By Sheriff Jim Wilson, Shooting Illustrated
You may have heard recently of a few examples where, under extremely narrow circumstances, a particular model of handgun will discharge if dropped. This may tempt gun owners to try catching their handgun if it falls from their hands. To do so would be a dangerous mistake, as the odds of tripping the trigger during a desperate grab are far greater than a dropped gun hitting in exactly the right spot to go off.
A few years ago, a California officer dropped her gun during department qualifications. The pistol discharged, and the officer was killed. Reconstruction of the incident revealed that this officer had tried to grab the gun as it fell and unintentionally tripped the trigger.
Just recently, a reader told me about being present when a person dropped a striker-fired semi-automatic handgun with an integrated trigger safety and the gun went off, hitting the individual in the leg. While there is not a lot of information about this incident, my first thought was that the person had grabbed at the gun as it fell and tripped the trigger.
This sort of negligent discharge can happen with any handgun. It occurs when any type of handgun is dropped with the hammer cocked and no safeties engaged. It could happen with several of the single-action autos, any DA/SA auto or any revolver with an exposed hammer.
Throughout our lives, whenever we drop something, it is a natural response to try to catch it before it hits the ground or floor. We learned this response as children because we didn’t want to get in trouble for breaking a glass or bottle. Or we simply didn’t want to look as clumsy as we obviously were. It is, however, a real mistake when the object that we have dropped is a loaded handgun.
Long ago, we learned to warn students about this. It is, or should be, an integral part of the safety lecture. We begin by reminding them of the four safety rules. Then we discuss administrative rules of the class and range – Don’t load until instructed to – Don’t draw your gun until instructed to – if you drop anything, especially your gun – just let it fall.
It is possible that a handgun, any handgun, could discharge when it is dropped on a hard surface. It is possible, but not probable. In this case, it is far more probable that a discharge will result if we try to catch the gun in flight. It all happens in a millisecond, and we can’t really be sure where our fingers are going or what they are doing.
For your safety and that of others around you, this should be an iron-clad rule: If you drop the gun, just let it fall.