Don’t make this expensive (and potentially deadly) Dry Fire Mistake… (picture!)

As we are seeing from what happened with a movie prop gun yesterday, the story I’m going to share with you today could have been bad…VERY bad.

Let’s start with the negligent discharge that had a low consequence, and then we’ll move on to yesterday’s tragedy.

A shooter in a group I’m a part of posted a picture of the aftermath of a negligent discharge that he had and some of the damage that happened. (Yes…he gave me permission to use his picture, but I still blurred it for him.)

So…how did this happen?

What kind of damage did the bullet do?

How effective was the fridge at stopping the bullet?

And how can you do dry fire multiple times per week safely and avoid something like this happening to you?

We’re going to cover that right now…

Eric is a competitive shooter who’s taken hundreds of hours of classes and successfully done thousands of magazine and chamber checks.

As Eric said,

“I always follow the layers of systems to be safe.

But this time I apparently didn’t.

I’m unclear on whether I missed clearing from a magazine or a chamber, but I “saw without seeing.” I’ve been so used to seeing nothing there, that this time I fooled myself into seeing nothing at all.

Fortunately I followed all other safety protocols and only killed my fridge.

All I expected was the familiar click while using the Mantis, but I got an enormous bang reverberating around my kitchen. Smoke hung in the air, and my jaw lay on the floor. I was in shock.

I found that a 9mm HP round had penetrated the stainless steel door on the fridge, punctured through the side wall of the fridge, pierced the wall into the pantry and didn’t stop till it was absorbed by my home brick exterior wall. (A lesson in itself.)

I was sure id followed the process correctly. I checked the magazines, the chamber, and was careful to remove ammo from the room. I had to watch my home interior security footage to accept that i’d somehow screwed up.

I had a heck of a time explaining it to my wife.”

I’m just glad Eric, his wife, and his neighbors were unharmed.

How does something like this happen?

It’s a “feature” of our mind that fills in gaps with what the mind expects to see, rather than what is actually there. In this case, Eric thought he saw an empty chamber when, in fact, there was a round in the chamber that didn’t eject out properly.

It could have been an issue with his ejector…it could have been because he didn’t rack the slide far enough…we just don’t know.

And, to the extent that we can, we need to plan for the unknown when we’re doing dry fire…keeping things safe without the process being so overwhelming that we don’t do it.

Let’s start with a definition…Dry fire is the manipulation of a firearm or training device without any live ammo present. By definition, if there is ammo present, it is not dry fire and therefore it is impossible to have a negligent discharge when doing dry fire.

How about yesterday’s tragedy?

If you haven’t heard yet, all major news sources are reporting that Alec Baldwin was on a movie set, aimed a prop gun at a crewmember, pressed the trigger, and killed the crewmember and injured another.

I’ve been cringing at what I’m hearing about the incident…

  1.  “Why did someone hand me a hot gun?”  (personal responsibility)  Ideally, the safety officer would have handed the unloaded and cleared firearm to Baldwin along with the blank ammo so he could load it.  He would have been educated ahead of time about how to visually identify blank and live ammo.  Safety in live fire training, dry fire training, reality based training, and on movie sets is EVERYONE’S responsibility, not just a safety officer’s.

    Clearing a firearm is more than just removing live ammo when you’re using blanks.  You’ve probably re-read how Brandon Lee was killed with a bullet from a gun loaded with blanks during the filming of The Crow.  In that case, crew emptied powder out of a cartridge and replaced the bullet.  It was shot and the primer pushed the bullet into the barrel…where it was lodged.  Nobody checked the barrel for obstructions and the gun was re-loaded with blanks.  The next time the gun was fired, the blank pushed the old bullet the rest of the way through the barrel and into Brandon Lee’s stomach, mortally injuring him.  Simply running a dowel from muzzle to chamber takes care of this issue.

    Clearing the barrel is an example of an action that nobody could have foreseen as a problem…until the first time it was a problem.  After the first “accident,” we have the responsibility to learn from it and implement procedures to prevent it from happening again.

  2.  “Never point a gun at something you don’t want to destroy.”  This rule has problems.  What if it’s a Nerf/airsoft/paintball gun?  A properly cleared blank gun?  An inert blue gun?  A sim gun?  SIRT gun?  A movie prop gun?  What about when you case a firearm?  How about holstering…do you want to destroy your holster?  The spirit of this rule is great…the logical, consistent application is full of holes.

