Category Archives: Safety

He Didn’t Know it was Loaded!

From the land of chocolate, cuckoo clocks, and lots of guns, comes a heartbreaking gun mishap story. At first glance at the headline, it looked like a new story. But, reading it, we had a sinking feeling: it’s just new people having the same old stupid accident.

The facts are simple: On 2 August 2015, a 23-year-old man was goofing around with a friend who was visiting from Brazil. The 23-year-old’s roommate was a qualified soldier, recently returned from basic training, who had hung his service rifle on the wall. The 23-year-old pointed the gun at his visiting friend’s chest and pulled the trigger.

The gun did what guns do.

“I didn’t know it was loaded!”

That’s what the accused told the court, and expressed his deepest regret  “for using the weapon as a toy.” It was too late for the friend, who was mortally wounded and died in minutes.

Both the shooter and the gun owner were found guilty of negligent homicide and sentenced to “conditional imprisonment,” a peculiarly Swiss penalty for major misdemeanors and minor felonies, that allows the convict to pay a fine in lieu of incarceration. (The fine is adjusted to the individual’s finances and the nature of the crime). The shooter’s “conditional” sentence was 18 months and the gun owner’s 360 days; if you don’t pay the fine, as we understand it, you do do the time.

Somewhat more ominously for Swiss in general, the prosecuting and defense attorneys in this case have found something to agree on: they are trying to end the century-plus-old practice of Swiss soldiers keeping their weapons at home. Accidents and crimes with these guys are very rare, but their consequences and rarity give them tremendous resonance in the Swiss media. Being neither Swiss nor resident there, we can’t gauge the likelihood of such an initiative succeeding in the Alpine nation.

What are all guns, always, people?

Story in The Awful German Language (mandatory Mark Twain reference). Story in the Even More Awful Google translation.  Thanks to the tipster in this case, who prefers to remain anonymous.

Aerospace Concepts for Firearms Safety

What can aviation teach us about safety? A lot, if we’re willing to look at what they’ve done, how they do it, and extrapolate from the concepts they’ve used to develop new ways of thinking of safety with firearms.

For many people, this is a dull subject, that they think is beneath them. “I’ve never had an ND, so this doesn’t apply to me.” We assure you that safety matters, and that no one is immune to mishap. Often the guy who has the ND is the same guy who read the same books as you do and who made the same “tsk, tsk” sound at the accident report on his morning news site. (Or who laughed along with us at one of our A Mess of Accidents roundups). Safety begins with the sober revelation that it can happen to you.

Reduction in accidents and fatalities

The numbers don’t lie, and once-occasional fatal mishaps have become extremely rare. The last scheduled airline crash in the United States that caused fatalities. entire years pass with no deaths. Even military flying, much more dangerous that airline aviation, is enormously safer that it was fifty years ago. Fifty years ago, the services thought nothing of losing a thousand planes and crews in crashes — every year!

Certainly part of the mishap reduction story in general aviation comes via the tightening coils of the airline-centric FAA, trying to squeeze it out of existence. GA aviators often joke that the largest office in the FAA, and the only one that has command emphasis, is the Office of Aviation Inhibition. But GA has tightened up on once-accepted practices such as flying after having a few sociables with the guys (in the 1960s, one in four fatal general aviation crashes involved a pilot with ethanol in his system).

But primarily, increased safety has come about by improving training and (especially) culture, making the safe decision the default one, and the one liable to be respected by colleagues.

Aerospace Safety Concepts and Technologies

Many concepts interweave to make the solid web of today’s air safety culture. But we’re going to focus on four formal programs that made aviation safer, and that are adaptable to professional and amateur use of firearms for self-defense, public safety, and recreation.

  • CRM – Cockpit/Crew/Complete Resource Management
  • ADM — Aeronautical Decision Making
  • Tool Accountability
  • LO/TO – Lockout/Tagout

To expand on them:

CRM is nothing more or less than using all the resources at hand, informational, material, and, especially, human. The co-pilot of 1967 was more of an under-pilot. He (and in 1967, it was always a “he”) was encouraged to sit still and shut up, letting a valuable safety cross-check from a trained professional go to waste. This video from the FAA describes the history CRM.

