There Is No Problem with the Term “Accidental Discharge”

Accidents are sad, so let's look at guns instead.

This is a matter that I don’t see a good reason to spend much time on, so I’ll keep it brief. One thing that I find curious in the firearms world is the rejection of the term “accidental discharge” (often shortened “AD”) referring to a an unintentional discharge of a firearm in favor of the variant “negligent discharge” (ND). Under most circumstances this would seem like just a quirk of the community and its own specific vocabulary, but we see something a little stranger than that. Often, we see policing within the firearms sphere which demands the use of the word “negligent” in lieu of “accidental”, as if the latter were for some reason damaging or improper.

I completely fail to see why, honestly. Outside of the firearms world, the term “accidental” is almost always used to describe situations involving negligence on the part of one party or another, and yet this use doesn’t cause hate and discontent there. When we see a wreck involving a drunk driver, we still call this a car “accident” even though there is an obvious source of negligence. To some, “accident” implies a mechanical problem with the firearm, while “negligent” implies a human failure, but these two are virtually never so easily untangled. For example, If a part wears out and breaks, causing the gun to go off, is that not the result of negligence on the part of the person whose job it is to maintain the firearm? It seems to me that it’s the nature of accidents that they are to some degree preventable, which implies negligence somewhere down the line.

So then, why in the firearms world is “accidental” not just less common or not preferred, but often vocally shunned as an appropriate term for incidents involving firearms? I honestly do not know, but this strong reaction makes me think that there is worry that the term “accidental” implies some kind of absolution or a clearance of guilt for the actions of the negligent parties – something that for me hasn’t been true of any accidental incident I have caused or been involved in since I was a very young child. “Accidents” are, to an adult, unfortunate circumstances that always require reflection and often require changes in behavior and even policy to prevent their re-occurrence.

For a brief time, I attended school as an engineering student. In my first semester, one of my classes took great pains to reflect on the great engineering accidents of the past, to drive home to the students just how serious a job it is to design something that others would have to rely on. The teacher told us in great detail stories of bridge collapses, spacecraft that were lost due to unit conversion errors, and of one nuclear powerplant that may as well have scattered blame all over the Soviet Union, along with the radiation. These are all “accidents”, but in being accidents they don’t absolve anyone of guilt. Indeed, in many of these cases those responsible were fired or even stripped of their license to practice engineering. Far from forgetting these accidents and letting the problems that caused them perpetuate, engineers take them very, very seriously from Day 1 of their careers.

Finally, does the word “negligent” really do us any good? I don’t see how. To me, it zooms in on the guilty and ignores everything else, and lacks an implied acknowledgement that people aren’t perfect angels and therefore should never be expected to screw up. Others may feel differently, but there’s something about using that word that to me tries to separate the flawed from the un-flawed, without accounting for the fact that we’re all flawed, and we all could one day have an accident (indeed, statistically we all will have an accident, if we live long enough). Turning this logic around, have we confused the element of empathy for the negligent that “accident” implies with an implied absolution of their guilt? Maybe.

I realize that might be my particular read of the problem, and I’m sure plenty of my readers have a different take. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • Nicks87

    Lets not differentiate. Just use one term for dumbassery and call it good.

  • Rick O’Shay

    I’ve always used the term ‘accidental discharge’ for mechanical failure and ‘negligent discharge’ for user error. I honestly won’t get my panties in a bunch if someone uses either term different from how I do… it honestly doesn’t matter.

    I suspect that a lot of the folks who get anal-retentive about exact usage of either phrase are also the ones whose eyebrows twitch when someone uses the terms ‘clip’ and ‘magazine’ interchangeably, with no accurate application of either one.

    You know what they mean. Unclench a little.

    • Edeco

      Not I. My modern assaulting rifle holds 30 bullets in the detachable box clip.

      • lurpy

        That hurt me physically.

        • Edeco

          😀 *bows*

  • Edeco

    “Negligent” does us good. Firearms are hazardous but using them is not necessarily risky because the hazards can be controlled with certainty. If someone’s hurt while shooting it’s better to be precise and call it negligence. Otherwise, to an outsider it might sound like guns are inherently risky, that an accident without negligence, like sneezing while holding one, can get someone hurt. This is bad for a lot of reasons, can alienate would-be new shooters. It’s a bad thing to allow from a philosophical standpoint because one can get browbeat with anti-reason like “that’s why they call them accidents”.

    • Using firearms is always risky. There is risk in every thing we do, but especially when working with firearms. This is precisely the reason I don’t like the word “negligent” in this context, it creates a fallacious mindset that if we’re just responsible, safe gun owners we will successfully ward off evil.

      Then, we start thinking of ourselves as responsible and safe, and therefore we think that everything we do must be responsible and safe because we have made those things a part of our identity. This is dangerous.

      • Edeco

        You’re reinventing the wheel here and in your cartridge problem series and talking in circles. If you’d studied engineering longer you might have heard that risk is a function of hazard and exposure. You don’t have to use those
        definitions, but you can’t escape the concept. Destroying the word
        ‘risk’ and adding the word ‘danger’ with some added labyrinthine speculation about people’s mindsets is empty sophistry.

        • I disagree, I think it describes something I’ve seen many times. Maybe you haven’t, though, and that’s fine.

          • Edeco

            Perhaps you’re looking at this through a lens of toxic masculinity 😛

  • alex waits

    The line between the two floats, based on totality of the circumstances, but there is a difference.

  • gordon

    Yeah, there is a bit of political correctness within the “gun community”:-)

    • Edeco

      I think of it as precision verbal tactical optimization.

