Accidents are usually – almost always actually – a chain of mistakes, assumptions and ignorance of warning signs that lead to a sometimes fatal event. Last August a Florida law enforcement agency training exercise went terribly wrong when .38 Special wadcutter ammunition was loaded into a standard firearm that was to be used for a force-on-force exercise, instead of – what was wanted – .38 Special blanks. The exercise continued with the revolver being pointed and discharged at another person participating in the drill. The result? That person was struck twice and was killed.
What went wrong? The initial excuse was that the wadcutters LOOKED like blanks so were unwittingly and stupidly loaded into the cylinder of the pistol. But what REALLY went wrong?
- This was NOT a blue gun or a firearm reconfigured for simunition or UTM marking ammunition that absolutely CANNOT chamber live ammo, but a FIREARM. That meant that the FIRST rule of safety – NEVER POINT A FIREARM AT ANYTHING THAT YOU DO NOT WISH TO DESTROY- was willfully and purposefully violated.
- Nobody present spoke up about the failure of basic disregard of safe muzzle discipline and that the key mind-set that every gun is loaded and stopped the exercise before the trigger was pulled shows a SEVERE cultural breakdown where the participants felt unable to speak up when faced with an uncertain situation. All it would have taken would have been ANYONE to say, “hey, wait a minute….” But no one did. Why?
- The training of those involved was gravely inadequate as a fully qualified instructor would have taken steps such as having ALL live ammo well away from the exercise, would have AT LEAST known the difference in the two rounds, would have had others double check the guns and ammo. Most of all, he (or she) would have treated the FIREARM as a coiled snake that would strike first chance it got, and EVERY effort to verify, reverify and re-reverify that everything was safe was done to the point of ridiculousness.
Personally, I worked with a SEAL years ago during a photo shoot where we were taking pictures of him with a live but unloaded firearm ALL DAY LONG, but just ONE TIME I handed him the pistol back to him without racking the slide or verifying it was clear without another person double-checking the muzzle was empty and there was no ammunition in position to be fed – even though he had just handed the gun to me to reposition himself – I got an ass-chewing from a seasoned U.S. Navy Master Chief that I STILL feel. And it was justifiable as NO MATTER WHAT, the rules for gun safety are inviolate, not subject to change because “I am a professional” or you are in a hurry or that you “checked earlier,” even seconds before. That being said, if you own a firearm and don’t see the NEED for this kind of EXCESSIVE and COMPLETE safety mindset – sell your fucking guns and take up knitting.
This never should have happened. This was an incredibly tragic and totally preventable event that cost the life of a person, the career of the LEO involved and leaves widespread stains on both LE and gun owners in general. This lethal mistake was due to the horrendous lack of proper training and a total lack of both a safety culture and questioning attitude, which the proper use of ANY ONE OF THE THREE would have prevented the bullets from leaving the barrel. As a result we can learn from this and just understand that while shooters can be smart, bullets are stupid. Don’t be a bullet.