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5 Most Shocking Places I Found Loaded Guns

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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.

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Tom

    November 10, 2021 at 2:56 pm

    Great article and examples of what sloppy gun handling can potentially lead to. You cannot delegate your responsibility for handling any firearm safely. It cannot be delegated to the film set armor nor to your buddy who hands you a gun. Baldwin is responsible for the shooting and others may be culpable as well but he was the operator of the firearm and he was responsible to handle that firearm following all gun safety rules. Obviously he did not, Baldwin pointed the gun, Baldwin pulled the trigger and those facts cannot be changed.

    • Pete

      November 10, 2021 at 3:12 pm

      Tom – you are precisely correct.
      In reading the news about this shooting on the film set, I just kept wondering: “(i) treat all guns as loaded and (ii) keep every firearm pointed in a safe direction. These compliances could have prevented tragedy.
      In typical news media fashion, the cry has come out for further legal restrictions instead of simply emphasizing personal responsibility!

      • Malcolm Riggs M.D.

        November 10, 2021 at 3:18 pm

        Baldwin will be portrayed as the ultimate victim here. Not because he went through some kind of trauma or was mistakenly given the wrong loading, but because he is a wealthy leftist.

        • Jack Hoeff

          November 10, 2021 at 5:42 pm

          Always some redneck reader has to make an article political.! This article is not about a Hollywood actor, it’s about 5 unexpected times this writer experienced a loaded gun when it was not supposed to be loaded and the golden rule about treating every firearm as if it was loaded. But I’m sure Mr M.D. is too “M”entally “D”eficient to understand.

          • Mr Bagworm

            November 10, 2021 at 7:17 pm

            You can’t attack what he said, so you attack him???? Sorry Bozo, but he’s right.

          • Hans

            November 11, 2021 at 2:41 pm

            Use that thing between your ears Jack!

  2. Paul patterson

    November 10, 2021 at 3:07 pm

    Good reminder, I myself have found firearms loaded in different places, 3 were at pawn shops with black powder and rounds. Pawn shop owners did not know how to check or unload, and did not understand the damage they could do

  3. James

    November 10, 2021 at 3:25 pm

    I always insist that I check any gun that I handle. If I am showing a gun to someone, I check it in front of them and then insist that they double check while I witness the inspection.

  4. Kenneth Stein

    November 10, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    I am one of those people shot by an “empty” gun. You better be following the rules around me.

  5. Bruce Clark

    November 10, 2021 at 3:35 pm

    One of the easiest ways I remember if one of the myriad of pistols and rifles I own is loaded is ALL MY GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED.

  6. Augusto Pinochet

    November 10, 2021 at 4:14 pm

    Yeah, you gotta violate at least 3 or possibly all 4 of the ‘Four Commandments’ for tragedy to strike. Safety is your friend!!

  7. Michael Reid

    November 10, 2021 at 5:01 pm

    I once asked a vendor at a gun show if I could pick up and look at a .44 Magnum revolver that had caught my eye. He said sure, so I picked it up and automatically pushed out the cylinder to make sure it was unloaded. Imagine my surprise when I saw the cylinder pull of rounds and their unfired primers. I left the cylinder out and handed it back to him. He was quite chagrinned and apologized. I’m glad I was the one who picked it up rather than someone unfamiliar with safety rules.

  8. Steve

    November 10, 2021 at 5:10 pm

    Copy all. My very first experience with a “real” firearm was a .22 Marlin with a tube magazine. Christmas 197X; I unwrapped it, opened the box and wow! Proceeded to grab the obvious handle (the grip) and pull the box away………..Couldn’t say which one hit me but I got lit up! 6 months and gun safety classes and lectures later I was allowed to touch it again.

  9. TheWoodsman

    November 10, 2021 at 9:08 pm

    Shortly before he passed, my great uncle took me to his long deceased brother’s apartment to gift me an amazing Winchester 1911 .22 pump. It had been leaning against the couch for maybe 30 years. Of course I checked if it was loaded. It was. I got the action open just enough to see a round in the chamber, but it was too gummed up to eject the round. Soooooo….I cautiously placed it in the car for the trip home making sure it was pointed in a safe direction. The exposed hammer is the only “safety” on those. The first abandoned exit on the interstate I came to, I headed toward a dead-end dirt road. Magically, an empty bottle of beer appeared against a safe backdrop. I hopped out, retrieved the rifle and shot the neck off the bottle at 25 yards, thus solving the loaded gun problem. Very satisfying ending to the story, as that’s the first time it had been shot in at least 30 years. Yes, treat every gun as if it were loaded.

  10. DMA

    November 10, 2021 at 10:07 pm

    The shooting incident on the movie set raised so many “red flags”. My first question is what was live ammunition doing anywhere on the movie set, the only place live rounds should have been would be in the Firearms of people working as security for the movie. Next question is where was the “chain of custody” when it came to who handled the guns and loaded them.
    I read that Alec Baldwin now wants police officers to be in control of the firearms on movie sets.
    Whenever I handle a gun the first thing I do is open the action and check to make sure that it is not loaded, if I am handing it to somebody (or taking it from them) the action is always left opened and held so both people can see that it is clear.

