FORT RUCKER, Ala. – Whether Soldiers are handling a military or a privately owned weapon, safety should always be a top concern.
A leading cause of negligent discharge accidents in the Army is failure to properly clear a weapon. A Soldier being injured while attempting to clean a weapon is an all-too-common scenario. They either fail to clear the weapon properly or simply assume it was unloaded, making no attempt to clear it all.
• A Soldier was cleaning his 9 mm, failed to check if the weapon was loaded and shot himself in the jaw.
• A Soldier accidentally shot himself while cleaning his .357 caliber handgun, resulting in fatal injuries.
• A Soldier’s handgun, a Glock 22, discharged while he was cleaning it, striking him in the hand and resulting in injury.
• A Soldier was in the cab of his private motor vehicle clearing his personal Winchester .22 caliber rifle. His weapon slipped due to slickness and discharged when his thumb hit the trigger, injuring his hand.
Between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2012, 18 Soldiers died in off-duty weapons handling accidents. As of Aug. 8, six have been killed during fiscal 2013.
“When performing any type of maintenance on a weapon, your first step should always be to clear it in accordance with the owner’s manual,” said Tracey Russell, safety and occupational health specialist, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center. “The implied task is that you must take the time to read the owner’s manual.”
Russell said Soldiers should never assume that because they’re familiar with one type of weapon, they’re an expert on all weapons.
“Different weapons have different characteristics and handling requirements,” she explained. “The procedures to clear a .45 caliber pistol are not the same procedures used to clear an M4 carbine.”
In addition to following proper clearing procedures, it’s critical to treat every weapon as if it’s loaded.
“Unfortunately, several Soldiers have lost their lives or taken the lives of others with what they believed to be an unloaded weapon,” Russell said.
“Practicing proper muzzle awareness, making sure you keep the weapon pointed in a safe direction while performing maintenance, and ensuring you never point a weapon at anything you don’t intend to shoot will prevent a tragedy in the event of a clearing error.”
Following procedures in the owner’s manual and adhering to the basic tenets of weapons safety will allow Soldiers to enjoy their privately owned weapons without risking lives and limbs.
Always think weapons safety.
• Treat every weapon as if it’s loaded.
• Handle every weapon with care.
• Identify the target before you fire.
• Never point the muzzle at anything you don’t intend to shoot.
• Keep the weapon on safe and your finger off the trigger until you intend to fire.