Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
It is commonly noted among safety professionals that there is no such thing as a new mishap. Unfortunately, year after year we see Soldiers making poor decisions that result in tragedies we have seen before.
Privately owned weapons (POW) mishaps are no exception. Four Soldiers died due to accidental discharges during the spring and summer seasons of the past two fiscal years, one during a family gathering on the Fourth of July. In fact, most POW fatalities occur in group settings and often involve alcohol.
Unfortunately, accidental discharges are not confined to a single time of year. This past January, a Soldier was at an off-post residence showing his shotgun to two other Soldiers when he allegedly pointed the weapon at himself in a joking manner. When a friend told him he should never do that, the Soldier responded that the safety was on. While we do not have full details as the mishap is still under investigation, we do know the weapon discharged. We also know the Soldier’s wife is now a widow and his children will grow up without their father. It is also certain the Soldiers present will revisit, time and again, what they could have done to prevent their friend’s death.
All told, 19 Soldiers have died in POW mishaps since fiscal 2016. More than 100 additional Soldiers have suffered nonfatal injuries, including three who are now totally disabled and 10 who will live with a partial disability the rest of their lives.
What is it that makes these “not new” mishaps? The overriding factors are complacency and indiscipline.
- Failure to properly clear the weapon: The most common scenario in weapons mishaps is a Soldier attempting to clean or disassemble a firearm that has not been cleared. Guess what happens when you pull the trigger or attempt a functions check on a weapon with a round in the chamber or magazine? The weapon functions as designed and discharges the round.
- Lack of muzzle awareness: Regrettably, not only did some of the Soldiers involved in past mishaps simply fail to adhere to the principle of muzzle awareness, they often deliberately pointed a weapon at themselves or others believing it to be unloaded.
- Failure to understand the weapon’s characteristics: Many Soldiers in past mishaps were unfamiliar with the type of weapon they were handling. Firing mechanisms and safety characteristics vary between firearms and manufacturers.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is a contributing factor in far too many off-duty POW mishaps, particularly fatalities. Consuming a drug that impairs your judgment and vision and slows your reaction time is a recipe for disaster when mixed with a firearm.
So how do you prevent the next “not new” POW mishap?
- Never assume that proficiency with your assigned military weapon makes you an expert on all weapons. If you are handling a new firearm, carefully read the owner’s manual and take an appropriate training course.
- Never consume alcohol prior to or while handling a weapon.
- Act immediately if you see someone handling a firearm in an unsafe manner, especially while under the influence of alcohol.
- Always THINK weapons safety:
- Treat every weapon as if loaded.
- Handle every weapon with care.
- Identify the target before you fire.
- Never point the muzzle at anything you do not intend to shoot.
- Keep the weapon on safe and your finger off the trigger until you intend to fire.
For more information on weapons safety, visit https://safety.army.mil.