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Massad Ayoob on Guns

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Massad Ayoob


Monday, May 25th, 2009

Think of your gun as a power tool. A remote control drill, if you will. You wouldn’t rest your chain saw with its blade in your lap even if you were sure it wasn’t turned on. What possesses people to treat more cavalierly the power tool we call a firearm?

One of my pet peeves has always been the practice common among sporting clay bird shooters to rest the shotgun with its muzzle on their shoe, with the “business end” of that power tool literally at muzzle contact with their foot. They’ll tell you, “Don’t worry, it isn’t loaded.” What’s that old saying again, about so many people being accidentally shot with empty guns?

Below, courtesy of a friend who is one of the top small arms experts living in my opinion, are some pictures of what can happen when such a practice goes wrong. I’m told the shooter was resting the shotgun’s muzzle on his foot when something (most likely an errant trigger finger) pressed the shotgun’s trigger to the rear.

This guy was lucky. The muzzle was resting in the space between the great toe and the next one. He may or may not keep the big toe. Had the gun been a couple of inches back, he might have lost the whole foot. I’m told that it was a light clay bird load of small #8 birdshot pellets.

The late, great Colonel Jeff Cooper postulated four cardinal rules of gun safety. 1) All guns are always loaded, and treated as such. 2) Never allow the muzzle to point at anything you are not prepared to see destroyed. 3) Do not let your finger enter the trigger guard unless and until you are in the very act of intentionally firing the weapon. 4) Be certain of your target.

This case is a clear violation of Rule 2 and probably Rule 3. Public schools should teach certain basic safety rules to our children at a very early age. Right up there with “Don’t urinate on the electric fence or the third rail”; “Don’t eat the yellow snow”; and “Don’t stand in the doorway of a Harley bar and scream ‘Kawasaki rules!’; should be…


Readers are invited to share anecdotes of their own in this vein




  1. BikerRN Says:


    Having carried a gun for twenty years and being a graduate of L.F.I., as well as state and federal firearms training, and some local training from various local trainers I only have one comment:

    Stupid is as stupid does

    The “safest” I ever felt was in your L.F.I. class, and even there I never felt “safe”. Maybe that’s because I know there is no place 100% safe. I was very impressed with the attention to muzzle/trigger discipline.

    Now, as far as “Stumpy”, I’ll bet he feels stupid, and rightly so. Sorry, but pity and compassion are not in my vocabulary for something like this. If I did this to myself I wouldn’t expect any pity, nor will I give any.

    Like the old saying, “Life’s tough, and then you die.” I just hope “Stumpy” learned something and can place the blame where it honestly belongs. Take care and stay safe.


  2. JDR Says:

    Well as far as shooting one’s self goes this guy got off relatively lucky. I find it hard to feel sorry for the him. I remember 2 times in my life where I’ve lost track of my muzzle direction: once with my dad in the woods and the second while walking to my foxhole at the zero range at Benning. I was humiliated both times.

  3. Gary Day Says:

    Mas…great memories of “Judicial Force” in Seattle in 2001.

    I was alone in my home office a few years ago and thought I would do some dry fire while sitting at my desk. Thought I’d cleared my Kahr and aimed across the room…I blew my fax machine into fragments!

    My wife to this day does not know what happened. I told her the old fax just gave it up…I made a quick trip to Office Depot!

    Stay safe and shoot straight, my friend.


  4. George Says:

    I sometimes run across shooters who loose track of their attention span and let their barrel wander and sometimes wave. It is worth repeating over and over again. I wont shoot with those who cant show control over their power tool on the range! I will start to carry soon and am concerned about losing some weight so my equipment will fit better. My concern with myself is that I want to know where that muzzle is pointed at all times, and in particular when I am lifting, stretching, or moving in a particular way that might expose one of my body parts. [I would never point a gun at myself empty or not] The four cardinal rules were the same my instructor and Grandfather gave me, and I never get tired of hearing them repeated! I hope the guy can save the big toe, he will need it for balance.

  5. Gary Says:

    Every time I have evern seen anyone rest the muzzle of a shotgun on their toe I would cringe and think, someday they are going to blow a toe or foot off.

    Even carrying concealed using deep concealment equipment makes me think more intently about trigger control and protecting the trigger.

