Here we have a few different views of the old ND. The first comes from Billy Birdzell, via Tom Ricks. We begin with Ricks’s introduction:
Here’s an amazing number that I had never seen before: Since the beginning of the U.S. operation in Iraq, more than 90 U.S. military personnel have been killed there by negligent weapons discharges. Yet I can barely remember seeing official references to the phenomenon. You can be openly gay in the military, but negligent discharges are still pretty much closeted.
Funny, it’s long been a subject of discussion — and action. In many ARSOF units it is, if not a career-ender, an error that causes your career to ricochet in a new and undesired direction. In Rangers and shooting elements of JSOC it’s an instant dismissal from the unit. (At least in Ranger Regiment, a guy can soldier his way back in after some years in the wilderness). That is because these elements take shooting and safety seriously. Now, we’re not surprised that Ricks isn’t up on it. Hard to learn much about the military from an external perch dangling from an attitude of contempt. Anyway, he finally gets around to letting Birdzell, a former Marine officer, speak. (Birdzell was then — May, 2011 — in grad school at UVA, which makes him somebody in Ricks’s beltway world).
During OIF II, a USMC helicopter pilot accidentally shot and killed himself in the ready room while spinning his pistol on his finger like John Wayne.
An SF guy who recycled from our Light Weapons class to the one behind had a similar dumb-ass mishap while deployed in the mid-1980s.
During my battalion’s first Iraq deployment negligent discharges of weapons caused one death and one serious injury. The first incident occurred when a lance corporal who had been a problem child pointed a Corpsman’s pistol at the Corpsman’s face in a “hey, look at me” scenario, and then negligently shot him in the head. That Marine was sentenced to several years in prison.
After that, the battalion commander wanted weapons unloaded inside the compound and Condition 3 on guard towers (magazine inserted, no round in the chamber). In another “Look at me,” moment, another lance corporal pointed an M16 at yet another LCpl. A round had been chambered in the rifle and the Marine was shot in the neck. Magically (I’ve seen the scars), the bullet passed between the trachea and the arteries and exited the neck directly over the spine without hitting a nerve. The doctor said it was medically impossible.
I concur with the idea that weapon safety is a mindset. I think our least common denominator training and treating the troops like idiots at the rifle range causes them to either be afraid of weapons or be cavalier about them. As a result, there are NDs. In Special Operations Forces, the mindset is very, very different and NDs are incredibly rare. Pointing weapons at each other is not tolerated and there is a ton of pride in one’s ability to masterfully handle the tools of our trade.
Birdzell is onto something with “treating the troops like idiots at the rifle range…” and we think it’s that the command fears firearms and tries to restrict troop access to them, producing ill-trained troops. We were disappointed that it was this bad in the USMC, and even in infantry; we expect better of Marines. He concludes by pointing out one probable cause:
For Marines and Soldiers, [experience with loaded weapons] is almost zero while in garrison. A mechanic goes to the rifle range at most once a year and there he is told in lockstep fashion to load, shoot and unload. That same mechanic is expected to carry a rifle and ammo everywhere he goes while in Iraq. Infantrymen spend a lot of time in the field carrying empty weapons but total hours of carrying loaded weapons into offices, chow halls, public places = zero while in garrison.
The Army is quite bad about this. One of the best things SOT and later, SFARTEC and SFAUC did, was get the guys accustomed to carrying loaded firearms at all times. The Army’s rigid range procedures do not help teach real-world safe gun handling.
Via Ricks again, we have a sort of guest post by an officer bitter that a negligent discharge ruined his Army career. He wasn’t in an elite unit, but found himself shunned in his infantry company, and received a bad OER (a single bad Officer Evaluation Report is the kiss of death in an up-or-out Army):
In my delirium, I pulled the charging handle back to eject the chambered round before removing the magazine, thereby charging a new round. When I pointed the rifle at the ground and pulled the trigger, it went off. The MPs at the gate immediately accosted us, got my info, and reported it to my company commander, who was already on the FOB.
My company commander, just off a stint as a platoon leader in the Ranger Regiment, immediately sought to remove me from the company.
He probably already loved you for showing up with a Ragnar School sob story.
My battalion commander showed clemency and instead declared that my punishment would be to dig a grave behind our company’s outpost. My company commander explained to me that I was only to work on the grave at night and in an inconspicuous location. The idea was to keep the matter discreet. However, the unspoken punishment was that I was never accepted among the company’s officers. My company commander rarely spoke to me except to criticize some mistake I made, gave my platoon the worst assignments, and ultimately wrote me a bad OER. My battalion commander, while counseling me on that first OER, told me in no uncertain terms that the company commander’s remarks were unfair and obviously colored by that single incident.
I don’t think this guy realizes how whiny he’s coming off. (It’s actually worse than the excerpts… it begins with him being dropped from Ranger school, unfairly, of course).
For my part, I spent the week after the incident trying to figure out what went wrong with the weapon. I gave it to the unit armorer for a full inspection. I never told my company commander about my physical condition before the incident. Not because I was afraid of further punishment for eating the local food (it was against the rules), but because I was embarrassed to admit I’d soiled my pants. A few months later, one of my soldiers experienced a similar incident. He was punished severely by doing rifle PT for hours in the sun — in full view of the entire company. I did nothing to stop my NCOs from taking their action because I was afraid my own incident would be brought up and I’d be humiliated again. After the deployment, at an officers’ beer call, a few of my former “fellow” lieutenants from the company put on a skit reenacting the incident. It was vindictive and humiliating, and it was meant to be.
