PSA for NFA owners/Machine Gunners

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Something that every Marine Infantryman has pounded into his head at SOI is the Five Point Safety Check while clearing his open bolt weapon systems (SAW, M240). The purpose behind the check is to ensure the feed pawls are in working order and to clear out the various depressions in the weapon system for a shell, link, or live round that might have somehow gotten stuck and thus made operation of the machine gun impossible due to the stoppage. However, one of the most important parts of this process is for the shooter to keep his head down, top of his kevlar helmet facing towards the chamber. This is in case a live round “cooks off” and blows out the chamber and in the gunners direction.

The below video is a classical, textbook example of why these procedures are in place to begin with. I wasn’t the photographer, but was standing a feet away from him. The incident took place on Camp Leatherneck in 2013 while myself and a buddy were attending a charity shoot run by the Estonian contingent on Camp Bastion. Now, the Estonian soldiers running the shoot were their rear echelon guys, the clerks, drivers, etc… who stay on the camp while their armored infantry guys went out on patrols. No knock against them, but this might play into why the gunner didn’t follow proper clearing procedures (which, even if he did, he didn’t have a kevlar to stop the round that would have come out anyways, but at least his head would have been down). Honestly I’m not familiar with the Estonian small arms manual, so maybe they don’t follow our clearing procedures when it comes to open bolt weapon systems. Either way, the guy narrowly escaped getting his noggin blasted and instead just got his cheek slit open from the shell coming out of the chamber, and a sweet bar scar story to tell for the rest of his years. In case anyone is wondering through my sarcasm, the guy survived, but his FROG shirt was absolutely covered in blood, that’s what I saw because I didn’t actually see this happen due to my back being turned to it.

This is directly from the Marine Corps’ Machine gun manual, on page 2-9

When opening the feed cover, make sure the weapon is on the ground away from your face. With the weapon on your shoulder, possible injury could occur if a round goes off when the cover is raised.

And a graphic from the Army to illustrate the five points to check

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In addition to this blood curdling war machine demonstrating proper technique with the 240.



Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • Renegade

    What, no pictures?

    • Sorry about that, I didn’t feel like snapping away at his bloody shirt haha.

      • Renegade

        I dunno, a lot of gun people I know take pictures of injuries.

        I caught my hand once closing the bolt on my Mosin. Friend had an old Stevens side by side explode in his hand, the ejector lever burying itself thoroughly in his palm. A gunsmith I know inadvertently grabbed a barrel that had just been welded on. And of course, the fella that blew off half his hand with a KSG (don’t know him).

        • Zebra Dun

          I framed houses in my post RELACDU, the sawmen on the circular saws would block the guards out so it wouldn’t spring in the way after each cut, the saw was a dangerous device until it stopped spinning and the sawman would flip the saw upside down after using it letting the exposed saw spin down.
          Thousands of dollar were spent devising this guard system.
          I noticed you could spot the sawmen easy, they were the hands who were missing fingers. Safety works only if it’s acknowledged and procedures followed, weapons, saws or any device that can bite.

  • Tassiebush

    I’ve ejected duds in similar periods of time. I think I might wait a bit longer in future.

    • wzrd1

      Indeed, my old drill sergeant drilled us mercilessly on clearing the M60.
      On a failure to extract, he precisely did what he told us not to do, stuck his mug into the weapon, where a round then cooked off.
      I called him drill sergeant blinky, to which he agreed. He lucked out and only had powder burns to one eye and fragments hit his cheek.
      But, we learned from his bad example to not grow complacent and drift into poor practices.

  • Lance

    Always check the chamber Marines. Dint your DI tell you that!!!!!!!!

    • 1. That guy who caught a shell to the face was Estonian.
      2. The Estonian military does not have Marines as we know them.
      3. He was, in fact, checking the chamber (albeit incorrectly at least according to the way our guys are trained).

      • wzrd1

        Three failures occurred.
        Failure to fire.
        Failure to extract.
        Failure to keep out of line with the chamber when the round cooked off.

        All three can be an operator failure, due to poor maintenance and inspection, but the first two can also be a routine failure.
        The latter is all operator error.
        At least it was his cheek and not his eye.

    • BeGe1

      On top of what Alex points out, last I knew DI’s didn’t teach any open bolt weapons. That’s an SOI thing, not a boot camp thing.

      • wzrd1

        Back in 1982, the Army taught the M60 MG in basic training.

        • BeGe1

          I don’t know about 1982 Army, but in modern Marine Corps they focus on M16A4 marksmanship in boot camp and wait until school of infantry to teach other weapon systems.

      • Karl

        Don’t know marines, but in the Army we got to fire the M249 and M240 along with heavy weapons like the M2 and MK19 in basic (very basic intro to the weapons). It wasn’t until AIT though that we got any real training with them.