  6. Scott Parsons Says:

    I echo the sentiment that it’s hard to feel sorry for the guy and I don’t. He was extremely lucky. I teach basic pistol and I know that sometimes I look a little strange to those new to guns going through the gyrations required to show a class different parts of a gun without sweeping them. I’m happy to look silly. As an LFI-III grad I well remember being drilled with the long distance power drill analogy as well as the stars wars light saber of infinite length and I use them regularly. Thanks Mas.

    Oh and as you say, there are two kinds of shooters, those who’ve had an ND and those who will. Whether someone is killed or maimed as a result is entirely a function of muzzle discipline.

  7. Tom 606 Says:

    A good case for wearing Kelvar shoes. Maybe friend Rich Davis could get into that profitable business. There is no shortage of fools in this world. In fact, there seems to be more of them around now than in the past.

  8. .45StayAlive Says:

    One time I was buying ammunition and the guy behind the counter asked me what kind of pistol I carried. I replied, mainly a Kimber .45 TLE/RL II model, but I also had 4″ and 3″ Kimbers as well.

    He said he didn’t really like the Kimber as his sister who worked as a small town Deputy Sheriff had one, and he had tried it at the range and found that its recoil hurt the scar on his hand too much. Looking at the scar, it was clearly from a bullet that had passed straight through his palm. I asked him how he got it. His story began with:

    “Well we’d been drinking and…”

    Enough said.

  9. Rusty Lee Says:

    I really do hate to see things like this as it gives all shooters a bad rap. Hopefully others will learn from this person’s mistake. Thank you for posting it.

  10. AJMD Says:

    That’s one reason I hate ‘horizontal carry’ shoulder holsters; used one for years working late night in pharmacies in bad neighborhoods for 1911 carry, but couldn’t get over the fact that the muzzle was pointing at whoever was behind me, so when I worked in stores where there were co-workers, I had to switch to another carry mode.

  11. .45StayAlive Says:

    Hi AJMD,

    I usually carry my Kimber in a horizontal rig (the Galco Miami Classic II). While I respect your decision and concern for those behind you, I can tell you that in 15 years of this method of carry (my Kimber now, and my Glock 19 before it), the gun has never managed to fire itself.

    The trigger is fully covered, and in the case of the 1911, the thumbbreak leather is between the hammer and the firing pin. I think it’s safe enough.

  12. N.U.G.U.N. Blog Says:

    I look upon that man with reverence….it is clear for all to see, that where ever that man treads. He is a holy man…

  13. N.U.G.U.N. Blog Says:

    And might I add…

    Dear God,

    Please never allow me to become that holy.

  14. unit1069 Says:

    That’s a horrible sight for anyone, especially the victim of his own negligence.

    The more I read and hear about ND/AD events the less I handle my firearms out of fear that I will become complacent.

  15. Milton Craig Says:

  16. EN Says:

    Glad you published those pix. Both my sons have now seen them. They were impressed.

  17. DAL357 Says:

    I debated showing the photos to my 8-year-old son–for about two seconds–then I called him over and showed him them after explaining what happens when correct gun-handling rules aren’t followed. He looked at them briefly and then ran away, saying he felt sick. I doubt he’ll ever forget them, though, and they lend credence to what his old man tells him. Thanks for posting them, Mas.

  18. Simon Åslund Says:

    Scott, i disagree with your sentiment, in my opinion, just like there are only one kind of motorcycle riders, those who will crash, there are only one kind of shooters, those who will have a negligent discharge. Any other way of looking at things Guarantees that you will have another crash or negligent discharge, an probably a more serious one that the first.

    //Simon in Sweden

  19. DC Handgun Info Says:

    I had a negligent discharge (ND), but it produced no bodily injury.

    I was tired and distracted (strike one! strike two!) practicing using a SureFIre flashlight with my Glock Model 22 in .40 S&W in my office.

    I forgot to unload the gun (strike three!) and simultaneously pulled the trigger while pressing the tailcap (on) button on the flashlight.

    A VERY loud bang ensued. Luckily, I knew enough to aim at nothing in particular, in this case, specifically the wall, backed up by an earth berm (know your backstop, observed).

    There is now an indentation in the paneling at least .40 in. in diameter, as the round entered the solid — Thank God — paneling at a 30 degree angle.