      • Keiichi

        That, or “the appropriate use of the words, by definition, in context…”

        • Edeco

          aw, killjoy.

          • Keiichi


  • Jacob

    Five paragraphs and a closing sentence? Hardly brief. Well, maybe for you. =)

    You point to other forms of accidents and say “see, we have no problems using that there.” That of course doesn’t mean we aren’t improperly using the term there. And yes, most anything if boiled down enough can result from negligence, such as failing to properly maintain your weapon or calling an Uber because you’ve had one too many to drink. So while an incident can be an accident and negligent, it probably also has to do with buzz words.
    I think part of the problem might be that in a lot of the stories I read about accidental discharges, the shooter is like “it just went off man” and won’t admit to their part in the problem. Guns rarely just accidently go off. It takes deliberate action, like loading, putting safe to fire, and pulling the trigger. Whether it was a conscious act might be a different story, but these things don’t just happen of their own volition.
    I feel like I’ve got more to say but currently can word it right. But there’s my opinion.

    • I’m a descriptivist (and so are the people who write the dictionaries) so the way people use words informs their definitions.

      • Keiichi

        Which is why the term “literally” has become meaningless, even in context – Websters dictionary decided that since people incorrectly use the term for emphasis when speaking figuratively, it somehow makes sense to give it contradictory definitions rather than correcting its misuse…

        I personally see the value in drawing a distinction between user error (negligent) and mechanical malfunction which wasn’t preventable through normal maintenance of the firearm (accident). I’m also a fan of reasonable discussion of the facts of each individual case to determine actual negligence if it exists, since such info can be educational.

        • Identifying the error is crucial, but I think you and others are oversimplifying when you try to separate out negligence from mechanical fault. These two are very rarely so easily untangled.

          • Keiichi

            Fair point, generally speaking, re: the separation of negligence from mechanical fault, but I did qualify the separation in my statement as beyond reasonable maintenance; and really, doesn’t that illustrate the need to ensure that negligence isn’t abandoned in the discussion by simply calling every unintended discharge of a firearm an accident?

            Being more nuanced by using negligent and accident in their different, and appropriate, circumstances elevates the discussion and ensures that those reading the information understand what actually happened.

    • ExMachina1

      “I think part of the problem might be that in a lot of the stories I read about accidental discharges, the shooter is like ‘it just went off man’ ”

      To me, THAT would be an example of a negligent discharge. Not knowing what happened is probably the first sign that negligence (ie, neglecting responsibilities) was to blame.

  • Malthrak

    To quote Hot Fuzz

    “Accident implies there’s nobody to blame”.

    That said I dont disagree with the article, but I think the emphasis with “negligent” was to push safety and responsibility while “accident” is often seen as something of a “no fault” term.

    • Disarmed in CA

      I was thinking exactly the same thing.

    • gusto


      In my country/langauge the saying is basically perilshooting

    • I don’t think it does imply that, though, but that may just be because I’m one of those dirty prescriptivists.

      • Malthrak

        Maybe, there’s a lot of weirdness with language, particularly these days, but thats at least how I see the way the terms are commonly perceived.

      • Keiichi

        Descriptivists or Prescriptivists… I’m confused…

        (reference the other post I responded to…)

      • marine6680

        Language can be a strange apparatus, with variations even among a single variant, breaking down into dialects and other idiosyncrasies.

        I can use AD or ND, but I prefer ND for situations of gross negligence. Which is usually most of the time…

        It’s more of a judgement call on the egregiousness of the failures that lead to the situation by the person involved. Anytime damage happens to something that it should not, ND is going to be automatic. (There can be some nuances here, a hole through a wall, if that was used as your “safe direction” due to being in a home, and the cause was mechanical in nature… AD may apply)

        I might use ND for a teaching moment if the rules were followed mostly but a slip up happened along the line.

        To summarize, I try to look at every situation case by case, and judge by the info available, and attempt to get more info if I feel it necessary for a fair assessment.

  • Dave Y

    The NRA firearms curricula disagrees with you and I would say they are mostly right. If you rear end the car in front of you, is it an accident? or were you negligent and caused a collision? Answer honestly.

    The term ‘accident’ is abused in modern language to include incidents that are sometimes very obviously someone’s fault. You can see this very frequently in unintentional discharges by police ( the gun discharged or went off ), you rarely see language to the effect of “officer Fife drew his service weapon and unintentionally discharged it.” rather, you usually see something like ‘Officer Fife’s weapon discharged’ with no other details or it will be labeled an accident.

    It is not an accident; the gun had to be removed from the holster, finger put on the trigger and trigger depressed for the gun to go off. These are not accidental acts.

    Words and language do matter. Did Hillary Clinton keep public records on a private server:
    Extremely carelessly
    All of the above


    Was it accidental? Not just no; Hell no.

    Now, if you’re at the range, firing a pistol and it goes from semi auto to runaway and you stitch the ceiling, was it negligent or accidental? let’s say for the sake of discussion, a part broke turning the gun into a runaway.

    It’s not really within the capability of most end user to know and understand when fatigue turns into potential breakage and manufacturers are loathe to give out ‘mean rounds to failure’ on parts. IMO this an accidental situation.

    Now, let’s say you’re at the range and you sweep some of your fellow shooters with your handgun. RSO grabs the gun, moves the muzzle toward downrange and you shoot RSO as they do so. Was this an accident, or negligence? In this hypothetical, did you accidentally misread or ignore the range rules, accidentally pick up and load the gun, accidentally point the gun where it should not be pointing and at another human, accidentally move your trigger finger to the trigger and accidentally depress the trigger firing a projectile into the RSO or were some of those factors not accidents?

