Why We Have Gun Safety Rules

 

There are three cardinal rules of gun safety. One negligent Florida police officer outrageously violated all three at the same time and accidentally killed a woman.

Mary Knowlton arrived at the Punta Gorda, Fla., police station Tuesday night to learn how to be a community steward.

The 73-year-old was there as a student in the citizens police academy, a two-hour course intended to give an intimate look at what makes the department in the quaint Florida town work. On this night, the group of 35 would tour the station and talk with officers, an essential part of academy curriculum that has gained popularity across the country amid a heated national debate about police violence.

When it came time to get involved, Knowlton volunteered.

The hosting officers chose two students to role-play a lethal force simulation, a scenario intended to demonstrate how and when officers decide to pull the trigger. Knowlton played the victim, Charlotte Sun photographer Sue Paquin told the newspaper, and a Punta Gorda police officer played a “bad guy.” These scenarios are usually safe, acted out with either fake or empty weapons.

But when the officer’s gun was fired, Knowlton — a mother, wife and career librarian — was hit with a live round.

She was rushed to a local hospital and was pronounced dead.

Her husband of 55 years witnessed the shooting and is “devastated,” her son, Steve Knowlton, told the Associated Press. …

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Lewis shared few details about how the tragedy unfolded but said his department was unaware that live ammunition “was available to the officer” during the class.

Lewis has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an independent investigation which, the chief said, will determine how the ammunition ended up in the handgun without anyone noticing.

That same weapon has been used in previous simulation classes, which the department holds annually, Lewis said.

This is precisely the reason these rules were developed as best practices and must be followed universally. In no particular order:

  1. Always check the chamber when you pick up a gun to make sure it is unloaded. Even when you’re sure it is unloaded, take all precautions as if it were loaded. Someday you will be wrong.
  2. Always point a gun in a safe direction, never at a person, even if you’re sure it’s unloaded. Someday you will be wrong.
  3. Never touch the trigger until you are pointing at the target you intend to shoot. Never pull the trigger idly just because you’re sure it’s unloaded. Someday you will be wrong.

No exceptions for training, make-believe, or “just this once.”

There are several photos and videos available at the Facebook page of local reporter Corey Lazar, including one which purports to show the officer who fired. It’s not clear who or what he’s pointing at, but it looks like his finger is curled right around the trigger of a loaded gun.

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I can’t imagine why a real gun was required for this exercise. Surely they’ll modify that practice now.

There are 52 comments.

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  1. BrentB67 Member
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Easily avoided. I hope a lot of folks learn from your article. Whenever I demonstrate something in front of students I clear the weapon about 10 times. Never ever have an ND in front of a class and never use a real gun in a simulation or exercise. We have simunition, blue guns, and if required paint ball guns. Never use the real thing.

    • #1
  2. Ball Diamond Ball Member
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Idiot.

    • #2
  3. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    What an awful story, on so many levels. Such a tragedy for the victim and her family.

    And that negligence on the part of the police is infuriating. There’s the obvious negligence involved in failing to empty the weapon. The negligence in using a real weapon for training. And the less obvious negligence in handing any gun to a person who has not been taught the rules of firearm safety.

    But they tell me only police, never civilians, are safe to carry firearms.

    We gun owners need to be mindful that carrying a weapon all the time can make you so comfortable with it that it’s common to get sloppy. Always be mindful of the power and responsibility. Always be mindful of the safety rules.

    • #3
  4. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    It makes yskin crawl at gun shows, when peope finger the trigger on a gun I can see the zip tie through.

    These threee rules are easy habits to get into. You see people do them without thinkiing.

    • #4
  5. John Peabody Member
    John Peabody
    @JohnAPeabody

    This is where Glenn Reynolds would sarcastically say, “Remember, only law enforcement people should be allowed to have guns”.

    • #5
  6. Ball Diamond Ball Member
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    On my first deployment to Afghanistan, I realized I didn’t really know anything about guns.  So I got educated.  With the loss of some good people in a screwed-up situation, I also decided that would never happen to me.

    On my second deployment, I realized that most military and law enforcement don’t know anything about guns.  I viewed the role of most of my compatriots, people whom I really liked, as ammunition bearers.  On the other hand. nobody carried more ammo than I did.  Most people took 30 rounds (2 x 15rd 9mm mag) on their battle armor.  I took 30 to the shower, and usually had 105-150 rds on me.

    Sorry for the digression.  Law enforcement trains.  Military trains.  But range time and qualifications are considered an annual hassle for the VAST majority of both communities, IMHO.

    • #6
  7. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Ai yi yi.