He then goes into a long-winded and shallow pop psych explanation of how the “military’s culture of bravado and shame”… well, here it is in his own words, edited only for brevity.
…culture… that equally indulges in bravado and shame. One needs to look no further than that iconic scene from Full Metal Jacket of the Marines marching through the squad bay, one hand carrying a shouldered weapon and the other grabbing their genitalia, to understand the psychological and cultural association of weapons with manhood in the military profession. …. Of course, the Drill Sergeant Hartman analogy also explains why anyone who experiences an incident is treated so harshly. He’s committed a breach of manhood; literally, and excuse the crass language, shooting his load too early.
It seems plausible that this guy’s lousy OER wasn’t just his CO picking on him. Even in this short article he comes across as a thin-skinned, quavering douchebag who is ever-ready with a glib and shallow undergrad response to criticism; an excuse for everything, accepting responsibility for nothing. Yeah, that’s what every CO wants in his platoon leaders.
That I’m still reluctant to identify myself today, because I feel assured others will assault my position as motivated by personal bias, should perhaps indicate the severity of the issue.
Actually, we took it as an indicator you’re a timid loser. Sorry about that, and thanks for playing.
Ricks followed up with this, from British correspondent Toby Harnden, whose experience was that NDs in the Welsh Guards (the British unit Harnden embedded with) were disproportionately committed by officers:
Although the Welsh Guards pride themselves on their discipline on the parade ground (they have a ceremonial function and were on duty for last month’s Royal Wedding) and with weapons, there were a number of incidents in which soldiers negligently fired shots.
The most serious one probably caused the death of an Afghan civilian. A Welsh Guards officer visiting FOB Keenan near Gereshk at the start of May 2009 was loading his rifle before a patrol when he accidentally fired a shot with his SA-80 rifle. He was facing south with his weapon pointed at a 45-degree angle, just above the heads of other members of the patrol. The platoon commander, a lieutenant, decided not to report the incident immediately, later citing the rank of the officer.
As it happens, the shot was the probable cause of the mortal wounding of an Afghan poppy farmer thousands of yards downrange, but it couldn’t be proven because a number of other shots were fired in a nearby engagement, too.
The British Army seems to take a more relaxed view of NDs.
Later the same month, another officer (attached to the battalion but not a Welsh Guardsman) had an ND and narrowly avoided killing the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe. Ironically enough, the officer was a junior Brigade legal adviser.
Not surprising, really. In an infantry brigade, it’s hard to imagine who is less firearms-trained than the law dog, except his opposite number on the special staff, the padre. (Some military lawyers enjoy learning shooting and other arts of soldiering, but they’re exceptions).
“He was about a metre away from me with his rifle on his hip like one of those prison guards in American films,” [company commander Maj. Giles] Harris told me. “His finger was on the trigger and the rifle was at a 45-degree angle over Colonel Rupert’s head about two metres away from him. It was one of those very British moments. Everybody pretended not to notice because they didn’t want to embarrass him. No one was angry about the fact that he’d nearly slotted the Commanding Officer.” Harris walked over, quietly took the captain’s rifle from him and suggested he report to the ops officer and tell him what had happened.
It was not, of course, just officers who were guilty of NDs. In another incident during Panther’s Claw, Captain Terry Harman was taking refuge in a compound during a firefight when an NCO standing next to him discharged his weapon, just missing Harman’s foot. Harman decided not to report the ND, partly because of the paperwork it would generate.
And here’s Herschel Smith with a view closer to our own, discussing the recent spate of police NDs:
They are blaming it on [the gun]. Thus they have trained officers to keep their fingers on the trigger of their handguns when they deploy their firearms. They say so.
Think about that and let it wash over you again. When a cop pulls his handgun and points it your direction, according to the training he has received, he most likely has his finger on the trigger of the weapon. And thus do we reach the root cause of the problems – not Glocks, or M&Ps, or any other ridiculous culprits. It’s a shame that Bob couldn’t have pointed out the truth rather than blame the gun. Blaming the gun is what gun controllers do, and why the collectivists wanted the so-called smart gun.
So other than reminding you that this violates two of the sacred rules of gun safety (muzzle discipline and trigger discipline), let’s rehearse sympathetic muscle reflexes again, and I’ll remind you of what I said about how the Marine Corps trained my son Daniel as a SAW gunner. First concerning sympathetic muscle reflexes.
Recall the incident where a stumbling Framingham, MA, police officer, the incompetent and reckless Paul Duncan, blew away a bystanding citizen on a wrong-house raid, because his donut-fueled mass stumbled and he had finger on his trigger and select-fire M4 on fire, as was his SWAT Team’s SOP? Duncan was back on the job after a three-month paid vacation. (The city is in negotiations about sums of money; it was able to spike any criminal prosecution, but failed to get a civil suit dismissed).
Smith’s story is one where you really want to Read The Whole Thing™, because his excerpts and links to an LA Times story and to his own back post are worth it. NDs result from (1) deficient training; (2) weapons policies that detract from comfort with and mastery of the weapon; and (3) lack of immediate and drastic consequences for negligent discharges. NDs are extremely rare in units and departments that don’t do this.