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Towards an Understanding of Involuntary Firearms Discharges: Possible Risks and Implications for Training

NCJ Number
Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management Volume: 29 Issue: 3 Dated: 2006 Pages: 434-450
Christopher Heim; Dietmar Schmidtbleicher; Eckhard Niebergall
Date Published
17 pages
This study identified environmental and physiological factors that might interact to cause accidental discharges of firearms, and it suggests how police officers could be trained to prevent such incidents.
Generally, the findings indicated that leg movement produced greater potential for involuntary discharges from uncontrolled and unintended muscle activity than movements of the arm not holding the gun (contralateral arm). Findings showed that more forceful leg movements brought a progressively higher risk for the unintentional discharge of a firearm. For movements that involved the use of the contralateral arm, results showed a tendency for higher forces to be exerted on a weapon during pulling than during pushing movements. The authors argue that training officers to keep their finger off the trigger until they make the conscious decision to fire their weapon is not sufficient to prevent an involuntary placement of the finger on the trigger. They advocate training in isolated movements (moving one part of the body while the rest of the body is kept still), which has been shown to reduce unwanted involuntary muscle contractions. Such training over the course of a year should reduce unwanted involuntary muscle contractions. The study involved fitting a 9 mm handgun with sensors to register the pressure exerted on both the hand-stock and the trigger. Participants then performed 13 different tasks, each of which required the use of different limbs while holding the weapon. Participants were 25 students (13 females) between the ages of 21 and 39. Four men had experience in handling a gun. Twelve participants had been regular participants in team sports. Seven of the participants had pursued compositional sports such as ballet dancing, rhythmic sports gymnastics, and jazz dance. 3 tables, 3 figures, and 43 references