the “fluke”? An act of God? Was there a sudden gale-force wind that blew the projectile off target? Was there an equipment failure that caused this to happen? I don’t recall reading about any of this. How does such a catastrophic failure happen when you take reasonable precautions if not for something of the nature I pointed out? Any decent prosecuting attorney would point out that they had a cannon pointed towards a populated area, and they very easily could have killed someone; reasonable precautions would have prevented that, barring an act of God. Apparently, their so-called “experts” were negligent, less than as competent as they should have been, etc. A reasonable precaution might have been to aim the cannon somewhere other than a populated area. Like a dense forest, or an empty desert. This was just recklessness in the name of television. Nothing new there.

  • Chase

    The YouTube video says, “An error occured, please try again later.” Just so you know.

  • 18D

    Honestly, the mythbusters are idiots when it comes to firearm weapons systems. They have NEGLIGENTLY used firearms in many episodes. I almost can’t stand to watch many of the firearm episodes, but its interesting to see how truly stupid they are when it comes to shooting. It’s interesting to note that many of the gun myths they set out to prove/disprove are already common knowledge to dialed in shooters. It’s pointless to even try some of the experiments because a real shooter would already know the answer definitively.

    Guns are not toys! These guys need to stay away from them unless they have an expert with them. A real expert. Not the so called “weapons and tactics instructor for US Special Forces” like on the poorly put together Military channel show “Triggers”. Experts my ass!

    • W

      haha, this makes me think of the “silenced gun episode”. I remember muttering to myself “What the f—!?”

  • SidViscous

    Actually the cannonball didn’t travel in a straight line. It hooked a louie after hitting the hill. The neighborhood was actually to the right of the cannon, not behind it.

    So while they still obviously screwed up, you can’t go with what was behind the target because the neighborhood wasn’t behind the target, it was off to the side.

    Behind the target is a lot of nothing, except for what looks like an old fuel storage tank, but at a higher elevation.

  • El Freddio

    Steve, you got a typo in the first sentence of the last paragraph. It should be ‘it’, not ‘I’.

    So, are the Mythbusters getting into Housebusting?

  • If a tree, falls, in the forest. And, knowone hears it. I will still be wrong.

  • Jck

    Seriously, they hadn’t aimed at any neighbourhood, it the ball hitting the hill, that caused it to ricochet into the neighbourhood. It may have ended badly, but their planning was spot on. S**t happens, and luckily no one was injured or worse. Don’t diss Mythbusters, they’ve been around for more than a decade, and this is the worst that’s happened…. Not bad for people who do dangerous stunts for a living….