    • John D Caffrey

      November 12, 2021 at 5:42 am

      The shooting on the Rust set is pure BS at this point, every one pointing fingers at everyone else and the armor this and the prop folks that. All of that does not matter, there is only one guilty party here and that is Baldwin, he is the one who pointed the gun and pulled the trigger period. End of story. A rabid anti-gun person who commits an act no gun fancier would ever do and that is to point a gun at someone and pull the trigger. You only do that if you want to kill that someone. So is there something else afoot here? Makes you wonder

  11. Ron

    November 11, 2021 at 1:43 pm

    Great article.

  12. Boss

    November 11, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    After a day at the range with my ex-son-in-law, I said “check them to be sure all are unloaded”. We then stowed all the rifles and went home.
    I took all the rifles to the garage to clean them and started to clear each, starting with his cleared rifles. The first one I picked up, when I pulled the bolt back had a round loaded.
    From then on I checked each one as they were placed in the vehicle.
    Note; it is not unloaded until it’s unloaded and then it’s only unloaded until it is touched.

  13. Bill Spalding

    November 11, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    On the Alec Baldwin comments: Baldwin pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. He is responsible for the death and wounding. All the rest, chain of custody etc. is just legal speak to decide what to charge him with and who sues who. All just bullshit from the moral standpoint. Everybody will get sued and the woman will still be dead. Typical behavior of a lefty to ignore their own responsibility. Simply a violation of basic gun safety rules that my 8 year old grandson would not commit. Again, Baldwin pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. Can any of you picture yourselves doing that without making triple sure the gun is empty? I personally can’t picture myself pointing a real gun at anyone ever, with the exception of a life or death self defense situation. If you can you should never pick up a gun again. Plus, the way the Hollywood types that have spoken of this, they say that nobody ever actually points a gun at anybody else during filming or any time on the set. Camera angles etc. For the third time: Baldwin pointed the gun and pulled the trigger! He is responsible, no one else. Don’t hold your breath for that to be the outcome. I’m with Malcolm Riggs M.D. Jack Hoeff not so much. It’s not political to make an obvious observation. These 5 stories resulted in no one hurt, because even in story #3 the culprit at least had his gun pointed in a safe direction. Baldwin violated all gun safety. But, he’ll be happy to tell all the rest of us we need more gun control, cops on movie sets etc., just because he is incapable of exercising the same gun handling practices my grandson can. I hope the sonofabitch pays some price, but he won’t. He probably won’t sleep to well though. He knows. Or, he’ll sleep fine and just blame someone else for his own irresponsible behavior. In my 66 years, whenever I have heard, “I didn’t know it was loaded” I’ve always had the same thought: What an idiot.

  14. Thomas L Longtin

    November 11, 2021 at 3:26 pm

    Additionally, I always check the function of the guns safety when first loaded in a safe direction verbally telling any partners.
    So, I taught my older brother the same.
    Yes he sent a 30-06 varmint round into the ground behind the truck when we where preparing to hunt. Surprising, … but it affirmed where his safety was positioned. I made him correctly put safety on and verify correct function …. Lesson Learned for user to know the correct operation/status.

  15. Bemused Berserker

    November 12, 2021 at 10:58 am

    I had a negligent discharge once, over 40 years ago. Luckily, no one was hurt. It taught me a valuable lesson about the 4 rules, because I broke 2 of them. Since then, I’ve been a sticker on the 4 rules.

  16. Fred Philibert

    November 12, 2021 at 2:15 pm

    On a movie set, it is my understanding that the only person authorized to open the action on a firearm is the Armorer (Hannah Reed, in this case). That is also the only person allowed to hand or receive firearms to or from an actor. But any person on the set can ask to have the armorer demonstrate that the firearm is unloaded.

    From the account, Baldwin did not ask. But it was not the Armorer who handed the gun to Baldwin, it was the Assistant director. There also was, apparently, a period of time when guns were left unattended during lunch.

  17. db

    November 30, 2021 at 1:47 pm

    Y’all have surely heard the oft cited ‘saying’… ‘There are no stupid questions… only stupid answers…’

    Wrong! There’s at least ONE stupid question… betting all y’all know where this ‘um be headed…

    The ultimate stupid question IS (drum roll please)… ‘Is this gun loaded?’

    The Four Rulz bit is fine, but in the interest of keeping things simple I’ve long held that ‘The Golden Rule uh Guns’ is… ‘The gun IS always loaded…. no question is required…’

    Nuff said…

    db

  18. WallPhone

    December 3, 2021 at 3:03 am

    In addition–always check twice, since operating an action to check if a gun is loaded could also be the exact manipulation needed to chamber a cartridge off a magazine!

  19. steven baum

    January 10, 2022 at 6:40 pm

    As the saying goes ” back in the day ” .
    When I was a rookie cop at the academy 1982,we were told to do a “Helen Keller” check of our guns.
    Now I know that is FAR from a P.C. comment,and nowadays would get you a loud and nasty comment from any and all present.
    But what was meant [ and still a GREAT idea ] was you looked three times at your chambers,then you put your pinly into that chamber to be sure there was shell in it.
    And note,we were issued and carried S & W model 10’s in .38 special.
    But they went ‘Helen Keller’ on the shotgun training for sure.
    I have had 3 ND’ in the course of my lifetime,and they were no real incident as the guns were pointed in a safe direction.
    2 handguns and one shotgun,been a few decades or more since but LESSON LEARNED.
    I handle at least one daily and that would be at very least twice a day [ holster & unholster end of day ] .
    But add in gun shops,gun shows,range time,hunting time and the number goes VERY high yearly.
    Good read and great points you made,thank you
    Retired cop here !!and former firearms instructor.

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