Since being developed in the aviation world, CRM has spread to other fields where active risk management is beneficial, including surgery, anesthesiology, and firefighting. Why not shooting?

A primitive version of a CRM technique should be familiar to all shooters: even on ranges where only a designated individual can declare the range “hot,” anybody has the right and responsibility to call “cease fire!” in the event of an unsafe act or condition. This empowers all the shooters to be an extra set of eyes and ears for the range officer, who is (loath though some of them may be to admit it) only human.

ADM is an interesting term. It is, in fact, Judgment Training, something that many old-time pilots thought was beneath them, so research psychologist Allen Diehl renamed it Aeronautical Decision Making. Nobody’s going to be enthusiastic about attending training that questions his judgment, but who would reject the chance to get some new decision-making techniques?

One key ADM technique is to develop the skills to recognize risk-increasing hazardous attitudes, and to use an “antidote,” a sort of countervailing mantra, to back oneself down from the attitude.

Aviation hazardous attitudes include such things as:

Resignation — “Whats the use? Forget it, I give up!”
Anti-Authority —  “The law is stupid. Regulations and procedures are for the little people!”
Impulsivity — “Do whatever, but do it NOW!”
Invulnerability — “It has never happened to me before, so it can never happen to me!”
Macho — “The average person can’t do this, but I’m so far above average it doesn’t apply to me!”

For each hazardous attitude, there is an ADM countermeasure.

Against Resignation — “I can make a difference!”
Anti-Authority —  “The regulations are written in blood. They are usually right.”
Impulsivity — “Wait! Think first. In an emergency, wind your watch.”
Invulnerability — “It can happen to me if I don’t take care. The laws of physics apply to everyone.”
Macho — “Taking chances is for fools; I play it safe and solid.”

The adaptability of these to the shooting (recreational, competitive, and combat) world should be all but self-evident.

The last two concepts, Accountability and LO/TO are important because many accidents happen because of failures in firearms control and storage. The military, which has relatively few accidents (for this reason) despite a wider range of ability and maturity levels than you are likely to have in your home or business, has managed to reduce weapons loss and accountability failure to a rounds-to-zero level. Other Federal agencies that do not practice similar control culture have much greater accountability problems.

Some of these concepts have already been implemented to some extent in gun safety. We’ve seen a reduction in hunting accidents since the 1950s, and a great deal of safety training .

Sometimes, though, the training and improvement that has gone before is nothing but the foundation for a better level of safety to come. This is one of those times.

Where we can improve, In General

  • Reject the idea that the current level of accidents is normal. “Is gun, is not safe,” fine, but accidents need not happen. “Is Plane, is not safe either,” but they have made planes pretty damned safe.
  • Study every accident and scour the record for learnable and teachable lessons.
  • Develop a formal Firearms Decision Making system of judgment training, and infuse it into the training culture.
  • Develop a Resource Management program with tiers for professional and amateur firearms users, and for individuals and teams.
  • Provide Accountability and LO/TO tools to the general gun-owning public.

Some of these things are already happening, but only on a sporadic, ad hoc basis. We need to get the big organizations (NRA and NSSF) behind FDM and FRM in a big way.

Adapting CRM, ADM, TA, and LO/TO to Firearms Training

Firearms Resource Management — identifies the entire ranges of resources that are available to the sport shooter, defensive gun user, police officer, soldier, and other armed professional, and works to familiarize those gun users with how to identify and use these resources. Best done with case studies.

Firearms Decision Making — teaches using case studies of decision errors with tragic consequences. Highlights hazardous attitudes and the risks contained within, and provides tips for recognizing those attitudes in self and others, and countermeasures for each.

TA & LO/TO — provides safety-oriented training and equipment to insure that firearms are maintained under positive control.

Two Mechanically-Induced Accidental Discharges

The first happens in the first seconds of this video. The round goes downrange when the shooter cycles the action. His trigger finger was observed to be clear of the trigger guard by the RO.

The gun was pointed in a safe direction, and the shooter’s finger wasn’t on the trigger. The firearm discharged as soon as he cycled the slide.

Usually this on a name-brand gun means someone got creative modifying the trigger without understanding the difference between the degree that trigger is “imperfect” because of manufacturing tolerance stacks, and the degree that the trigger is imperfect because of designed in safety features, like positive angles of engagement on trigger to sear.

