Trigger Finger Positioning, Hand Clenches, and Accidental Discharges

The Background

I was recently read a post related to an experienced handgun instructor where he detailed the events of an accidental shooting. This instructor shot himself while reholstering after doing a demonstration during a basic concealed handgun class. I know what you are thinking…. “He shouldn’t have had his finger on the trigger when he was putting the gun in the holster.” or “I bet he was using a Blackhawk Serpa holster.” Nope. Neither was true. He is an experienced instructor and competitive shooter, receiving professional training from the best in the business. He has good weapon handling skills. Those that have seen him draw and shoot; know that he doesn’t casually keep his finger on the trigger while holstering. It was a somewhat baffling dilemma. What caused this unintentional discharge. The told the writer of this post, “I know how guns work.  I’m not blaming this on the gun or the holster.  I know that I had to have pulled the trigger for the gun to go off.  But I’ve been doing this a long time and I know not to have my finger on the trigger when I’m not actually shooting.  I just don’t understand how it happened.”

Reconstruction of the Unintentional Discharge

The writer of the post, met with the instructor to try to reconstruct what happened. The instructor wore the same gun (unloaded) and holster and walked through the events of the day leading up to the shooting. The instructor did a demonstration of the close-quarters retention shooting he used in his CCW class. Standing close to a cardboard target, he drew his gun, fired a couple of rounds from retention, and reholstered. He explained that he repeated the demonstration and fired a few more shots from retention. Next, he demonstrated the value of keeping his non-gun hand up to fend off any threat that might still be coming if the shots didn’t take effect. While reholstering, he reached out with his left hand and grabbed the target to show how the off-hand can be used defensively. Observing the demonstration, the writer of the post had a suspicion of the cause of the unintentional discharge. The picture to the right shows the trigger finger discipline most of us use.  We would swear that we never touched the trigger unless he was in the act of firing. Many shooters hold their fingers this way when not firing. They believe that since the finger is not on the trigger, an accidental discharge won’t occur. In general, they are correct However, there is a common shooting error that can get us in trouble. The tightening of the hand causes a contraction of all of the fingers with a force up to 30 lbs. Check out the picture to the right. An involuntary hand clench can cause the trigger finger to end up on the trigger.

So what causes these involuntary hand clenches?

1) Postural Imbalance.  When the shooter loses balance or trips, his hands will clench. 2) Startle Effect.  When the shooter is under stress and surprised, there will often be a hand clench. 3) Interlimb Interaction.  Under stress, when the non gun hand closes violently, the gun hand will clench,  spontaneously duplicating the actions of the non-gun hand.
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