NDs, ADs and UDs - Using Proper Terminology

by Paul Lombardi

I'd like to take a moment to discus a topic that should always be on the mind of anyone while participating in any activity involving firearms, and that is an Unintentional Discharge (UD). This is commonly referred to as a Negligent Discharge (ND) or an Accidental Discharge (AD), but in some situations both of those terms can be problematic. It is important to understand the difference between the terms, and to use the most accurate language.

There are two things that can cause the unintentional discharge of a firearm, the first being a mechanical failure, and the second being operator error. In my estimation, poor firearm handling and a lack of attention to firearm safety account for the majority of UDs. An unintentional discharge caused by a mechanical failure is extremely rare with modern firearms. However, they do occur, and this is where the term ND becomes problematic.

One definition for negligent reads, "failing to take proper care in doing something". While this does fit the majority of situations, not all unintentional discharges are due to negligence, and thus I think it unfair and unwise to characterize them all that way. It is my opinion that one should not use the term ND until the actual cause of an unintentional discharge has been determined, and that blame can clearly be placed on the shooter.

Where the term ND may assign blame where it is unwarranted, the term AD fails to impart any accountability. One definition of accidental reads, "happening by chance, unintentionally, or unexpectedly". There should never be anything left to chance when dealing with firearms, and just because an event is "unexpected" doesn't mean it isn't your fault. This is why many law enforcement agencies and insurance companies don't refer to "car accidents", but rather to "vehicle collisions" or something similar. While the term AD might be suitable for a mechanical failure, it fails to account for negligence.

Which leads me to my preferred term, unintentional discharge. One definition of unintentional reads, "not deliberate or intentional; inadvertent". This seems the best fit to describe a situation where the cause of a discharge is unknown, and is still suitable when it is. It doesn't assign blame, but nor is it ambiguous. A negligent discharge is certainly unintentional, as is a discharge caused by a mechanical failure, or some other "accident". Thus I believe it is the most inclusive and comprehensive way to describe all of these events. I urge others to consider these terms and their implications when using them.