More than one amateur smith (and some pros who should know better) has “redesigned” the safety features clean out of a trigger in pursuit of a light, crisp release, using files or even just Arkansas stones.

Note that this occurred during a competition. The shooter was DQ’d because of the AD, even though it was equipment-based, not a result of his own action. But no factory gun does this; it has to be modified, and it has to be modified by someone other than a pro.

Second one, trying to troubleshoot an el cheapo Eibar knockoff of the Browning/Colt .25 in the shop, and as he cycles the rounds through to empty them, kB! He disabled embedding, so you’ll have to go see it on YouTube, but the plus there is you get to see the brain-dead comments (his and others).

Here’s what he says in the video description:

While diagnosing a failure to feed issue a deeper problem was found. The replica was true except the sear spring and sear. The original Browning/Colt used a leaf spring. This replica used an uncaptured coil spring. This spring was old and had just enough strength to catch the striker but not enough to hold it indefinably. This could have happened at any time! It could have been in a holster or beside the bed. Maybe in a safe.. Who knows! Got it all on tape. Please watch for a great example of just how quick accidents can happen.

We beg to differ with him on this. It went off with him handling it. Because he was handling it, and it’s an unsafe gun. It would not have gone off in a safe… probably not even if he left it loaded, chambered, safety off (which he might just have done).

PS: I am using live rounds not because they are live but because snap caps do not replicate all of the various types of ammo out there. I use the exact ammo that the problem was reported to be with. I don’t use dummy rounds because to diagnose a FTF problem you need 5-10 rounds for cycling. These rounds get chewed up over a short period of time. It is now [sic] worth it for me to take the time to produce dummy rounds. I now use a bullet trap for all problem guns.

That is, not to put too fine a point on it, horsefeathers. Wrong again. How many kinds of ammunition are there for .25 ACP?

His decision to bring in a bucket of sand as a Bubba’s Bullet Trap is not entirely a bad idea, if he’s going to persist in the belief that you can only bench-troubleshoot feed problems with live ammo. If you’re really going to maintain pistols and work on them every day for a living, as this guy says in the video he does, a Savage GT bullet trap is a good thing to have.

Can this gun be fixed? Of this problem, yeah, probably. Anything can be fixed, with enough effort and money. But why? Another problem will recur. It was low-quality and marginally safe when it was new, at least 50 years ago. Decades of deferred maintenance will not have done it any kindnesses.

We get guns like this from time to time in auction lots, and we have no earthly idea what to do with them. Some of them are not safe, as is, and they’re not worth fixing. Maybe we could weld them into a gun control sculpture and become a media sensation?

CZ Go kB!

Pistols are supposed to go bang, but not like this:

The owner and shooter are alright, but as you can see, this gun is a write-off. Closer look, with the casing laid on top:

The pistol is a polymer-framed CZ P-07. CZ-USA has, from examining the pictures, put the blame on the ammunition (Winchester white box ball, lot number Q4172). Winchester has yet to weigh in.

The lot number of the detonated case is Q4172. Another lot that has been reported to produce a kB! is K7190.

Facts and pictures from this thread at Reddit. More pictures after the jump.

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Run, Hide, Fight… and You

osu-good-somali-2In the recent Ohio State terrorist incident (you know, the one for which the press is still assiduously trying to unlock the mystery within an enigma of the attacker’s motive), campus public safety officials sent a message to all hands: Active Shooter, Run Hide Fight.

We know now that the “Active Shooter” was an error, an error that, predictably, spawned giddy glee in the gun control camp. The jihadi had a car and a machete, and followed an ISIL attack protocol we’ve seen several times in Europe this year already, but he wasn’t a shooter. However, we think that (1) the campus cops were right to send that message and (2) run, hide, fight, is good advice, and it’s probably better advice for us (licensed or authorized gun carriers) than it is for the usual defenseless collegiate population.

Let’s take those two assertions one at a time.

The Campus Cops were Right to Send, “Active Shooter, Run Hide Fight”

“But Hognose,” we can practically hear you as we write this. “There was no active shooter.” We know now that there was not, and the cops may even have had a hint that there was not. (Or not; next paragraph we’ll explain). But even if they didn’t think there was an active shooter, it was a good call for several reasons.