    This can serves as a thought experiment:  imagine that the enforcement officer (and his supervisor and department) killed this person under exactly the same circumstances, only instead of being an older white lady, it was a black man.

    the #BLM crowd would cry racism! And count the poor guy among the martyrs. They would demand anti-bias training for the whole department…

    …and, having humbly met this demand,  the department could, in theory, go right on using real guns for their exercises, handing them to people who don’t know what their doing, failing to train their officers to keep their fat fingers out of the trigger guards…

    • #7
  8. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    My first year of Army ROTC, we very nearly had a bad accident.

    We were using MILES gear, which is essentially laser tag for your M16: every time you fire a blank round, a little box on the end of your barrel fires a laser which can hit a target on your opponents’ uniform.

    They’d passed out the gear and were beginning to distribute ammo (I was toward the end of the line, so I hadn’t gotten any yet) when someone yelled “Holy [expletive], this is live!”

    Turns out a box or two of live rounds got mixed in with the blanks, and — if I recall this correctly — the shout went up when an older cadet noticed a younger one loading live rounds into his magazine. Could just as easily have been me who was the idiot; I sure didn’t know what a blank looked like.

    Short version: safety, safety, safety, safety, safety.

    • #8
  9. Kevin Creighton Contributor
    Kevin Creighton
    @KevinCreighton

    Son of Spengler: And that negligence on the part of the police is infuriating. There’s the obvious negligence involved in failing to empty the weapon. The negligence in using a real weapon for training. And the less obvious negligence in handing any gun to a person who has not been taught the rules of firearm safety.

    Bottom line is, if you or I tried a stunt like that with those results, we’d be staring at manslaughter or negligent homicide charges.

    What REALLY scares me is that there’s a culture inside this police department that allowed something like this to happen. How many other local PD’s out there have similarly stupid policies?

    I’m not going to knock cops: They do dumb stuff all day long, like respond to domestic violence calls, that scare the crap out of me. Firearms training is a low priority for them because it’s such a small portion of their work routine.

    But.

    The Marines and the Army have both introduced elements from practical pistol / 3 Gun into their qualification courses. I’ve mentioned it over at The Firing Line that I’ve had serious, hardcore people tell me they’d get more nervous standing on a stage at a USPSA match than they were stacking up to enter a crack house.

    Civilian training has learned a lot from the military/police world. Maybe it’s time for us to return the favor.

    • #9
  10. BrentB67 Member
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Kevin Creighton:

    Son of Spengler: …

    Bottom line is, if you or I tried a stunt like that with those results, we’d be staring at manslaughter or negligent homicide charges.

    What REALLY scares me is that there’s a culture inside this police department that allowed something like this to happen. How many other local PD’s out there have similarly stupid policies?

    I’m not going to knock cops: They do dumb stuff all day long, like respond to domestic violence calls, that same the crap out of me. Firearms training is a low priority for them because it’s such a small portion of their work routine.

    But.

    The Marines and the Army have both introduced elements from practical pistol / 3 Gun into their qualification courses. I’ve mentioned it over at The Firing Line that I’ve had serious, hardcore people tell me they’d get more nervous standing on a stage at a USPSA match than they were stacking up to enter a crack house.

    Civilian training has learned a lot from the military/police world. Maybe it’s time for us to return the favor.

    It is time. We bought 1,250 rounds of ammo for officers to come train with us, one showed up.

    Before we can return the favor there is a need for some humility and desire to learn on the part of military/LEO. Too many graduate the academy and think they are firearms subject matter experts.

    • #10
  11. Kevin Creighton Contributor
    Kevin Creighton
    @KevinCreighton

    BrentB67: Before we can return the favor there is a need for some humility and desire to learn on the part of military/LEO. Too many graduate the academy and think they are firearms subject matter experts.

    That may be because, for decades, they were the SME’s when it came to this stuff. That’s changed, and quickly. GunSite is the grandaddy of them all, and it’s only been around since the mid 70’s. Since then, though, the feedback loop for civilian firearms training has been much faster than on the LEO/Military side. You find out where you suck (and where you don’t) faster on a stage at a match than anywhere else. Heck, the match I shot last week had 30-odd shooters putting 150 rounds downrange apiece: That’s more rounds than the average cop shoots in a year, and there’s 16 or so matches at my range each month, and that range is just one of hundreds that does practical shooting events.

    Speaking of Gunsite, this is quite the hoot: The Colonel talking about Gunsite, circa 1979. Enjoy.