    Sure, not every scenario is cut and dry and we do have a dedicated community of linguistic puritans who see negligence pretty much everywhere, and sometimes not as accurately or inconsiderate of context, but overall I disagree that ‘accident’ is ok, interchangeable with negligent even in part. The context of the scenario are important and it is equally important to accurately describe what happened.

    • I am perfectly comfortable classifying any discharge that the shooter did not intend as “accidental”, even if it was their own negligence that caused it. YMMV.

      • John

        The problem with the term “accident” versus “negligence” lies in the court system. If you shot me because you were not being safe, I want the jury to hear the word “negligent” not “accident”.

        • Keiichi

          Which is a perfectly reasonable mindset to have as a responsible individual.

        • Right, and I’d expect nothing less from your lawyer.

      • Kivaari

        Nathaniel, I come at it from the traffic safety field, where I worked for the traffic safety commission. WE could not use the word accident in regard to crashes. Every crash had a human hand in why something happened. Either a driver failed to follow the rules of the road and therefore ran a stop sign or failed to yield right of way thus causing a crash. Or an engineering defect at the manufacturer. Or a repair using a defective part or improperly installed part. Or a state highway engineer that saved money by not sculpting a hillside adequately and it slid crushing 4 women. All had a failure. In every case someone can be held responsible. Instead of accident I prefer either negligent discharge or unintentional. Most of the gun incidents involve people pressing a trigger to the rear.
        Like an “accidental death” involving a Raven. People put their finger on the trigger while moving the slide and get surprised when it goes bang and kills someone. It will be usually reported as an accidental death on a coroners report, but in reality is a negligent discharge and homicide.

    • ExMachina1

      ” If you rear end the car in front of you, is it an accident? ”

      Did they swerve directly in front of me and then brake hard? For the purposes of the police report I’m still “at fault” but the negligence that led to the accident was anything but my own.

      • int19h

        Actually, in most jurisdictions, you’re supposed to maintain a sufficient distance to the car in front of you, that you would be able to brake to a full stop if they brake suddenly (the reason being that they may have legitimate reasons to do so – e.g. if there’s a human or a large animal in front of them on the road). Consequently, if you rear-end someone, it’s your negligence not maintaining the appropriate distance.

        • Jeremy Nettles

          You seem to have missed the whole ‘swerve directly in front of me’ part. Of course you should maintain adequate braking distance from the cars in front of you, but there’s a reason we make roads with multiple lanes. In the case described by ExMachina1, I believe the driver in front would be ticketed for failing to yield the right of way when changing lanes. That makes it their negligence, both in reality and legally.

          • int19h

            I did indeed miss that – my bad, and my apologies.

          • Kivaari

            It would be negligent driving in most states.

        • mazkact

          In Houston if you leave a safe gap in between you and the next vehicle idiots will swerve in front of you, Oh hell they do it even with no space. Consequently in Houston it would seem that one to six inches is customary safe following distance.

          • nicholsda

            It isn’t just there. And a cop is seldom around when it happens. But now with traffic cams it is getting caught more often.

      • As a police officer, if I can verify they committed that action I would investigate them for felony assault – using their car as a weapon.

      • John

        The ole’ “swoop and squat”! They used to do it all the time in Miami and then sue for injuries.

        • nicholsda

          And the lawyer just happens to magically appear on scene. Along with a quack doctor.

  • John

    Gun accidents to me are Remington 700s going off when the safety is switched on or the Taurus going off if you shake the pistol. Negligent discharges involve someone touching the trigger when they shouldn’t, and that included stuffing a gun down your pants without a trigger guard and shooting off your giblets.

    • ExMachina1

      “Gun accidents to me are Remington 700s going off when the safety is switched on or the Taurus going off if you shake the pistol. ”

      And once these dangers become common knowledge, when does it become negligent? Fool me once shame on Remingotn, fool me twice shame on ___?

      • John

        It becomes negligent if you knowingly use a defective gun. If my car is recalled for a deadly brake issue, the car company is paying to have it towed to the dealership because I will not drive it again.

  • Sam

    There is accidental discharge and negligent discharge. Your drunk driver analogy is described in the media as an automotive accident but the driver is not accidentally charged nor are they accidentally driving.
    A good example for firearms would be that you holster your favorite (insert semi auto here) and holster your finger with the pistol and have a discharge. That is negligence. Take the same pistol and insert it into a holster that has a lip that catches the trigger and you’ll get a mix of accidental discharge caused by the holster and negligent caused by using poorly maintained equipment. Now take this same pistol and get the firing pin stuck in the breech from a shaving off of the previous case, it will fire when it goes into battery; accidental discharge. I’ve seen the first two happen on different models of pistol and the second on the same types of pistols and poorly maintained holsters. The third could be just as easily be caused by an improperly machined sear that prematurely wore.
    Proper mishap investigation identifies the difference between accident and negligent, assigns blame where appropriate, and corrects deficiencies that lead up to the incident.

    • Edeco

      Yup, tho to be clear I don’t take a mechanical cause to be a te-absolvo for the shooter; for instance if they were muzzling someone when the transfer-bar stuck in place and the hammer dropped on its own due to the catch fatigueing out or whatever…

  • Disarmed in CA

    I had an accidental discharge once but she forgave me 🙂

    • iksnilol

      Son of a woman, stole my line.

