Skip to comments.Experts Find Glocks Prone To Accidents
Posted on 08/07/2002 6:24:01 AM PDT by jalisco555
When a Syracuse man was struck last week by a bullet fired through the ceiling of his apartment, it marked the third time in eight years that an Onondaga County probation officer had unintentionally discharged one of the department-issued Glock pistols.
Those three incidents, and similar cases in Central New York and elsewhere, come as no surprise to Joseph Cominolli. Cominolli was a Syracuse police sergeant in 1987 when he was assigned to find the best semiautomatic handgun to replace that department's revolvers.
The hot new Glock pistol that other police agencies were then buying had two drawbacks that caused Cominolli to reject it. The Glock had no manual safety switch and no magazine safety that made the gun inoperable when the magazine was removed.
A Glock is a safe weapon, Cominolli said, but only if the person handling it knows how to use it. If the gun is unloaded in the wrong order, for example, a round of ammunition can be left in the chamber without the user realizing it, he said. With no manual safety, the gun will fire if the trigger is pulled.
"Even with good training, people forget," he said. "And guns are not forgiving."
On July 30, Stacey Nunn, a probation officer for about a year, was unloading her .40-caliber Glock when it fired into the floor of her second-story apartment at 1904 James St. The bullet struck her downstairs neighbor, Michael Chapman, in the chest as he was making dinner in his kitchen. Chapman's condition improved from critical to serious this week at University Hospital.
Nunn had removed the magazine from the gun before the weapon fired, according to police.
In 1994, probation officer Susan Beebe shot herself in the knee while unloading her Glock. In September 1998, a firearms instructor for the probation department unintentionally fired his Glock into a wall while teaching a class how to remove the weapon from a holster. The shot put a hole through a classroom wall at the Elbridge Rod and Gun Club.
The gun's inadvertent firing in the hands of a gun expert caused concern, Probation Commissioner Robert Czaplicki said.
"We took a look at what went on," Czaplicki said. "We had a group of people look at it. It raised some red flags."
The firearms instructor is still teaching probation officers, said Czaplicki, who would not identify the instructor.
Cominolli, who is retired from the police, has designed and patented a manual safety device that can be added to Glock pistols. Last year, he talked to Czaplicki about adding the device to the probation department's guns.
Czaplicki said the county then talked with Glock officials about having the device installed. But the county rejected the idea after Glock said it would void the warranty on the guns if the safeties were added, Czaplicki said.
Czaplicki said his department is reconsidering the safeties in light of last week's unintentional discharge that injured Chapman.
Cominolli said he knows of dozens of "unintentional discharges" of Glocks in Central New York over the past 15 years, and estimates there have been thousands across the country. He won't refer to them as accidents because that implies the shootings could not have been prevented.
Syracuse police use Smith & Wesson firearms.
No national statistics are available on which manufacturer's handgun has the most unintentional firings. The Washington Post reported in 1998 that District of Columbia officers, who use Glock 9mm handguns, unintentionally fired their weapons more than 120 times over 10 years.
In 1988, the FBI issued a report on Glock handguns giving them low marks, citing a "high potential for unintentional shots," according to the Post. The agency will not release the report, according to an FBI spokesman in Washington, D.C.
Despite that report, the FBI issues Glocks to its agents.
Last week, a Queens corrections officer fatally shot his son while the officer was unloading his 9mm Glock handgun in his home, according to Newsday. A police chief in Coral Gables, Fla., accidentally fired his .40-caliber Glock last month into his locker at a health club, according to The Miami Herald.
The Onondaga County Sheriff's Department, which has used Glocks since 1992, has had at least three unintentional discharges with the weapon, according to Lt. Thomas Morehouse, a firearms instructor. A deputy fired a shot that grazed his hand in 1992. A detective fired a round into the floor of his patrol car a few years ago. And a deputy accidentally pulled the trigger three years ago and fired a round into the ground at the training range, Morehouse said.
In December, an Oswego County sheriff's deputy accidentally fired his Glock handgun into the foot of a security officer at a nuclear power plant.
Cominolli, a nationally known firearms expert, said he's gotten dozens of calls from lawyers representing police officers who'd shot themselves with Glocks. He tells them he's never heard of a case of the gun malfunctioning. It's always operator error, he said.
'Brain fade' protection
That's why he designed the safety device and is marketing it to police agencies and private gun owners across the country. With the safety on, the trigger bar inside the gun can't move.
"If you have a brain fade and pull the trigger, it won't go bang," Cominolli said.
Newly hired probation officers in Onondaga County must carry a firearm after undergoing 35 hours of training on the shooting range and 14 hours in the classroom, Czaplicki said. Veteran officers in the department have the option of carrying a gun. Probation officers are trained by the department's two state-certified firearms instructors, he said. Forty-one of the county's 84 probation officers now carry a gun on the job. All carry Glocks.
