In the wake of the Alec Baldwin shooting incident on the set of “Rust,” most gun owners are doing a bit of reflection on their firearms handling practices, both past and present. For those not familiar with the incident, Alec Baldwin fatally shot one crew member and injured another with a gun that he and the set armorer were “expecting” to be unloaded. You know what they say about expectations, right? Some state gun safety rule #1 to be “treat all guns as if they are loaded,”,and I agree because if you handle enough of them you will invariably pick up a loaded gun unexpectedly.
For the last 10 years of my life, I have handled at least one gun a day—meaning that I have picked up roughly 3,650 guns this decade alone. Realistically, it’s more like five or six guns a day, each multiple times….you can figure the math. During that same period, I have either encountered a loaded gun or have been witness to somebody encountering a loaded gun a total of five times. While this indicates that the chance is slim, it’s never zero. Here are those five instances with the hopes that they help others identify a potentially dangerous scenario.
1. In a gun store
If you ask somebody who makes a living selling guns, they’ll likely have a story about how somebody brought a gun in that was mistakenly loaded. However, few will have a story about picking up a loaded gun from one of the racks behind the counter. That’s why guns are kept back there, so they can be supervised. However, not every store employs that methodology and some leave their guns out on the showroom floor…right next to the ammo. Sure enough, I picked up a gun in one of those big-box stores, cracked the action, and watched a round roll out of it. It seems somebody wanted to check the cycling but wasn’t quite sure how to check to make sure it was unloaded when they were done.
2. Shipped to me
Yep, you read that right. I have actually had a gun show up on my doorstep loaded. It came back from a repair and although you want to trust a gunsmith, they are only human too. If I had to guess I would say that likely the gun was being function-tested and the tester was interrupted. After returning, he or she forgot which phase they were in and tossed it in a box without confirming it was clear. Trust no one.
3. In a match
A USPSA stage ends with the commands “Unload and show clear,” “Slide forward,” and “Hammer Down” before the shooter is allowed to reholster (or case). I have always taken these commands literally, often upsetting lazy RSOs because I don’t proceed until they visually inspect the chamber and acknowledge what they have seen. Often, guys will just cycle the action a bunch of times and call it a day. Funny thing about extractors…if they don’t extract the round the first time, there’s a good chance that it won’t extract it the second, third, fourth, or fifth time either. So, when that “hammer down” command comes along you are going to hear a BOOM instead of a CLICK. Sadly, this is exactly what happened to Sir Racks-a-Lot, and he got to spend the rest of the match back home in his recliner. Luckily the round went into the berm, otherwise we would have likely gotten a phone call from the neighbors.
4. Above a fireplace
On my maiden trip to a buddy’s cabin, I noticed a nice old double-barreled shotgun hanging over his fireplace. As it looked a little too nice to be a typical wall-hanger, I inquired if it still worked or not. He said that it did, but it belonged to his grandfather and hasn’t been fired in decades. He then invited me to pull it off the wall, and of course, I accepted the invitation. Well, out of habit I cracked it open and peered down at two tarnished, unfired shells. It had been loaded for more than 30 years and passed around multiple times; I had just been the only person to open the action. Best of all, it sat over that hot fireplace, at head level, pointing right into his bedroom for all of those years.
5. After a DEC instructor “helped” me
After emerging from the woods in the wake of a morning squirrel hunt, a buddy and I were packing up the car and getting ready to head out. He told me that he “unloaded” my gun for me and proceeded to hand me two shells…the gun had six in it.
He apparently wasn’t familiar with the Benelli feeding system that requires a button to be pressed after each round, not just the first. The irony of this story is that not only is he teaching new hunters firearms safety but he committed one of the many crimes that he warns them about.
All of these stories have two things in common. One, nobody was injured. Two, everyone involved kept the gun pointed in a safe direction and didn’t touch the trigger (unintentionally at least), which are rules #1 and #2 as per the NRA model. I look back at those scenarios and think about what the outcome would have been if lesser gun handlers have found those firearms before I did, or if that match shooter was breaking the 180 as he pressed the trigger. I hope everybody reading this story realized that guns can be found loaded in places other than a shooting range and that no matter what you shouldn’t take anybody’s word for it until you can visually see both the chamber and an empty or removed magazine.
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