    • Edeco

      negligent, should have thought of baseball 😛

    • USMC03Vet

      What chick doesn’t like a pearl necklace?

  • Sam

    Nathan, to directly answer one question.
    “I completely fail to see why, honestly. Outside of the firearms world, the term “accidental” is almost always used to describe situations involving negligence on the part of one party or another, and yet this use doesn’t cause hate and discontent there.”
    Because in the media the “accident” is reported. In court, the “negligence” is decided. We don’t sit around on forums discussing the 02:30 DUI and the fact that in more jurisdictions it is being charged as murder but we do sit on a forum and discuss if the range was run properly or if the fault was in the gun or the shooter.

    • If you’re using the terms in a legal setting, then yes. Check their common definitions though, you’ll find that for “accident” negligence is often implied or made explicit.

  • aka_mythos

    I think “negligent discharge” came into use because of the military and legal jargonism that permeates the firearm community, without a complete understanding of the subtleties between that and “accidental discharge.”

    It comes down to the fact you can teach someone safety to curtail “negligent discharges” but truly “accidental discharges” -training and safety can only mitigate the severity of the consequences. Thus training emphasizes the things that can be helped; in that way the turn of phrase is heard over and over again becoming ingrained as a component of responsibile firearm use. It is to the credit of the firearm community that there is this emphasis on responsibility but no one wants to acknowledge the very real possiblity that “sh-t happens.”

    I have to believe that some part of that is the political atmosphere and the fear that acknowledging “accidents” undermines our pro-gun sentiments as it plays into that anti-gun belief of a firearm acting on its own accord.

    • I agree with you about the rejection of “accidental” having legal (or possibly military) origins. In that setting, it actually does imply a lack of negligence.

      But not in everyday English.

      • Joseph Goins

        To be fair, you are technically equivocating when you are swapping out definitions for the word “accidental.” People use that word as a synonym for “tragedy” when they are really saying “not intentional.” In the gun community, we use the word “accidental” to mean “a random, freak occurrence.” We then further classify the incident as based on carelessness when we say “negligent.”

        • The gun industry is almost unique in doing so (legal and military fields aside). In other contexts, everyone understands that the word “accident” can imply negligence.

          I’m not baiting and switching definitions on you, either, not sure why you said I was.

          The word choice fundamentally isn’t a big deal, although I think negligence fosters a lack of empathy that can lead to a higher accident rate. Overall, though, firearms safety in the gun world is better now than I think it was 20 years ago, so the effect is probably not that large.

          • Joseph Goins

            “In other contexts, everyone understands that the word “accident” can imply negligence.”
            I’m not arguing against that. I am merely saying that “negligent discharge” is a more precise term than “accidental discharge” for when carelessness is a contributing factor.

          • I’m not sure I agree with either the assertion that “negligence” is more precise, or that we should try to be as precise as we can. I don’t want to repeat what I wrote in the article, but I think by focusing on the culpability there is potentially a missed opportunity for self-reflection and introspection. Nobody looks at a “negligent discharge” and thinks “oh man, that could have been me!” They think “what an idiot!” That can be dangerous.

          • Joseph Goins

            I get where you are coming from, but both assertions are needed. “Negligence” is more precise and we should always use it when applicable to decrease any ambiguity. If I were leading a training class and someone says “I had ten accidental discharges with this gun last time I shot it,” then I’m going to completely strip the gun and look at each of the parts to see if there is an issue. However, you are correct about people not looking at “negligent discharges” as a training opportunity. That’s a problem of projecting what we see about ourselves onto someone else’s actions. It isn’t about the discharge itself. (As I have also said previously in a separate post for this article, the whole topic is nothing to be militant about on either side just like in the “is America being a democracy or republic” debate.)

          • SD

            Why are you stuck on how words and terms are used outside of the context of firearms? Many subjects and hobbies have term usage inconsistencies compared with everyday jargon.

            Because firearms can lead to lethal consequences, putting emphasis on individual responsibility by distinguishing between ‘negligent’ and ‘accidental’ is important. We shouldn’t be trying to remove stigma or the weight of negligence by wrapping it up as an accident – a term that leAves vague where fault lies.

        • Randy G.

          Yes, ‘accidental’ is essentially synonymous with ‘unintentional’, but ‘negligent’ is a sub-category of ‘accidental’ which clarifies that the ‘accident’ was human-caused rather than a mechanical malfunction or act of God.

      • nicholsda

        You can have an accidental discharge of a firearm even with the safety on. You won’t have a negligent discharge with the safety on.

  • iksnilol

    [inappropriate adult joke about accidental discharge, IE: “I had one of those while sleeping one night, was supes embarassing”]

    • forrest1985

      Beat me to it!

      • iksnilol

        Blew up in my face.

        • Bill

          That’s what she said

          • iksnilol

            By “she” I assume you are refering to your mother, no?

    • DanGoodShot

      I had an ad almost 2 years ago… now I’ll be paying for it for the next 17 years.

    • RICH

      …..but her attorney didn’t ! ! ? LOL

  • Bill

    Actually, we don’t refer to car crashes as “accidents” anymore. Invariably there was a contributing human factor, so they are crashes.

    • ExMachina1

      “we don’t refer to car crashes as “accidents” anymore”

      We don’t??? That’s news to me

      • Bill

        At least in my state. The Basic Academy lesson plan and paperwork all refer to crashes, not accidents.

        With the exception of unintended acceleration cases involving Audis, and even those could be traced back to human error, I can’t think of a crash that didn’t involve negligence, recklessness or some greater level of culpability.