  • Well the first mistake he made and many civilian owners of open bolt weapons make is he did not get the bolt under control to start with. The bolt groups needs to be on the sear before any jam is addressed since the simple act of opening the top cover can result in the hangup letting the bolt go and cambering and firing the round that was partially stripped. Too many civilian mg owners do not know this rule since it is actually counter intuitive to those use to closed bolt gun operation. I’ve seen one man shoot his own hand when he had a jam in a MAC that “cleared its self” when he yanked he magazine out but had not gotten the bolt onto the sear.

    Usually the next thing on a failure is for them to stick their big snout into the ejection port which I warn them about as well. I notice more people training where the gun stops and they look into the ejection port instead of just performing a reload or clearance drill.

    Having enough money to buy a machine gun unfortunately rarely means you have the know how to properly operate it.

    • Look closely at the video, the bolt was to the rear when the round cooked off. But I agree with you, bolt always to the rear before opening the feed tray over.

      • When he opens the feed cover the bolt was forward. He then pulls the bolt back thus exposing the round base to his face.

    • Zebra Dun

      I went shooting Saturday with the grandkids, I said, Now this is the Ruger 10/22 be sure you do not place your fingers in front of the ejection port.
      Oldest did anyway first thing, first shot.
      Skint his finger.
      I said now stay clear of the empties being ejected to the non shooting one standing excited watching…..he did not and got a hot cartridge down his pants.

      Training and advise are sometimes ignored.

      • wzrd1

        I bet he listened the next time.
        Nothing makes ’em listen more than when Ol’ Blue gets blistered.

        • Zebra Dun

          Yup, he did, at 14 he is taking the BB gun marksmanship courses his other Paw Paw signed him up for and hunts deer.
          He was unfamiliar with the Ruger Operation, I quickly stuck a banana mag in and that forced them to move their hands forward where the stock ten rd allowed access to the ejection port.
          The youngest is eight and that hot shell dropped down his belt line and across is butt inside his britches, he jumped and hollered a bit LOL Told his Mom he got shot by Paw Paw.
          We had a swell time I found two hundred rds of .22 lr and we shot at steel targets until we were empty.
          The oldest has been shooting skeet too.
          A good day at the range with grandkids is a very good day!

  • Henry

    Good video and explanation for those of us who never used gpmg other than playing around with them when luck would have it. I always wondered why they did things that way, and this was perfect. Thanks for the added knowledge.

  • Benedict Tan

    School me in my thought process if incorrect; but given that it seems like the round cooked off, aside from minimizing the amount of time his face would be exposed how would a 5-point safety check made things different since the check still stipulates visually inspecting the chamber?

  • USMC03Vet

    What a boot.

    I know every marine is a RSO……

  • noob

    Thank you for this post. I’d never have known about this otherwise.

    If you don’t have a helmet for whatever reason, if a round cooked off while the top cover was off and the bolt locked to the rear and you had your nose down to the stock and bits of brass hit you in the top of the scalp, would you still bleed pretty badly?

    I guess it is a lot better than losing an eye.

    • Grindstone50k

      You probably will. Scalp wounds tend to bleed a lot, but if it’s just lacerations, it’s not very serious. Might need stitches to hold the skin together while it heals, depending. But your eyes, nose, mouth, etc are much MUCH softer entry points than your thick skull.

      • BeGe1

        Not just entry points, but also the fact that you utilize your eyes, nose, mouth, etc. more for every day life than the top of your scalp. Even if it doesn’t manage to “enter” the skull, missing out on those is a lot worse than missing out on some scalp skin.

  • Grindstone50k

    This is what happens when you don’t enforce the groomin standards. The mens gets all lax…

    • Zebra Dun

      “Gunny? is that you?”

  • Phillip Cooper

    While I wasn’t a Marine, man this brings back memories…

  • Gerald

    I had this happen to me and two others in Vietnam with a M-60. A round some how dropped to the bottom of the chamber and we went through the proper clearing procedures. When we looked inside the chamber the round “cooked-off” and all three of us got powder burned. Thank God that’s all that happened. I would suggest, if at all possible, let the weapon cool off before attempting to look inside.

  • Zebra Dun

    Training is different, being trained doesn’t actually help if you don’t get trained.
    He did what he did a thousand other times and nothing happened till this time.
    He WILL NOT do this again.

  • nova3930

    If only I could afford the weaponry such that this would be an issue….. 🙁

  • Zebra Dun

    I recall distinctly with residual fear that hang fire on that particular M-40 106 RR one fine August day in CLNC.
    Things and events can be both scary as hell and awesome at the same time was my thoughts.