Only You Can Prevent A Negligent Discharge 

You’re a safe, responsible gun owner. You follow the Four Rules of Gun Safety as if your life depends on them (because it does). There is no way that you can have a negligent discharge, right? 

Well, maybe. 

First, a quick review of the four rules of gun safety: 

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
  2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
  3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use
  4. ALWAYS be aware of your target and what’s behind it

You would think those would be easy to follow. However, every time I go to my local public range, I see at least one violation of these rules. Worse than this, it’s usually multiple violations of more than one rule. 

negligent discharge

Don’t be this guy. Please, please don’t be this guy.

What Causes A Negligent Discharge? 

First off, let’s define the term “negligent discharge” and see how it differs from accidental discharge. We use the two terms interchangeably often; there is a lot of confusion over what they really mean. I’ve always defined them as follows: 

Accidental discharges are primarily gear related. They are caused by things like bad holsters that don’t cover the trigger, or improperly made semi-automatic guns, like an out-of-spec AR lower, which can accidentally fire more than one round with one pull of the trigger. These types of gear and firearms are inherently unsafe and are very prone to sending rounds downrange by themselves. Avoid them at all costs. 

Negligent discharges are primarily operator related. In theory, they are 100% preventable with proper training and discipline. In practice, however, even the best of us make mistakes. Let’s look at some of the biggest causes of these mistakes and see how we can prevent them.

“Unloaded” Guns That Aren’t Really Unloaded

This is probably the leading cause of negligent discharges. Next time you’re at a public range, look up at the roof over the firing line. Every single one of the holes you see was caused by somebody who was 100% certain their gun was unloaded. They knew this to be so, right up until the gun went off and a hole appeared in the roof. 

Verifying that your gun is unloaded every time you pick it up solves a lot of these problems.

First, drop the magazine and open the cylinder (or remove any other device that might carry ammo). Second, lock the slide or bolt to the rear. On a revolver, eject all the cartridges (fired or not) from the gun. Third, visually check the chamber of your gun to make sure it’s empty. Finally, physically inspect the chamber (or chambers, in a revolver) with your finger to verify that it’s empty. This is a great way to make certain that your gun is actually empty, and will greatly reduce the chances of a negligent discharge. 

And don’t get me started on, “It was an accident. The gun went off while I was cleaning it.” Cleaning a gun starts with unloading it and removing all live ammo from the room. If you’re not visually and physically inspecting your gun every time to make sure it’s empty before you start cleaning it, you’re doing it wrong. 

Improper Storage

store guns safely

Your storage safe is for storing empty guns.

Remember that ad for a fast food burger that said “keep the hot side hot, and the cool side cool?” That’s how you should store your guns. The guns that I rely on to defend a life are kept loaded, but they are kept securely away from unauthorized hands. I keep them in a separate room from the rest of my gun collection. I keep my other guns unloaded in a separate safe. I do things this way because I never want to confuse the two. Keep loaded guns loaded and unloaded guns unloaded. 

And by “unloaded” I mean completely unloaded. Store the empty magazine outside of the gun. My self-defense guns are another matter, but if it’s not a gun that I’m relying on for personal protection, it’s in my safe and it is unloaded. 

Improper storage also covers off-body carry. There should be no chance that anyone can access your gun if you’re carrying it in a purse, backpack, or other form of off-body carry. Curious hands can get into a purse with lightning speed and with tragic results. Your gun has to become a part of you if you choose to carry off-body. Otherwise, lock it away someplace secure. Your car is not a gun safe, and neither is your purse. 

Wandering Trigger Fingers 

Here’s a hint: If your sights are not on-target and you have not made the decision to shoot, your finger should not be on the trigger. Something needs to move the trigger to make your gun go off. As such, unless your gun is one of those rare, unsafe specimens that can discharge a round all by itself, pay particularly close attention to where your trigger finger is when you’re holding your gun. 

This is more difficult to learn than you might think. It’s easy to put your finger on the trigger. Guns are designed to be easy to hold, with the trigger within easy reach. This means it’s easy to put your finger on the trigger when it’s unsafe to do so. Learning good trigger discipline is a process, but it’s a process that pays off in increased gun safety. 

safe holster help prevent a negligent discharge

A good holster covers the trigger of your gun and does not require the use of your trigger finger

It’s not just fingers that can get into triggers, either. Make sure things like clothing straps and holster accessories are clear of the trigger guard as you’re reholstering. These can put pressure on the trigger as your gun slides into its holster, which in turn could lead to a negligent discharge. 


If your holster has a loose flap on it or a strap that can get into the trigger guard, get rid of it. Get something without the potential to cause a tragedy. 

Tips For Not Having A Negligent Discharge

Follow All Of The Four Rules All The Time

Gun safety is your responsibility. A gun is only as safe as the person who holds it. Following the Four Rules every single time you are around guns will greatly reduce your chances of a tragic accident. 

Minimize Administrative Gun Handling

Simply put, the more time you spend with a loaded gun in your hand, the better the chance of a negligent discharge. A holster is not a storage unit where you keep your gun in between showing it off to your friends. Keep your gun in a holster until you need it  or until it’s time to safely store it somewhere else. We’ll all be grateful if you do.  

Verify your gun is unloaded by touch and by feel when you begin to clean it. Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction when unloading it for cleaning. If you’re cleaning a Glock or some other gun that requires a trigger press for disassembly, make sure you drop the mag then visually and physically inspect the chamber before pressing the trigger. Don’t become a story on your local news (or worse yet, a prisoner in the local jail) because you forgot to take these most basic of steps before cleaning your gun.

Safely Store Your Gun

Secure your guns in your car. In addition to this, a gun that’s loose in your nightstand or in it’s box underneath your bed isn’t secure. If you think your gun is safe from prying hands because it’s in your purse in your closet, you’re setting yourself up for a very tragic event. Keep unloaded guns completely unloaded. A pistol with a full magazine but no round in the chamber isn’t an unloaded gun, it’s a bad idea. Storing a loaded magazine inside your gun doesn’t save that much space inside your gun safe. Don’t set yourself up for a negligent discharge by storing a fully loaded gun in your gun safe that you thought was unloaded. 

Stay Safe, Have Fun

The minute you think, “Well, I’m a safe gun owner, there is no way I can have a negligent discharge,” you’re setting yourself up for disaster. They can happen to anyone, anytime. The only way to avoid them is use equipment and guns that are safe, and to follow the basic rules of gun safety every single time you are around guns. Safely shooting guns is fun. A negligent discharge is the exact opposite of fun. Stay away.