        • Nathan Alred

          Our local PD went from having an “Accident Investigation Squad” to a “Traffic Collision Squad” about 15 years ago, following a change in language by the State.

      • Paul White

        In common language yes. I believe law enforcement and traffic safety people have moved away from it though.

        • ExMachina1

          I just checked several metro police department website and they all have “Traffic Accident” pages. You can also find police “accident report codes”. My insurance company also refers “accidents” and “accident reports”.

  • Jeremy Star

    I’ve had an accidental discharge once. (Recently) I was at the range and when I racked a round into my pistol it fired. Finger off the trigger, completely due to a mechanical failure. (Which also locked the gun up so hard it had to be sent back to the manufacturer.)

    Guess what? The gun was pointed downrange, the range was hot. Nobody was ever in danger because I was not violating any safety rules. (In fact, I hit the target pretty close to center with that AD)

    Negligent is when the gun fires for pretty much any other reason OR when mechanical failure hits but you were pointing it somewhere it shouldn’t be pointed.

  • ExMachina1

    Not only do I agree with this, I think the mindless insistence on using the word “negligent discharge” might actually make people LESS prone to take basic precautions. Basically, people don’t like to think of themselves as fallible and when challenged on things, people will generally respond that they are better than average (e.g. I’m a better than average driver”). Therefore to most people, the “negligent” people in their world are everyone else, and not them. That, IMO leads to problems.

    OTOH, “accidental” at least acknowledges that there is some element of randomness to all things, and that bad events could potentially happen to anyone, at anytime. THAT’s the mental state that fosters true vigilance.

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    I once had a Transcendental Discharge but I didnt let it bother me.

    • Paul White

      Sounds like a hell of an evening. Hope you got her number.

  • lol

    All accidents can be avoided or mitigated with proper foresight. To think any other way makes someone lazy and ill prepared.

    • Joseph Goins

      So I can prevent an airplane from crashing into my house when I’m asleep?
      I call BS.

      • Jeremy Nettles

        Well, he didn’t say through *your* foresight…

  • ExMachina1

    Oh well Nathan. You tried. People would rather focus on ascribing blame than just realizing that the word “accident” really just implies lack of intent. Calling something an AD does not absolve anyone of culpability.

    • Edeco

      Victrix causa deis placuit – sed victa Nathani.

  • Joseph Goins

    I understand where you are coming from, Nathaniel. However, I think that you are minimizing the existence of the careless behavior by not being as precise as possible. It’s not exactly something to be religiously militant over but something of which to be mindful. (In my humble opinion, I think that the same can be true for people who bring up the republic/democracy dichotomy in America.) The wording behind the terms is very specific and inherently different. To quote from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

    1: arising from extrinsic causes (incidental, nonessential)
    2A: occurring unexpectedly or by chance
    2B : happening without intent or through carelessness and often with unfortunate results

    1A: marked by or given to neglect especially habitually or culpably
    1B: failing to exercise the care expected of a reasonably prudent person in like circumstances
    2: marked by a carelessly easy manner

    • Sounds to me like “accidental” implies the existence of negligence. So using the term “negligent” is turning the microscope on where to put blame only and ignoring the wider picture, and the point that everyone is fallible, and therefore everyone needs to be vigilant.

      Again, maybe I’m reading into this too much, but it seems like “accident” makes people uncomfortable because having empathy with someone who has just done something very careless or stupid implies that you could also suffer from carelessness or stupidity someday. That doesn’t feel good, but I think it’s necessary to cultivate a responsible mindset.

      • Joseph Goins

        “Sounds to me like “accidental” implies the existence of negligence.”
        Logically, that’s incorrect. (No offense intended.) If “‘accidental’ implies the existence of negligence,” then even freak occurrences (e.g. hammer spring breaks causing gun to fire) carry a taint of negligence with it. This is why I said that “all negligent discharges are inherently accidental and not all accidental discharges are negligent”. IQ tests generally have a question like this in the form of “If all Bloops are Razzies and all Razzies are Lazzies, then are all Bloops definitely Lazzies?

        – – – – – – – – – – – – – – ACCIDENTAL
        – – – – – – – – – – – – /// – – – – – – – – – \
        – – – – – – UNAVOIDABLE – – – – – – AVOIDABLE
        – – – – – – – (ACCIDENT) – – – – – – (NEGLIGENCE)

        • ostiariusalpha

          Judging by the strict definition, it’s more accurate to say that “accident” does not preclude negligence; it is the very lack of any positive implication about responsibility, or lack thereof, in which lies the ambiguity of the word.

          • Joseph Goins

            “Negligence” is a type of “accident.” “Accidents” are not a type of “negligence.”

          • ostiariusalpha

            Not a completely bad way to look at it. Though I would say that negligence is negligence, it can lead to an accident… sometimes; often fools get lucky, but they are still negligent either way. An accident is simply an unexpected event, it doesn’t inherently assign moral agency to the cause of that event; while negligence presumes moral agency, whether there is an event or not.

          • Joseph Goins

            Now you are attempting to classify it based on its affect. Just because a negligent discharge happens doesn’t diminish the fact that it is also an accidental discharge.

          • Right, that’s more correct. It doesn’t preclude negligence and often implies it, to correct my earlier statement.

          • SD

            Your definition isn’t specific enough. Specificity helps identify the issue – whether it was the fault of the person or the object. Leaving it up to interpretation helps no one but the negligent.

      • guest

        Nathaniel, you should start using a meme-ish explenation to almost all of your nitpicky hair-spitting posts like this:

        *hits blunt*

        “If a gun is fired by accident, is it negligent or is the illuminati that made the shooter do it?”