  1. It helps produce the desired defensive behavior (run, hide, fight);
  2. It’s a lot easier to assume that there is a shooter than to know that there is not;
  3. Historically, jihadi attacks have often involved coordinated attacks, whether it’s bombings or small arms attacks. The first thing to look for when you have one attacker is his confederates! If he hasn’t got any, you’re not as badly off for your false reaction than you would be if you didn’t do anything, and he was one of a cell of ten like we’ve seen in some attacks, or even a pair, a more common thing.
  4. And they might have thought there was an active shooter.

Why would they think that there were more shooters at large? Well, they had, apart from the room-temperature suspect, an innocent person with a gunshot wound. (This was apparently a lost round from the policeman who neutralized the suspect).

Could the campus have done some things better? Sure. But they were right to warn the campus.

“Run, Hide, Fight” is Actually a Good Protocol

A lot of armed self-defenders see themselves rushing across campus to confront an attacker in a scenario like this. We think it’s a bad idea. Better to run if you are in “escaping distance” from the threat, hide if you are invisible and unknown to the threat, and only fight if you must.

Why run? If he can already see you, moving targets are harder to hit than stationary ones. Targets further away are harder to hit than nearby ones. Opening the distance may not bring you to cover, but it does improve your odds, as does giving your assailant a target that is in relative motion, especially laterally.

Why hide? If you can access a hiding place where you are invisible and unknown to the assailant(s), you don’t ever come up in his target array.

Why fight? There’s really one best reason: if you’re cornered and must defend yourself or others’ lives. Don’t go hunting the guy; first, you moving lets him ambush you. Second, if police or a hostage rescue force strike, and you’re on the X with a gun in your hand, guess what prize you just won? Finally, if you must (or get the opportunity to) pop the guy, one of the key questions prosecutors will ask as they review the case is, “Who was the aggressor?” Don’t be that guy. It’s potentially not self-defense if you’re the one attacking.

Mental Rehearsals and “Run, Hide, Fight”

It’s important to form a mental picture of what each of these steps would look like in any place where you could potentially be attacked. We have found the drill of “mental rehearsal” worthwhile. Consider, as you go about your daily business, what would you do if this place turned into the San Berdoo social services office, or the Bataclan venue in Paris. Which way would you run? Where might you hide? Where would be the most effective place to fight?

So, as you can see, the “Run, Hide, Fight” mantra also provides you a handy mnemonic for worst-case-scenario planning and preparation, or for your “mental rehearsal.”

It’s likely that you will never face such a serious incident as the faculty, staff and students of OSU did. If you do not, the time and effort spent on preparation is a sunk cost. But if you do, nothing but time and effort spent now on preparation can avail you anything at all.

Take care out there.

Fire in Tennessee — Narrow Escape

It’s not getting a ton of national media, but there are hundreds of fires in the tinder-dry mountains of Tennessee and western North Carolina. These are two parts of one video, showing the escape of one Michael Luciano, another guy and a dog named Red from fires in Gatlinburg. We think we’ve got them in the right order (warning, NSFW but understandable language). The first one ends with a tree blocking the road, and an attempt to run over with the truck:

We believe this to be the next element of the same escape. Just under three more minutes, more NSFW language, especially when they come to a car whose driver has frozen in the road:

Some thoughts:

  • While the camera exaggerates the bad visibility, you really can’t see anywhere near a fire.
  • That smoke is also full of toxic, invisible gases.
  • No one is coming to rescue you, when you live out in the woods and the mountains.
  • Ask yourself if the terrified driver in the car could have made it over the trees that Michael’s truck cleared.
  • There are several places in the video where one small error would have stranded even an off-road capable 4×4. How many of us have recovery equipment in our vehicles? (We think there’s an avalanche shovel, a relic of climbing days, and a coil of rope in our regular car).
  • How many of the owners of these homes — mostly second homes, cabins — had irreplaceable heirlooms in them?
  • You wonder how many pets got left behind. You can hear the dog Red’s labored breathing in the first video. You don’t want people dying to save dogs and cats (and horses!) but what do you do when, as the Luciano tape notes, you had no warning, and nothing was on the radio or TV until the fire was upon you?
  • Nothing you can do to prepare your property will protect it from a fire like this.
  • Professional firefighters are highly limited in what they can do to fight a fire of this magnitude. At one point, someone in the truck says, “They’re not even trying to put it out.” Of course not. They’re trying to do things that they conceivably can do. Saving these homes and this section of forest is impossible. 
  • Not living in the wildfire beaten zone of the mountain West is a double-edged sword. It means you seldom get fires like this, but it also means that after a couple of years of below-average rainfall, the whole forest is ready to go FOOM and nobody’s been building with a view to fire safety like they do where fires are an annual or biennial event.
  • The cabins are burning where the forest isn’t yet, because the flashover temperature of some part of the cabin was reached. That’s pretty normal — fire is lazy and burns the easy fuels first.
  • The professional forest managers’ preference for letting the growth go completely wild, and let nature manage the fuel, has its consequences. This is how nature manages the buildup of inflammable fuel in the forest.
  • Germany doesn’t have wildfires. If you’ve ever been in a German forest, you understand why. (It doesn’t hurt that the climate is usually temperate and humid with plenty of precipitation, but then, so is Tennessee).
  • While fires like this can be started by electrical storms, or careless campers, most of these fires are thought to have been deliberately started.
  • Once they’re going, though, they’re a Force of Nature. Man stands against Nature at his own peril.

This was an extremely narrow escape. It was made possible by a sturdy truck, a timely (well, maybe not timely, but not too late) decision to go, and the blind luck of an open road. The lives of the people in this vehicle stood on a tripod, of which only two legs were at all in their control. Relying on blind luck (or Divine Providence) often works, but it’s never guaranteed. When wildfires rage in your community, it’s probably a good time to go stay with friends or relatives hundreds or thousands of miles away. The whole world never burns at once.

Gun Safety: Doing it Wrong

ND-shot-in-footThis story goes a long way to explain why Homo sapiens has not evolved into some benign master race. He’s been going in the other direction, as the first two words of the news headline suggests: “Florida Man…”

A Tampa police report says Joaquin Mendez, 23, put on the [allegedly bullet-proof] vest late Saturday and “wondered aloud whether it still worked.”

Police say his cousin, Alexandro Garibaldi, 24, pulled out a gun and responded, “Let’s see.”

Officers found Mendez outside the house with a gunshot wound in his chest. Mendez died at a hospital.

Well, we guess that’s a confirmed “no” on the bullet-proof bit. So it’s just an accident, if an unfortunate one. No one to arrest here, right?

Uh, wrong:

According to the report, Garibaldi initially told officers he found his wounded cousin after hearing a gunshot. However, police say a witness described Garibaldi shooting Mendez.

Police say the vest was found inside the house with a gunshot.

Garibaldi was held Sunday without bond on a manslaughter charge. Hillsborough County jail records didn’t show whether he had an attorney.

Moral of story: lying may work for people who have their name on skyscrapers or who have shadowy foundations full of slush money, incorporated in third-world tax havens like Canuckistan. But it probably isn’t going to work for you. That lie was probably the single element of the crime that catapulted Garibaldi from a negligent homicide rap that he could probably have plea-bargained down to a misdemeanor, and the manslaughter charge he’s wearing right now.

Mama Gump used to say, “Stupid is as stupid does.” No word on who was holding Garibaldi’s and Mendez’s beers, and watching this. 

Cody “Gunfighters” Take a One-Season Hiatus

cody gunfightersOn July 29, a fool participating in one of the Cody Gunfighters’ Old West shows in Cody, Wyoming, fired a cylinder of live cap-and-ball shots, fortunately missing the guys playing the other side of the gunfight, but unfortunately hitting not one but three spectators.

It was not the first incident in the long-running open-air Western entertainment, but the first in a long time. In 1983 Thornton “Todd” Darr was wounded in the hand by a blank at contact range; in 1988 Dave Boehm lost most of the sight of an eye from some blank-launched flying particle. These accidents led to a time-out; the current iteration of the Gunfighters seems to date to 1996.

The July incident is still under investigation, the Cody Enterprise reports.

Malfunctioning blanks weren’t the problem in July, however. The performer who shot the live rounds grabbed the wrong cylinder, one he normally used for target shooting, and it was loaded.