    • #11
  12. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    It’s just astounding. At a competitive shooting match, you get disqualified and sent home if your muzzle points in an unsafe direction for even a fraction of a second, even if the gun is unloaded, and even if you’re not touching the trigger. There is an obsessive safety culture in the competitive-shooting community. It’s bizarre to me that there is apparently no effort to cultivate such a culture within law enforcement.

    I wonder if anyone has ever compiled statistics comparing the rate of gun accidents at USPSA or IDPA matches to the rate of accidents at police training exercises. I think I know how that would come out.

    • #12
  13. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Now that I think of it, I know two police officers who’ve accidentally shot themselves—one fatally.

    One advantage my game wardens have is that they are actually around firearms—ones that are actually in use— a lot more than municipal or even state police. They’re interacting with hunters, they hunt themselves, and are responsible for dispatching injured or nuisance animals. And Maine is a gun-intensive state, so they are more likely to have grown up shooting.

    Side-note; I love watching the game wardens shoot, even though I’m not much for shooting. They’re good at it, and thus graceful, even elegant.

    • #13
  14. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    It’s always the unloaded gun that kills someone, The phrase; Gee, I didn’t know it was loaded, is the preamble to a belated apology.

    Our department qualified quarterly and after the qualification course ended you were given 250 rounds to practice on your own time. We also had to report an accidental discharge to a supervisor whether it happened on duty or off duty. An officer was practicing at home and shot themselves in the hand. The officer went to the hospital for treatment but did not notify a supervisor. The officer was terminated for failing to report the incident.

    When you were in the academy you only loaded the rounds needed, for example two rounds center mass meant that you only loaded two rounds. Eventually you graduate to what I call a “hot range”, 18 rounds in the pistol, 1 up the spout as the Brits say and 17 rounds in the magazine. You have two fully loaded magazines on your belt. If the instructor tells you 2 rounds center mass you fire twice and then re-holster a loaded firearm.

    Needles to say if you weren’t shooting you never removed your pistol from the holster when on you were on the range.

    • #14
  15. Probable Cause Member
    Probable Cause
    @ProbableCause

    Mark Wilson: I can’t imagine why a real gun was required for this exercise.

    Bingo.  “Training guns” are readily available.  Just one example:

    http://www.blueguns.com

    • #15
  16. Kevin Creighton Contributor
    Kevin Creighton
    @KevinCreighton

    Probable Cause:

    Mark Wilson: I can’t imagine why a real gun was required for this exercise.

    Bingo. “Training guns” are readily available. Just one example:

    http://www.blueguns.com

    Every single trainer I’ve talked with has said variations of “What. In. The. Hell. Were. They. Thinking?”

    Simunitions…blue guns… airsoft… heck, cap friggin’ guns. There is no need to point a gun loaded with blanks at anyone, and if I were in a class that did that, I’d smile politely, unload and case my gun, and leave the range.

    • #16
  17. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Son of Spengler:But they tell me only police, never civilians, are safe to carry firearms.

    Here in Massachusetts, new Glocks are only available to law enforcement officers. Because, you know, reasons.

    #StupidestRegulationEver

    • #17
  18. skipsul Member
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    Kevin Creighton:

    Probable Cause:

    Mark Wilson: I can’t imagine why a real gun was required for this exercise.

    Bingo. “Training guns” are readily available. Just one example:

    http://www.blueguns.com

    Every single trainer I’ve talked with has said variations of “What. In. The. Hell. Were. They. Thinking?”

    Simunitions…blue guns… airsoft… heck, cap friggin’ guns. There is no need to point a gun loaded with blanks at anyone, and if I were in a class that did that, I’d smile politely, unload and case my gun, and leave the range.

    I remember my CCW class – the instructors all used either blue guns or disabled guns (no firing pins) until we were actually on the range.  I am speechless at the idiocy here.

    • #18
  19. Spin Member
    Spin
    @Spin

    Ball Diamond Ball: But range time and qualifications are considered an annual hassle for the VAST majority of both communities, IMHO.

    Well, that was my favorite part of being in the Army.

    • #19
  20. Eric Hines Member
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Kevin Creighton: There is no need to point a gun loaded with blanks at anyone

    Including blanks.  At least when I was in Germany those years ago, blanks pushed wadding at a high speed out the barrel and down range a surprising distance.  Wadding is dense, and hot.  We didn’t even use blanks in our site defense exercises.

    Eric Hines

    • #20
  21. Eric Hines Member
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Spin:

    Ball Diamond Ball: But range time and qualifications are considered an annual hassle for the VAST majority of both communities, IMHO.

    Well, that was my favorite part of being in the Army.