  • DanGoodShot

    We’ll put sir. I couldn’t agree more.

  • Mr. Mars


  • GD Ajax

    Stop buying 100 year old pieces of crap and there will be no accidents what so ever.

  • RICH

    An ‘accident’ is an incident that occurs that is completely ‘unintentional’ on one’s part. Negligence is an act you commit ‘intentionaly’ that you know can be harmful or disruptive. IMHO.

    • Keiichi

      It is possible to be negligent without intention – when a person has a responsibility to be, well, responsible, but isn’t – intentional or otherwise…

  • kyphe

    In the UK accident implies an absence of malice not necessarily an absence of blame, also as negligence is an act where accident is a result so negligence can be a cause of accident. When we specify negligence or emphasize the term in relation to an incident, it is normally to indicate a wilfulness in cause of the failure, rather than a brief lack of concentration or a moment of poor judgment. Examples would be such as if when driving your child screams in the rear seat and you quickly turn to look which takes your attention off the road ahead vs driving for miles looking down at your phone texting your friends.

  • Had this discussion on another thread. If you weren’t intending to shoot, and you caused the shooting its negligent. For example, discharging a round while drawing – negligent. The added caveat is the shot endangered you and others.

    If on the other hand you were intending to shoot, but maybe shot a little early, that could be accidental. For example, you’re working on decreasing your time to draw and fire on target and the shot goes off just before you get locked in and sights aligned. That would be accidental. Muzzle in safe direction, intending to shoot, but just not fully ready. If it’s a truly mechanical discharge without you’re input (and you don’t know about mechanical problem) that would be accidental as well.

  • Jeremy Nettles

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I prefer to differentiate between ND and AD, for the sake of my own attitudes and responsibility. If I’m at the range plinking away and send a bullet downrange unintentionally, it matters to me how I think of it. If it was an accident, then perhaps my firearm needs to TLC, or maybe I should just ditch the thing and get one that won’t go ‘bang’ when I don’t want it to. Even if, in reality, I caused the discharge.

    On the other hand, if it was negligence, then I need to be more mindful of basic rules at all times, and train myself until the problem is corrected.

    The same incident could lead in two different directions—one toward blissful ignorance and, perhaps, a tragic outcome due to a continued lack of responsibility on my part; and the other toward safer practices and reduced risk of harm.

    And it all started with choosing to think of the incident as either an accidental discharge, or a negligent discharge. Maybe it doesn’t matter to everyone else, but it matters to me.

    • Bob

      right on the money.
      and AD is a failure of the weapon
      and an ND is a failure of the shooter.

      You don’t know when your weapon will fail, so that is why you always keep it pointed in a safe direction!
      The gun failing is NO different then say your water pump failing on your automobile.
      YOu had no way of knowing it was going to happen otherwise you would have taken it in for preventive maintenance.
      I had a TRIGGER go bad on me years ago and I fortunately had the rifle pointed at a backstop BEFORE I chambered the round. I then took the rifle OUT of service and had the hammer trigger sear group REPLACED.

  • Oldtrader3

    In 60 years of shooting, I have had one “AD”. However, I would not call it an AD but instead call it a stupid lapse of caution! It never should have happened and I was careless! Never again will I repeat this lack of judgment, unless I am at a range and the barrel is pointed at the target berm!

  • Sid Collins

    Because I am not in charge of the terminology. When I have to investigate soldiers, I have to differentiate. A negligent discharge is defined as a soldier failing to follow established procedures. An accidental discharge is defined as mechanical failure (generally). The first ND I investigated proved to be neither. The outgoing unit had trained the incoming unit in “theatre required loading procedures”. No supporting documentation was found. The outgoing unit confessed to the training based on the previous outgoing unit. The soldier was following the procedure for loading as he was trained. The weapon was thoroughly inspected. I ruled the incident an AD based on the lack of negligence with the shooter.
    When we say ND in the current military, we are saying the discharge is the fault of the person using the weapon. It may not make anyone happy, but it sets the tone.

  • Toxie

    I agree %100. The Firearm community has some of the blowhard-est people around for terminology, for some reason.

    • SD

      As well as some of the least intelligent I’ve ever met.

  • Jake Z

    To me, the litmus test is “if the discharge resulted in a death, would a reasonable person indict the user for criminally negligent homicide?”.

    With a subject as emotionally & politically charged as firearms, I think it is important to be precise in determining fault, especially given the unfortunate human tendency to blame the tool rather than oneself.

  • Getoffmylawn

    It’s very simple. If the discharge was due to a mechanical malfunction, it is an AD. If it was from the failure of the individual, it was an ND.

  • Lew Siffer

    Around 15 years or so ago, the insurance companies used their power to force through a language change in just about every state, and automobile “accidents” became automobile “crashes,” because “accident” implies no one is at fault. The State Police had to reprint all their “Accident Report” forms which were the same except they were now titled “Crash Report” forms. I think we need a government agency to clarify and approve the best way to speak, the new way to speak…say, that’s catchy, we can call it Newspeak. A double-plus good idea!

  • TheUnspoken

    I think the push back is more political, granted tfb tries to stay away from that side, but guns that just go off tends to be reported in the media or quoted by defense attorneys to place more emphasis on the tool than driver. So you frequently see stories reported as “woman shot, gun just went off while boyfriend was testing laser sight/showing friend cool new gun/handing loaded gun to newbie/practicing cowboy draw and twirl/posing for selfie.” If every such reported instance is just an unpredictable accident that the gun caused, then surely no one should own or carry one, these things are ticking time bombs! Just owning one means you will surely be killed by it, when you least suspect!