    I had to confess my stupid move to the wife, and I blogged about it, too, to tell my readers that someone who has handled guns for a while (20+) years can still definitely have an ND.

  20. Michael Says:

    I’ve had one ND. It was because I failed to treat the gun as if were loaded. Guess what? Thank God, the muzzle was pointed in an extremely safe direction, so the worst damage was to my ego. It was one of the most embarrassing things that I’ve ever done. Since then, I have been 100x more careful about the four rules. I believe I will share these pics with my 10-yo son when I get home. He’s very conscious about firearms safety and the four rules, but ever little bit of reinforcement helps. Thanks, Mas, for posting this.

  21. Tom Young Says:

    Ouch that looks like it hurt.

    Spoke by someone who accidently urinated on a electric fence while on a Boy Scout camping trip in the White Mountians of NH. (it was hiding behind a bush) Luckily for me it wasn’t a constant feed fence. Yeah, that hurt too.

  22. Mike Snodgrass Says:

    A local gunshop had a bullet hole in the top of a glass display case, and another on each of the two lower display levels directly underneath. Why? Because some moron brought a pistol in to trade and when the owner told him to open the action for a safety check, the guy said not to worry because he had verified it was unloaded before he put it in the case before leaving home. Then he pointed it at the display case and pulled the trigger. No one was hurt and the bullet miraculously missed the guns in the case as well. Property damage is the BEST that can happen from an accidental discharge and the ramifications increase exponentially from there. I never shy away from defending the Second Amendment, but there are a lot of idiots with guns and they do nothing to help our cause.

  23. Chris Smith Says:

    1. I am in possession of an Ithaca 1911A1 which was my dad’s sidearm at the end of WW2. He came to be in possession of said sidearm when, in command of a Marine Corps rifle company on Guam training for the invasion of Japan, one of the men in his company was messing around with this pistol in the barracks tent. The marine in question had a negligent discharge with direct muzzle contact, directly into the heel of the palm of his hand, carrying away about half of his hand and two fingers. My dad confiscated the weapon and kept it for his own, since his personally purchased civilian 1911 had been taken from him after he was WIA at Iwo Jima, and he figured that Ma Green owed him one government model .45.

    2. I worked in an ER for 6 years at one time in my life, and I once helped to treat a gunshot victim who had negligently shot himself in exactly the same way as in #1, but with a .357 magnum revolver. Same results: missing at least half his hand, including two fingers.

    3. I personally had a negligent discharge 15 years ago of a .44 magnum, pointed at the ceiling, about 12 inches from my left ear. To this day, hearing in my left ear is only about 80% of what it is in my right ear – which isn’t as good as it used to be either. I’ve been a religious zealot about gun safety ever since.

    Please note that I purposefully did not use the words “accidental discharge” in any case. Unintentional discharges of firearms are almost always negligence on the part of the shooter.

  24. AntonK Says:

    Excellent post and great comments to on the need for constant vigilance when using or otherwise handling your firearm.

    PS. Mass, your RSS feed has been down for a couple of weeks now.

  25. Paul Says:

    In my CHL class I have a Power Point presentation, part of gun safety. This presentation shows injuries incurred by NDs. One has the back of his ankle blown away by a ‘friends’ 12 gauge, another (after his operation) stitches where a .40 Glock went through the palm of his hand when he pulled the trigger of his Glock .40 (he ‘thought’ it was unloaded and had the other hand in front of the muzzle.) I also have other photos of various injuries. Another has a knee that was take out by a shotgun. Another a thumb blown off. Another a ND in the leg. Another…. well you get the point.

    If Mas would be so kind, I would like to use these photos above as part of the class. Believe me, students take notice when they see the photos!


  26. youngndumb Says:

    I learned the hard way with a BB gun when I was 10years old. Went straight through the middle of my big toe nail and out the bottom of my shoe. Im a lucky and fast learner.

  27. Wish Belkin Says:

    Shot my dashboard once.
    Filled the hole with an 8-track player.
    (it was a long time ago)
    My ears still ring.
    If you’re going to have a ND inside a car,
    open the windows.

