Sunday, April 20, 2008

negligent discharge number one, 1978...

the story of the airline pilot who accidentally discharged his .40 cal. handgun right through his airliner's fuselage while on landing approach to charlotte, nc airport had me wondering what the hell set of circumstances could cause, or rather allow, such an "accident"...utter idiocy and/or failure to abide by one or more of the rules? that was my first thought, and though there are indications of a series of contributing factors, that still is my thinking on where ultimate responsibility lies...then i remembered that the airline pilot involved is not alone; i join him in culpability for potentially tragic lapses of concentration, focus, and control.

then, of course, anyone who enjoys or deals with firearms and has handled a large number of them (and conversely, anyone who is a novice handler and therefore subject to mistakes of inexperience) knows that mistakes can and do happen; in my experience it is virtually always a case of lapsed concentration, judgement, or control; and any one of those, at any time, can be catastrophic...that airline pilot and everyone on that plane, possibly even everyone on the ground in that vicinity, are extremely fortunate that there was no injury, loss of life, or loss of many lives.

and, well...i'm pretty fortunate, too...over a thirty year career of buying, selling, pawning, shooting, collecting, inspecting, cleaning, and repairing firearms, i by necessity was responsible for thousands of them, and the odds were that some mistakes would be made, and they were, three of which resulted in negligent discharges (believe me, you don't forget them) and i, like that pilot, am incredibly thankful that no one was hurt because of my stupid lapses...and for that i thank God; among the many blessing He has bestowed on me, that one ranks near the very top...i have promised to post the details of my three nd's in seperate posts, so, as promised and without further adieu, here is...

negligent discharge number one, 1978...

a future post i will call "in pawn" will describe how i ended up...well, in pawn in '78, with no experience at all in the activities of a pawnshop, as the 24 year old manager of one...the point here is, i'd been the "manager" there for a couple of weeks; in other words i had learned to handle the payments and pickups of people's stuff that they had borrowed money on...and i had learned a little about buying and selling gold and silver by weight, how to tell the real stuff, etc...and i had spent a fair amount of time checking out the wide-ranging firearms inventory; i enjoyed shooting and had always had a few guns, even sold some in my first teenage job at an old fashioned hardware store (anybody remember pre '68?)...

so i guess dick felt comfortable with me at the shop and him doing what he did best...in and out of the shop half a dozen times during the day, checking on things, meeting people to look at goods, and always dropping off a few things for the store to sell that he had picked up on his rounds at other dealers and stores...this was a tightknit group that had known each other for years and they often consigned merchandise to each other valued well into the thousands on a handshake...and sometimes what dick dropped off was a gun or two. and that's what he did on this day...

he was in and out in a rush, and told me he dropped a few things on the desk in his office, so later i went in to check out what he had brought that i would later be entering into stock for sale...and the first thing i noticed was the signature short blue box of a snub-barrel smith and wesson revolver...lots of people think the assault weapons ban of the early 90's was the first of its kind, but 1978 was the middle of the carter years; there was much talk and everyone believed that snub barrel handguns would be banned from private sale...s&w was not producing any at the time, and the wholesalers were all out of stock, so if a dealer was going to have them in his showcase, he had to find them from other dealers and from the public..."short blue boxes"...they were a prize find because inside was going to be an s&w snubbie, and they would bring more then (a clean mo. 60 in box retailed for $500) than they do thirty years later.

so on dick's desk was this short blue box, and i gingerly opened it to find that beautiful brown waxed paper, the book and original tools...unwrapping it quickly to see what prize was inside, i found a shrouded-hammer model, i cannot remember if it was a mo. 38 or 49, it was one or the other; they are of course the same except that m38 is a lightweight, and they both have a spur hammer barely protruding above the shroud, and the gun had been left in hammer-back (cocked) mode...anyway i picked it up and noticing the hammer position...absent mindedly decocked the hammer...by pulling the trigger.

why? to this day i don't know...when i handled the guns in the showcase, and of course when a customer brought any gun in or touched one of ours, the first thing i would do is drop the cylinder and check and/or clear the chamber...and clear it again on every subsequent touch. why did i not do it this time? i still don't know, i do remember that i was on the phone and a bit distracted, and probably when i couldn't release the cylinder i noticed the hammer-back position and dropped the hammer so i could then release the cylinder...talk about backward. obviously the gun should not have been loaded in the box and certainly shouldn't have been cocked, but there is no excuse for what i did; had i followed my own rules (the same as the four rules, even though i hadn't officially heard of the 4r's before), what happened next could not have happened...all i remember is an explosion that deafened me and shocked my senses...and momentarily froze time and consciousness.

when i regained my wits and realized what had happened, and that the gun was fully loaded, fear gripped me like my chest was caught in a vise...the gun had been pointed at the office wall and on the other side of that wall was a used car lot that was always busy; dear God i might have killed someone...i walked to the wall and saw the small entry hole in the wood panelling...about an inch below a window. the exterior wall was concrete block, and that had stopped the .38 slug cold...i looked out the window and as usual there were several people...including a family with children...wandering around the car lot.

i started thanking God then, and i've never stopped yet in thirty years, that the aim wasn't a few inches higher...almost certainly i would have killed an innocent person, maybe even a child, ending or ruining a life, and altering many others including my own and my family's, forever.

it was a lesson in just how fragile our lives are, how one stupid, thoughtless action can turn the world upside down...it's a lesson i never forgot and never will, and i have not repeated it in the thousands of times i have picked up a strange firearm for the first time.

but that is not to say that i didn't commit other stupid acts that are in retrospect, different but just as potentially horrific...even more so really...there would be two more negligent discharges to haunt me, the next one coming fourteen years later, in 1992...and that will be the subject of another post.

1 comment:

CTone said...

Yikes! Let's hear it for concrete! Good to know things turned out alright.

I was not aware that that scumbag Carter was trying to ban snubbies. It's interesting to note that the S&W .38 special snubby is still the most popular gun used by criminals. Still, banning them would do nothing useful because how many millions of good people carry the same gun.

Didn't Carter start the whole Democrats-want-to-ban-guns thing? His pathetic presidency was not before my time, but it was before the time that I actually cared. I can't imagine that it was Kennedy, considering he advocated an M16 in every American home.

I have fortunately never had an ND; the closest thing I had to one was while I was out hunting. I had a Remington 788 in .243 Winchester that had the damndest safety selector. I thought I had it on safe, but you could never tell, so I pointed the gun at the closest tree and squeezed the trigger...Boom!

I got the safety thing sorted out after that.