    Or did the gun work exactly as designed, trigger pulled, shot fired?

  • wr271

    Indeed it’s a strange insistence on controlling the speech of others. Why/how/when did it happen? In my observation, this form of enforced political correctness did not occur until there started being a body of evidence on the relatively high rate of unintended discharges with Glocks and concern with many shooters about it. The gun writers at that time switched to an extremely aggressive stance of “no such thing as an accidental discharge, only negligent discharge” and an implied and often actually stated “You’re not negligent, are you?” This was very effective. It’s common for people to acknowledge that they make mistakes or accidents are possible for them, but people will readily agree that they can avoid being negligent and are not negligent people. But that is not the only consequence of this insistence on denying there is any sort of unintended discharge besides “negligent discharge.” In many matters, such as a possible case of unintended discharge, negligence could be a legal finding. Not everything that is unintended or accidental is “negligent” under the law, of course. Additionally, wouldn’t each case need individual evaluation? In a particularly idiotic example where a Remington 700 fired upon activating the safety (no trigger pull) a commenter insisted this was negigent discharge. Not negligence of Remington, but of the operator. I was never able to figure this, other than the PC-type mentality that has been cultivated around this. I am not at all convinced that all instances of unintended Glock discharges (and others) would be found “negligent,” as a legal term. The trigger being caught by a foreign object and the person being under high stress not seeing the object, eyes perhaps on a threat, would not necessarily be negligent for example. And lastly, it puts an emotional label on it which isn’t necessarily justified for each case. “Accidental” is factual. “Unintended” is factual. But these don’t give the spin that some want. The demand to use only the term “negligent discharge” has done wonders to advance sales of firerams which are more prone to unintended discharges than others. To sell them you need only imply “You’re not negligent, are you?” Then it becomes a matter of pride to use the design. While the parts attributing these are reasons for this PC-like insistence are opinion, that it didn’t appear until the Glock and all the problems of police officers and others having unintended discharges at higher rates that with other semiautos or with revolvers is fact.

  • kcshooter

    Only negligent people have a problem using the correct terminology.

    Its like calling an AR-15 an assault rifle. It’s simply incorrect.

    If it happens because you did something stupid, like pulling a trigger unintentionally, that’s due to negligence. Therefore, it is a negligent discharge, not accidental.

    The correct terminology matters, and if you can’t use it, you shouldn’t be a gun writer.

  • Paul R. Laska

    Actually, terminology is changing in other realms as well. Law Enforcement no longer refers to traffic incidents as accident, instead referring to wrecks or crashes. An accident infers there is no responsibility or liability; most wrecks are due to negligence or recklessness. Thus the same in firearms. It is no accident when your finger is on the trigger and you shoot wrongfully; it is a violation of basic firearms safety. Very, very rarely do firearms fire without outside impetus; thus poor handling or poor safety practices become the overlying cause. Perhaps unintentional, often negligent, but rarely a true accident.

  • Randy G.

    This article strikes me as an effort by the author to be politically correct lest some negligent person be offended.

    In my mind, ‘accidental’ minimizes individual responsibility and is almost dismissive, while ‘negligent’ places the blame squarely where it belongs, and emphasizes the point that the ‘accident’ could have been avoided by the individual(s) involved. Particularly when it comes to firearms safety, safety is paramount; we should not be afraid to call out negligence when and where we find it.

    An accidental discharge caused purely by a mechanical failure is one thing, but even in that case, anyone being killed or injured is probably the result of negligence.

  • Capn Stefano

    I completely fail to see why, honestly. Outside of the firearms world, the term “accidental” is almost always used to describe situations involving negligence on the part of one party or another, and yet this use doesn’t cause hate and discontent there
    Whatever… the vast majority of auto incidents are indeed negligent, and should be called so, and punished by law. Same with negligent firearms discharges. It’s not an “accident” it’s carelessness and negligence

  • Doug Wicker

    I’ve been making this same point for years — they’re accidents. Just because they involve weapons does not justify a change in terminology. Using the term “negligent”, in my view, negates any review of potentially poor design possibly contributing to inducing human error. We redesign cockpit instruments when humans err. We change pedal placements in cars when humans err. But in the firearms world we absolve bad design and place all blame squarely on the individual.

    That change in the rules on human factors engineering for just one product just doesn’t make any sense to me, and never will.

    • kcshooter

      Bad design? Guns don’t go bang unless you pull the trigger.
      Man up and take responsibility for your actions.

      • Doug Wicker

        And that is precisely the reaction to which I was referring. Thanks for proving my point.

        • kcshooter

          Yeah, we get it, you wanna blame the gun.
          After all, its not your fault it was so easy to pull the trigger, right?

          This kind of ‘blame the tool, not the user’ attitude is pathetic.

          • Doug Wicker

            Except that’s not what I said. So, we now know what’s really pathetic here. It’s your reading comprehension.

            Look up “contribute”, and then note that in no way did I use that to absolve human error.

            It’s obvious that you really don’t comprehend the discussion well enough to continue. As such we’re done.

          • kcshooter

            The lack of comprehension here is yours alone.

            Gun only go bang when you pull the trigger.
            Negligence is no accident.
            The blame rests solely on the user.

            Attempting to blame the tool for your failure seems pretty pathetic in my book. So is your backpedaling.