  28. Autosurgeon Says:

    My one and I hope only ND happened one night when I was replacing the sear spring on a striker fired pistol. I didn’t know it but the parts house had sent me a spring that looked the same but was 6 lbs lighter. After I installed it I tried the gun with snap caps and everything seemed OK. Then I pointed it at the floor and chambered a live round. BOOM the gun fired and the bullet hit a steel plate that was on the floor and glanced up and through a window of the house. It went out the window and glanced off the stop sign on the corner my house sits on and then hit the road… I even found the spent bullet a little the worse for wear after its trip. Let me tell you I learned something … never assume pointing at the floor is enough. I now have a 5 gallon bucket of sand that I point into when chambering my carry guns in the house. I also DO NOT chamber firearms I have been working on other than to clean them in the house … only at the range while aimed at a berm down range.

  29. PrimalSeal Says:

    Being a NRA Trained Firearms instructor, the main focus of all my classes is, of course, safety. As stated above, sometimes keeping your finger OFF the trigger until ready to fire isn’t always the only requirement. We could probably sit here and “Monday Morning Quarterback” everything the hapless individual in this case did wrong, but the truth is this person will hopefully learn from their obvious mistake and not repeat it. I tell my students that constant vigilance is key to safe gun handling skills. Nothing short of this will suffice. Without concentrated attention to the extreme detail, it’s not a matter of if you have an accidental discharge, it’s when.

    With this, I am also a member of the US Military, and God knows what the ramifications a situation like this would have upon a career. With every firearms qualification, we are run through the proper clearing procedures, and practice them daily while deployed. This repetition can be good or bad depending on your level of awareness, as it’s easy to lapse into a state of false security. Many times at the range I’ve asked myself, “Did I make sure the chamber was clear?”. There is nothing wrong with double checking either, so don’t be afraid to look stupid. You never know, it just might save someones life, or in this case, their toe.

  30. castor Says:

    I had a ‘could-have-been’ that really scared me. I used to put the bolt in the receiver, leaving it open for safety, and slip the mag onto the rifle when I was having my last cup of coffee before I went hunting. I did so to ensure I didn’t get all the way out to the bush before discovering I had left one of them at home. One morning I got the ‘remove the mag, close the bolt’ sequence out order without realizing it when I took the rifle out of the house. All the way to the bush the rifle sat in the truck with a live round up the spout. ‘Thank God I didn’t click the trigger’ was the first thing I thought when I opened the bolt in the bush and saw the loaded round. “There but for the grace of God ….”

  31. L. T. Wakeling Says:

    When I teach NRA firearm courses I stress to the students “what is the first thing you do when you pickup a firearm?” You get all kinds of answers and then I tell them “You point the muzzle in a safe direction first because if the gun goes off no one will get shot”
    It takes three thing to happen for a firearm to discharge. You need a gun, you need ammunition and you need a finger. If any one of the three are missing the gun won’t go off. Treat every firearm as a loaded firearm and only point it in a safe direction.
    Yes I have had an ND one time only thank God. I was working on a feeding problem with a pump 32-20 rifle with a live round not a dummy round, hand off the trigger but in front of trigger guard and working the action. Gave it a hard tug and guess what? My hand sliped brushed the trigger and I shot the ceeling. I only use Dummy rounds from that day forward 50 years ago.

  32. Fred Bartlett Says:

    Resting a shotgun on a toe or toe pad violates all safety rules. It is only safely practiced and meant for single barrel or double barrel over-and-under shotguns broken open on a skeet, trap or sporting clays range. Even then, I don’t do it. There are special toe pads sold for this purpose. I guess one with Kevlar with a steel plate may have helped this gentleman. I have never seen anyone put their muzzle on their shoe with a pump or automatic shotgun.

    Look at the cover of “The Gun Digest Book of Trap and Skeet Shooting”, 4th ed, and you will see that it is commonly done with break open shotguns. It is insane with a pump or automatic.

  33. Sonic Says:

    Many, many people with years of experience using firarms can still have an ‘ND’. Getting too comfortable with a loaded weapon is usually the cause. Nothing like the BANG of your gun to get your attention where it already should have been. I’ve done it. I was EXTREMELY fortunate the shotgun I was carrying was pointed in a safe direction when I did this. I talked to a lot of other people about what I had done and was surprised at how often this actually happens and most keep quiet about it. Sure, I was embarrassed and felt stupid, dumb, imature, you name it. That good scare set me straight though. Not the way folks should have to learn to be smarter and more careful but it did the trick on me. You may not get a second chance after a ND so best not to have one at all.

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