NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- Weapons handling measures need to be reinforced to reduce the number of accidental discharges.
When it comes to personal firearms safety, things are pretty cut and dried, said Master Chief Gunner's Mate (EXW/SW/AW) Gary McMahan, a member of the Naval Safety Center's Training Safety Division.
"Treat every gun as if it's loaded," he said. "It's as simple as that."
However, too many Sailors and Marines seem to have forgotten that No. 1 rule of weapons safety. In fiscal year 2008, there were at least 28 acts of Sailor misconduct or suicide involving firearms that occurred on board Navy installations, and another 11 such incidents off base.
While suicide is a separate issue, many negligent discharge cases come down to training and common sense, McMahan said.
"People buy guns at show or at shops, and think they know more than they do," he said.
That often leads to accidental discharges that injure or even kill. There was a lot of publicity given to New York Giants star wide receiver Plaxico Burriss, who is currently serving a two-year prison sentence in the wake of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound. His gun was loaded, unlicensed, and he was convicted of reckless endangerment.
Although that story garnered a lot of attention, similar scenarios play out across the fleet. Last year, a first class petty officer died when his .45 fell out of his holster and hit the ground, firing into his chest, according to Naval Safety Center mishap reports.
McMahan said carelessness leads to a number of mishaps, and that Sailors need to educate themselves about the characteristics of their individual weapons as well as basic gun safety.
"Talk to the people who work at the gun shops, or better yet, talk to the gunners mates on board your ships. These people are great resources," he said.
One thing many people are not aware of is that many firearms no longer have safety devices that keep the weapon from firing.
"These weapons may have safety features, but they don't have safeties," McMahan said. "What they usually have is a de-cocker. This makes the round a double action instead of single action, but it doesn't stop the weapon from firing."
McMahon said education is the key to safe gun ownership. Most gun shops offer safety classes and he encourages all weapons owners to take one. Additionally, every owner should know the intricacies of his or her personal firearm, as they are all a little different. That means knowing how to field strip and clean it, he said.
McMahan also emphasized that alcohol and guns don't mix. "If you want to drink," he said, "wait until the guns are put away."
For more information on personal firearms safety, visit www.safetycenter.navy.mil/ashore/explosives/index.asp.
For more news from Naval Safety Center, visit www.navy.mil/local/nsc/.