That gun, which has been sent to the state crime lab for testing, was a cap and ball type. Baker said he still has not received results of the testing. The Cody Police Department report of the incident will not be released until Baker has received the crime lab’s report.

Cap and ball revolvers don’t use modern brass cartridges, but instead use black powder loaded through the muzzle with lead round balls ramrodded on top of the charge. There is no commercially manufactured blank round for this type of gun.

While a favorite of many re-enactors, the design of cap and ball revolvers means this type of gun isn’t as easy to check for live ammunition as a brass cartridge revolver. That’s in part because cap and ball revolvers are susceptible to a dangerous condition known as chain firing. Chain firing occurs when sparks from the cylinder intended to be fired ignites black powder residue in an adjoining cylinder. This can cause the second cylinder to fire accidentally.

The writer is trying here, but he’s crossed up the concepts “cylinder,” the thing on the revolver that holds all the chambers, and “chamber,” the hole bored in the cylinder that holds a single individual cartridge or (on muzzle-loading cap-and-ball revolvers) charge. Still, he or she is trying.

To prevent chain firing, many shooters add grease to the cylinder, covering the roundball. This prevents the spark from following the powder train into another cylinder.

Again, read “chamber” for “cylinder” in the line above… and in the line below.

Unfortunately, the grease also makes it difficult to tell with a visual inspection whether there is a roundball in the cylinder. The shooter has to instead push a pin through the  grease to detect the ball beneath.

All this means the iconic cap and ball revolver, with its distinctive profile shaped by the ramrod mounted under the barrel – a gun so prized by many aficionados of classic Old West firearms – will no longer be used in the show.

The popular show will now continue with cartridge firearms only, and with blanks supplied by the show managers only.

Facing new safety guidelines imposed by the City after a July performance went awry, a spokesman for the Cody Gunfighters said the group’s shows won’t resume in 2016.

Richard Muscio, a founding member and past president of Cody Gunfighters, said the group needs more time to be in compliance with the guidelines….

 The Gunfighters do intend to be back in the summer of 2017 with a revised show.

The Cody Gunfighters carry $2 million in liability insurance.

Chiappa Chiappa Bang kBANG!

Here’s a Chiappa Rhino 2000DS revolver that has more or less reverted to kit form, kinetically.

Chiappa kB!

Now, you may have seen this before (about a quarter-million people have looked at the original post on Imgur as of now).

Poster saith (on Reddit):

This is a friend of a friend occurrence. This is what they told me: New gun and factory ammo at the range. They fired approximately 70 rounds when this happened. It blew the pad off his index finger. They just finished reconstructive surgery. I’m assuming it was caused by a squib. I’ll post more when I learn more.

And now the money shot…

We’ve got the missing finger for you, after the jump for the squeamish among ye.

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Negligent Discharge: The Shooter’s Story

think safety signThis story was told by a Marine, Private Johnathan T. Markert, while he was in the the Marine brig at Camp Hansen, Japan, for the negligent homicide of a friend. We believe that he has since been released from confinement on completion of his sentence.

You’ve heard the basic safety rules for handling weapons and undoubtedly will hear them again. Maybe you’ve heard them so many times you’re getting tired of them. But it’s vitally important that you understand these rules, accept their value, and, above all, follow them when you’re handling a weapon in any situation. Believe me, I know.

As we will see, his problem was not just a violation of common safety rules, but a complete lapse of self-discipline.

I graduated boot camp and infantry school with ease, and I was eager and motivated to hit the fleet. Being sent to Hawaii was a dream come true. Senior Marines were very encouraging and told me I was going to go places in the Corps. We went on our annual unit deployment program to Okinawa, Japan, and I couldn’t have been more excited. I was assigned to stand post as a sentry at the gates of Camp Hansen, which would involve handling loaded 9 mm pistols. Not a problem for me; I thought, “I’m a machine gunner and a pistol is my secondary weapon. I know this gun inside and out.” Unfortunately, I disregarded basic safety rules and ignored what a 9 mm round can do to a human being.