    We had to qualify every time we were reassigned overseas–in my case that was on a .38 (because M16s were too complicated for officers).  I qualified Expert both times I was assigned, once having scored 101 hits out of my 100 shots.  “Shooting” next to me on the range was a Lt who closed her eyes and squeezed the trigger, saying “God will aim my bullets.”  Apparently God thought I could use the help.

    Fortunately, not even USAF standards thought her shooting was good enough to qualify.  Also fortunately, the USAF wasn’t buying her poor shooting as an excuse to skip out of her assignment.  Unfortunately, she wound up at my unit.

    Eric Hines

    • #21
  22. harrisventures Coolidge
    harrisventures
    @harrisventures

    Just got back from the range with my 13 year old son. Shot about 150 rounds between us. We have a safety lesson before we shoot every single time.

    I also try to shoot at least once a week. Guns are dangerous tools like power saws and fork lifts. Like any tool, you have to treat them with respect and great care.

    This is really sad news.

    • #22
  23. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    No brass, no ammo, drill sergeant!

    • #23
  24. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I read about this today and was floored. My understanding is that the lady was given a  simunition and the officer was supposed to be firing blanks. One commentary I read said there is no reason to fire blanks at anyone ever, but Tom mentioned the only good reason I know of: MILES gear. Training really is different when the gun actually fires. Technology is catching up to make training more realistic and safe. It could have saved this life if it were used here.

    • #24
  25. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    The Chief of Police has “accept[ed] full responsibility” for the incident.  I suppose we will find out what that means in the coming weeks.  Here’s a followup story.

    Police said Coel shot Knowlton during a role-playing exercise in which Lewis said authorities were “unaware” that live ammunition was available.

    “We believed that the particular caliber of the weapon used, that there were only blank rounds available to the officer,” Lewis said Wednesday. …

    Part of FDLE’s investigation will be to determine why live ammunition was present in a weapon meant for demonstration purposes only.

    It’s unclear if the weapon was “meant for demonstration purposes only” in this particular circumstance, or if that particular weapon was always only meant for demonstration purposes.  This statement leads me to believe the latter:

    “We believed that the particular caliber of the weapon used, that there were only blank rounds available to the officer,” Lewis said Wednesday.

    • #25
  26. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Mark Wilson:The Chief of Police has “accept[ed] full responsibility”for the incidence. I suppose we will find out what that means in the coming weeks. Here’s a followup story.

    Police said Coel shot Knowlton during a role-playing exercise in which Lewis said authorities were “unaware” that live ammunition was available.

    “We believed that the particular caliber of the weapon used, that there were only blank rounds available to the officer,” Lewis said Wednesday. …

    Part of FDLE’s investigation will be to determine why live ammunition was present in a weapon meant for demonstration purposes only.

    It’s unclear if the weapon was “meant for demonstration purposes only” in this particular circumstance, or if that particular weapon was always only meant for demonstration purposes. This statement leads me to believe the latter:

    “We believed that the particular caliber of the weapon used, that there were only blank rounds available to the officer,” Lewis said Wednesday.

    It was a revolver. Someone loaded it. Someone saw each round go into the cylinder.

    • #26
  27. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    No one is worried that if they are this reckless in a controlled environment, that they aren’t twice as irresponsible in the field, when under pressure and with no supervision. Except then they can avoid responsibility by just claiming they feared she was armed.

    • #27
  28. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Ball Diamond Ball: On my first deployment to Afghanistan, I realized I didn’t really know anything about guns.

    The Navy was pretty bad about this except for those who got the advanced schools. Almost every year I only shot the standard 52 rounds for qualification on the M9. When I got a one of the schools I shot more each day than the other years combined. The last day we expended ammo that needed to be used. It was 4 hours of “shoot till your finger is tired, then load magazines until your thumb is tired.”

    • #28
  29. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Valiuth:No one is worried that if they are this reckless in a controlled environment, that they aren’t twice as irresponsible in the field, when under pressure and with no supervision. Except then they can avoid responsibility by just claiming they feared she was armed.

    Fortunately, this is fairly unlikely—what is a lot more likely is that, if they are this sloppy about firearms, they might also be sloppy about other, more frequently employed skills and tools. Like, say, knowing how to talk to people. Or failing to search a suspect adequately before putting him in the cruiser.

    • #29
  30. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Lord,

    Grant Peace to this dear lady.

    Bring Comfort and Peace to her family.

    And also Peace to the officer.

    Amen

    No matter what protocols were breached, or rules broken, this was an accident, not intentional, and that officer needs prayers for peace in his heart and mind.

    • #30

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