    A better rule is “point the muzzle where you want to point it.  Don’t point the muzzle where you don’t want to point it.”  This pairs well with another rule, “Keep the trigger guard clear until you’re ready to press the trigger.  Put your finger on the trigger when you’re ready to press the trigger.”  Those two rules incorporate strings and shirt tails getting into the trigger guard, knowing your target and what’s beyond it, and they can be consistently applied to every gun-like platform you pick up.

    Kind of along those lines, I’ve seen comments questioning whether he was horsing around or not.  That’s immaterial.  He shouldn’t have been, but horsing around with a properly cleared blank gun would not have resulted in tragedy.

  3. “How did a live round get mixed in?”  That’s a good question, but not really beneficial.  They were in New Mexico.  The safety officer may have swapped out self-defense ammo for snake rounds and someone picked up a self-defense round.  All live ammo SHOULD be separated and secured, but it’s smart to take the next step and make sure that live ammo can’t be chambered at all.  That way, in the one-in-a-million occurrence that a live round gets accidentally introduced, you have another layer of safety in place.

    For semi-autos, there are replacement barrels with chambers that are shortened, offset primers, and other safety measures to prevent live rounds from being fired.  For revolvers, there are shims that get inserted into the chamber so that it’s no longer possible to chamber live rounds.

    Do your dummy rounds look like real ammo?  Did someone make your dummy rounds out of real brass?  !!Don’t do that!!  I understand that in movie-prop-world, they want dummy rounds to look real for the benefit of the camera.  In every other situation, you want your non-functional dummy rounds to look completely different than live ammo.  Mine are brown, red, blue, orange, and clear.  I’ve thrown out any that could be confused for live ammo.

  4. “How did a live round make it’s way into the gun?”  The live round is/was inanimate.  It didn’t do anything.  A human being took the live round and put it into the chamber of the gun.
  5. Calling it an accident.  It was a horrible tragedy, but I would caution anyone from calling it an accident–which includes a presumption of fate–and, instead, we should call it negligence.  I doubt/hope it was not malicious, but there are clear, proven processes and procedures to keep tragic events like this from happening.  As an example, if their safety officer and armorer would have just gone through one of Ken Murray’s instructor classes https://www.rbta.net/ and implemented what they learned, it would have been next to impossible for this tragedy to happen without malicious intent.  The crew member would still be alive.  The 2nd wouldn’t be recovering.  And Alec’s life wouldn’t have been forever changed.

So, besides parsing phrases and identifying issues that only occur on movie sets, how do we make our own dry fire safer?

There are a couple of routes…the more expensive route is to use a dedicated laser trainer, airsoft training replica or CO2 training replica.

The cheaper and easier route is to use Dry Fire Cord.

With Dry Fire Cord, (with the pistol pointed in a safe direction) you simply remove the magazine from the pistol, lock the slide to the rear, and remove all live ammo from the training area.

Then, insert the long end of the dry fire cord into the chamber and push it until the quad-chamfered aircraft grade aluminum barrel block is in the chamber and the long end is sticking out the muzzle.

Now, your chamber is blocked by stainless steel and you’ve got a visual indicator that the chamber is blocked.

If you want to do old-school dry fire with a “click” every time you press the trigger, push the tail down into the magazine well, release the slide forward, and proceed with your dry fire into a backstop capable of safely containing a negligent discharge.

If you want to do multi-shot dry fire sequences with a striker fired pistol, improve your ability to call your shots, know the correct firmness to grip with, and know how quickly you can run the trigger, then stick the tail out of the ejection port, ride the slide forward until it hits the cord, and now you’ve got a resetting trigger for dry fire without the distracting “click.” Even though dry fire cord blocks the chamber, you still want to use a backstop capable of containing a negligent discharge.

What about snap caps?

Snap caps have a place in training–specifically for revolvers and a lot of long gun applications, but it’s too easy to get complacent with snap caps and stack them on top of a live round in a pistol magazine. In addition, it’s much more difficult to convince the brain to transfer over the practice you do in dry fire to live fire when you’re racking the slide between each rep. It’s definitely not impossible, but it is more difficult.

With dry fire cord, you’ve got proof-positive that there is no round in the chamber AND that the chamber is blocked so that no live round can be introduced.

Want some?  Of course you do…>Here’s where you can get some Dry Fire Cords for yourself

Thoughts?  Questions?  Fire away by commenting below:

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1 Comment

  • BJI

    Reply Reply October 22, 2021

    The Hollywood veteran accidentally shot and killed a cinematographer while filming a movie in Sante Fe, New Mexico. During filming, Baldwin was required to fire a gun loaded with blanks. As it turns out, the gun discharged either shrapnel or a bullet, killing 42-year-old Halyna Hutchins and injuring the film’s director, Joel Souza.

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