You wan to guess what comes next? If it were a crime, it would be “clowning with a firearm, First Degree, your honor.” But we’ll let Markert describe it:

On a quiet Sunday evening in June 2003, two Marines and I were scheduled for duty at one of Camp Hansen’s gates. We climbed into the back of a HMMWV to be driven to post. A quarter-mile ride to the gate was all it took for my life to change and a fellow Marine’s life to end.

toe tagA close friend and I pulled out our 9 mm pistols and began to play around with them. We pointed the weapons in all directions, including at each other; put them on “fire; ”and cocked the hammers. We then began a mock tussle, which was all it took for my pistol to fire.

My world stopped moving at that point, and a tragedy began for me, my friend, our families, and many others.  I went into shock and thought it couldn’t be happening, but it was happening right in front of me. I’d shot my friend and fellow Marine in the head.

I froze as he slumped to the floor of the HMMWV. Blood pooled on the floor as I scrambled to give him first aid. By this time other Marines had converged on the HMMWV. Someone said he was dead, but I found he still was breathing.

I thought I could stop the bleeding with my shirt. But as I wrapped the shirt around his head, I felt tissue and other matter near the wound. I feared for my friend’s life and was numb with despair by the time EMT personnel arrived and took him from my arms. They took him to the hospital, where he languished for 8 days before succumbing to the wound I’d inflicted.

And then, as the saying goes, his troubles began.

I was handcuffed and taken to the provost marshal’s office, where the investigation and the longest night of my life began. The investigators asked detailed questions and focused on our horseplay. The process was painstaking and added a helpless feeling of regret to my fear and despair. I couldn’t see—let alone accept—that a moment of foolishness could lead to something so horrible. I was placed under suicide watch after questioning and on legal hold and liberty risk upon my release.

We’d like to add at this point that the M9 is an extremely safe firearm, to the extent that such an oxymoron can ever be true. It has several positive safeties, including a heavy first-round double-action trigger pull; a positive visual and tactile loaded-chamber indicator; and a simple operating system that can be taught to a basic operator in a couple of hours. It has been operated safely by literally millions of troops since its 1980s introduction. (And some of us had our hands on M9 precursors in the late 70s).

M9-pistolBut even this idiot-proofed weapon can’t compete with the natural skills of the improvisational idiot. He ignored the passive safeties and defeated the active ones, including the double-action lockwork of the pistol. He never looked at or finger-swept the loaded chamber indicator. He put it in a state of readiness to fire, and then, according to all the survivors, engaged in some kind of tussle. His buddy was just as big an idiot for playing along with him.

This is a relatively rare example of someone being court-martialed for a negligent discharge. It’s understandable in the light of the consequences, and, not to put too fine a point on it, in the light of Markert’s lowly rank at the time (about to get lower, of course). People make excuses for higher ranking officers in similar circumstances, but the services land with both feet on a junior enlisted guy.

This kind of make-an-example-of-him approach is hard on the negligent shooter, but he’s damaged, probably irreparably, at that point, so why not use him to send a message pour encourager les aûtres?

Six months of agony and anguish passed before my court-martial, which was as heart-wrenching as a funeral and as bad as reliving your worst nightmare. Facing more than 20 years in prison and discharge from the Corps was very frightening and difficult. However, nothing was as hard as seeing and hearing what my friend’s mother, father, and sister had been through. I also had to face the effect my trial had on my own mother and brother-in-law, a former Marine who’d accompanied her to Okinawa for support.

I stood up at sentencing and told my friend’s family how sorry I was. Somehow they were able to graciously accept my apology. I believe they understand their son was my close friend and his death was an accident. Even so, I must live each day knowing I killed my friend and a good Marine.

No matter how skilled or comfortable you are with a weapon, the basic safety rules still apply. Remember “Treat, Never, Keep, Keep:”

  • Treat every weapon as if it’s loaded
  • Never point your weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot
  • Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you’re ready to fire
  • Keep your weapon on safe until you intend to fire

I write this from the brig as a discharged Marine with the belief I can be of some help to anyone who reads or hears my story. This tragedy, with all its pain and suffering, could’ve been avoided if I’d simply followed the above rules. Weapons don’t care if you’re just playing around and have no regard for you, your skill, intentions, or brother Marines. It’s you who must think and act with care and purpose.

What a tragic story. And what a price paid by all concerned — including Markert and his Marine buddy — for two young men’s carelessness.

Sure, he seems to have matured considerably while in prison. But as he observed, his life has taken on a new direction. May he make the best of it.