Safety Issues: In-Store & On The Range


Whenever guns change hands, staff should “check empty” not only by sight,
but also by feel. Checking the magazine well — and chamber — needs to be
an essential function for all employees.

We can never lose sight of the fact we are selling deadly weapons. Therefore, workplace safety is a concern — no matter what our business or profession might be. When our business involves objects described in the law as “lethal weapons,” we have to be all the more careful.

Preventable Tragedies

Google “accidental shootings in gun shops” and you’ll get more than 6 million hits.

It appears the great majority of firearms accidents that take place in gun shops are the direct fault of careless customers, but occasionally there is negligence on the part of the staff. 

Many years ago, I was consulted as an expert witness in the case of a shooting that took place at a gun show. A veteran gun dealer had, for many years, one or more tables at the show, and was approached there by a man with a bag of handguns he wanted to sell. A cursory examination showed them to be pretty much junk, and the dealer politely told the man he wasn’t interested.

The man replied, “Then how about this?” He reached under his coat and whipped out a French MAB 9mm. The dealer took it and, removing the magazine, realized “This idiot just handed me a loaded pistol.”

The mainspring is strong on an MAB, and it held the hammer down tight against the slide in addition to the resistance of the recoil spring. As the dealer gave the slide a mighty tug to clear the chamber his hand slipped, and apparently hit the trigger, discharging the pistol.

The bullet struck and killed a 9-year-old boy nearby.

In 2021, a fatality occurred in a gun shop in Berkeley County, S.C. The news report from the local NBC affiliate, WCBD-TV News, began, “Charges have been filed against a Berkeley County gun shop owner who fatally shot a friend after mistaking a GLOCK 17 for a BB gun.”1 The charge was involuntary manslaughter.

A 2017 incident in a Pinellas County, Fla. gun shop had serious, but fortunately non-fatal, results. The police report reads, in part, “Detectives assigned to the robbery/homicide unit are investigating an accidental shooting at a gun store that seriously injured a 19-year-old woman in unincorporated Seminole.

“According to detectives, at about 6:30 p.m. on Friday, February 10, 2017, deputies were called to Dara’s Nail Salon and Day Spa for a female victim suffering from a gunshot wound. Paramedics were already on scene rendering aid to the victim, 19-year-old Yaminah Gilbert. Gilbert suffered from a gunshot wound to her back and was transported to Bayfront Medical Center for non-life-threatening injuries. 

“Detectives say 43-year-old Mark Smith, an employee at the neighboring business, R&R Firearms, was unloading a customer’s .45-caliber handgun inside the gun shop. Smith informed detectives he was clearing the loaded firearm when he pulled the slide back and emptied the chambered round from inside the firearm. When Smith sent the slide forward on the handgun, there was a magazine with ammunition still inside the handgun and the gun accidentally discharged.

“The projectile from the handgun traveled southbound, through the adjoining wall, and into Dara’s Nail Salon and Day Spa. Detectives say Gilbert was seated in a salon chair getting a pedicure at the nail salon when she felt the pain from the projectile striking her in the back. At the time, Gilbert was unaware of what happened until Smith came forward and reported the accidental discharge.”2

This past year in Waukegan, Ill., a gun shop and range employee unintentionally discharged his own pistol, sending a bullet into his own leg and a ricochet caused a hand wound to a male customer.3

In a Nashville-area gun store recently, a customer discharged a pistol that was on display, sending a bullet into the floor and spraying fragments which injured two other customers, one of them a Nashville Metro police officer. A report from NBC affiliate WSMV4 stated, “… police said a gun safety employee using the gun earlier put a loaded magazine back into the display gun accidentally.”4

The Customer’s Loaded Gun

I remember being in a gun shop a few years ago when an elderly customer fondling a handgun asked the man behind the counter, “Is it alright if I fire a few shots into the floor to make sure it works?” It took the gun dealer — and me — a few moments to realize the senior citizen was serious. 

The dealer gently took the gun back and, needless to say, no sale was made. (It could have been worse, as we see from the Nashville area case above.)

In Monroe County, Ohio, gun-shop owner James Baker was shot in the neck and killed by a student while teaching a concealed carry class in 2016.5

In the past, there have been reports of individuals (Psychopaths? Rabid anti-gunners? Who knows?) going to gun shows and surreptitiously inserting live rounds into display guns. This is one reason some gun shows require zip ties to disable display weapons. It may be one reason Walmart stores put trigger locks on all displayed firearms.

Zip ties and such are not, however, typical protocol in most retail gun shops. Thus, one critical safety protocol is to make sure a staff member checks the magazine and chamber of every firearm before they hand it to a customer, and to do it again when the customer hands it back before that gun returns to display.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of safety.”

Safety Protocols

More often, it seems, these unfortunate events begin with a customer. They bring in a gun — for repair, for return, for trade-in or appraisal or whatever — and there is a round in the chamber. Obviously, the first thing the employee should do is get the muzzle in a safe direction, remove the magazine, open cylinder/slide/bolt and inspect the firing chamber(s). It’s a good idea to check by both sight and feel: A finger is inserted into each chamber and magazine well to assure tactile and visual confirmation there are no live rounds in the firearm.

Some shops have found so many live rounds in guns under these circumstances they’ve made a collection: Usually, it’s a glass jar of assorted live cartridges. The wise dealer keeps it where his or her employees can see it as a constant reminder of the importance of checking, and also where it can be pointed out to any customer who takes offense at the practice of staff checking his gun and says something like “What, you don’t trust me?”

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is a saying that has been attributed to Thomas Jefferson and many others, but probably originated in the year 1790 in Dublin, Ireland, by John Philpot Curran. For our purposes here, it can be paraphrased as “Eternal vigilance is the price of safety.”

Links to the various cases cited have been included as footnotes for your convenience. Feel free to use them to reinforce employee training, and perhaps even to show customers why your shop puts so much emphasis on firearms safety. 







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