  • WRBuchanan

    So that was brief?: Here’s brief,,, If the gun goes off when you didn’t want it to, it is either Negligent or Accidental. If you caused it it was Negligent. If it went off on its own then Accidental.

    If the gun went off before you were on target then that is a ND. If the gun malfunctioned and went off, that was probably you not maintaining it adequately.

    Thus Both are your fault.

    But that said,,, if you say you have never had a ND then you simply haven’t shot enough, or you are lying about it. Everybody does it sooner or later, and especially if you are pushing your speed.

    You just better hope nobody gets hurt.

  • Henry Servatt

    Sorry, I never refer to a drunk driving collision as an accident. This kind of event is human caused, and is no accident. It may not be “intentional”, but it still is no accident. A driving accident may be attributed to a mechanical failure, or a medically sourced event, or some such as that, but not to DWI.

    With AD’s, I believe in them. Malfunctions occur with mechanical devices. No question.

    My main concern is with news articles that seem to repeat the theme that “the gun went off”, as if it, you know, just decided… to go off. Firearms seldom “go off”. I do know of one firearm that did that, however. Seems it was stored, locked and loaded, in a safe, in a house that had a house fire, and in the heat of the fire the FIQ (firearm in question) did cook off, not only the round in the chamber, but also the rounds in the magazine, and, in fact, nearly all the other ammo stored in the safe cooked off as well.

  • DaveGinOly

    It’s really not difficult. “Accidental” means the firearm went off under conditions in which it should not have fired (including worn or broken parts, presuming the handler wasn’t aware of the condition of the parts), e.g. a slam fire when charging a weapon; and “negligent” means the handler fired the gun 1.) when he didn’t intend to do so, or 2.) under conditions when it should not have been fired (e.g., range not clear) even if the discharge was intentional.

  • FloridaFits

    Remember the days of “unintended excelerations”? Had a chevy van with a wacko cruise control that would turn on and off all by its lonesome. Easy enough to remedy; simply put more pressure on the break. Had to do that until they found a spot for me on the fix-it line. Don’t panic just work thru the problem. Had a slam fire once as well. ALL mechanical things can go kaput. BUT, keep guns pointed away from human flesh and you’ve done all you can.

  • JamesDrouin

    “I completely fail to see why, honestly.”

    Well, then, I would suggest you acquaint yourself with the first three rules of firearms safety, and then let everyone know if a firearm has ever “accidentally discharged” itself.

    1. Keep your finger off the trigger.
    2. Keep your damn finger of the trigger.
    3. Keep your damn finger off the damn trigger.

  • longfisher

    Here, here, I agree.

    It’s a meaningless distinction without a difference and, like much about tacti-cool, political correctness and just plain old high-minded inanity, it’s a way to put someone down.

    Why don’t we try on communicating better rather than cutting off the discussion.


  • 1911a145acp

    The two terms define two DIFFERENT types of discharges.While they are not mutually exclusive they do mean two distinctly different things in my opinion. Negligence, however, may be a major component of the events that lead to an accidental discharge. A negligent discharge occurs when the operator pulls the trigger or causes the arm to fire unintentionally or at any time when the firearm is not aligned on the intended target or oriented in a safe direction. If the firearm operated in normal proper function then the shooter was negligent in it’s operation. Accidental discharges occur due to mechanical failure, or combination of tolerance issue with components, or an external force causes the operator to discharge the arm when he did not intend to. An accident is something unforeseen in the normal course of operation.In the video associated with this article “How to accidentally discharge your pistol properly.” ( An oxymoron if ever there was one) It is stated -“Also, consider all of the things that he did INCORRECTLY prior to the incident:
    1. He installed an aftermarket hammer and sear that were labeled “gunsmith installation only”.
    2. He disabled the firing pin block safety on his firearm for a shorter reset.
    In his defense, this handgun had been tested and run weekly at ranges for roughly 1,000 rounds before the sear engagement failed and caused the accidental discharge.” The shooters negligence in the proper operation and maintenance of the firearm and the tolerance stack of wear issues related to REMOVING critical safety components CAUSED the accident, so the operator was negligent. I find it hard to believe that this was the first time the hammer had followed on the weapon, and that this first time ever the hammer followed was when the ND occurred and the operator was unaware of the condition prior to the discharge – possible, but not likely. If you continue to operate a weapons system that you KNOW is not right, then the ND that occurs cannot be an accident. Critical analysis can determine whether it was accidental or negligence.

  • CavScout

    AD was changed to ND.
    Other than ND, you can have an ‘unintentional discharge.’

  • Actually today I had an AD – which was strange. After a few rounds and while reloading I had my (new) semi-auto shotgun pointed a 45º downward angle – always assuming something could go wrong and it did. Once I released the bolt, it immediately (safely) went off in the dirt. I was stumped !! Wondering if it was me, i did not move at all, and slowly tilted the gun over to see if indeed my finger is where it should be and it was above the trigger guard off the trigger – as it should be. Turned it on the other side and the safety was on.

    In frustration with the (moronic) range officer was going ballistic and blaming me for the discharge, therefore I failed to check the trigger and/or hammer position in order to have an idea why it slam fired. I thought about checking the spent shell, but did not know which one it was. So, I went home to inspect to gun and it seemed all good except that gun came with waaaaay too much oil). So only thing I can think of that it may be due to soft primer.

    I remove the excess oil and try it again with the same care but expecting a possible AD, and take a different box of shot in case it happens again. Though it may be the firing pin spring is a bit weak…. In any case it is always good to remember to always point the gun in a safe direction assuming that something may go wrong.