In response to last week's shooting, the department is reviewing its training procedures, Czaplicki said. He wouldn't comment on details of the shooting, except to say it's certain that the trigger on the gun must have been pulled. Initial police reports erroneously said the gun had fired when the officer dropped it.
Mark Doneburgh, Glock's district manager for the Syracuse area, was an Onondaga County sheriff's deputy 14 years ago when he first looked at Glocks. He questioned whether they could hold up because they're made of plastic, so he took the gun up in a helicopter and dropped it to the ground. It didn't break and didn't fire, he said.
Glock doesn't fit its guns with manual safety switches because the guns have three internal "passive" safeties, Doneburgh said. Those safeties automatically disengage when someone pulls the trigger, but they prevent the gun from firing when it's dropped or when the trigger gets bumped from the side.
Remembering the safety
Glocks are popular with police because the revolvers they replaced had no manual safeties, he said. The fear was that officers would have trouble getting used to having to turn off the safety in a gunfight, Doneburgh said. He studied the Glock for the sheriff's department.
"We needed a gun that we could easily transition my people with and that they could feel confident with," he said. "It's a draw, point and shoot gun."
Onondaga County Corrections Commissioner Timothy Cowin said he would not outfit his officers with Glocks until they were fitted with Cominolli's manual safety last year.
"I've been in this business a long time, and I can tell you there are many, many accidental discharges that never get reported," Cowin said. "When people are holstering or drawing that weapon, they automatically put their finger in that trigger guard without even thinking about it."
With training, officers not accustomed to turning off a manual safety can make it a habit, Cowin said.
Cowin said it's unclear whether the added safety means Glock will no longer honor its warranty. He said he decided to make the change anyway because the weapon is unlikely to need any repairs that the correction department's own armorer can't fix.
Many accidental Glock discharges involve unloading. Doneburgh, who teaches gun safety courses at Onondaga Community College, said he always demanded perfection from his police recruits when they unloaded guns during firearms training.
"I used to tell them, No. 1, 'mag' out," he said of the need to remove the magazine before clearing the chamber. "I told them, 'Put your finger on the trigger and I'm going to take a knife and cut it off.' And they believed me. Hopefully, that's going to stay with them for 20 years."
Never found liable
Glock doesn't fit its guns with safeties because many police officers are used to not having to switch them off and because the company has never been found liable for any unintentional shooting, Doneburgh said.
"We've never lost a lawsuit," he said. Doneburgh said he didn't know how many lawsuits the company had settled, and a lawyer for Glock could not be reached for comment.
Cominolli said he's sold between 600 to 800 of the safeties to police agencies and private gun owners in the first year and has orders for more. He charges $75 a gun for law enforcement agencies. Local Glock owners can buy the device at Ra-Lin Discount in Syracuse.
The Kenmore Police Department, near Buffalo, wouldn't have bought Glocks without the added safeties, Cominolli said.
Twelve of the 17 police departments in Onondaga County, including the sheriff's department and state police, issue Glocks to their officers. The only ones that don't are Syracuse, DeWitt, Baldwinsville, North Syracuse and East Syracuse, Doneburgh said.
DeWitt police Capt. Bruce Wahl said he chose the Smith & Wesson semiautomatic partly because it has a manual safety and another safety that makes the gun inoperable without the magazine. Officials at other police agencies, such as Camillus, said they've never had an unintentional firing of a Glock.
"The Glock is accepted by 70 percent of law enforcement agencies in North America," Doneburgh said.
He said he's heard reports of a Glock being unintentionally fired, and each time it's because someone messed up; the gun itself has never malfunctioned.
"We're in a society where we're making inanimate objects responsible for our stupidity," he said. "You have to put warnings on things. You can't put your dog in a microwave oven to dry him. Common sense has to take over here."
By all accounts it is a fine weapon. Again, I dislike the silly trigger thingie that masquerades as a 'safety'. And I just plain don't like DAO weapons--which the Glock sort of is.
Recent news about jamming and failure to feed, too.
But on the plus side they are supposed to be almost indestructable. I've heard of weapons with many thousands of rounds put thru them and no problems.
But just not right for me...I'll never own one.
I think Onondaga County needs to hirer smarter probation officers
That's READY TO FIRE
There are three safety rules for Glocks:
No, not my nose! (smile)
That's because early revolvers were not otherwise drop-safe. Any live round under the hammer would be fired if the hammer was struck. NAA's mini-revolver has a very elegant solution to this problem; I'm surprised I've not heard of it elsewhere (they allow the cylinder to be parked halfway between rounds).
On the left are link to video files. Check out the one called glockauto.mpg.
Glocks are not unsafe. They are less safe than other firearms. But it's not the firearm, it's the person handling it. As many have pointed out here.
Gun grabber mantra: "Only the police and government agents should have guns, because only they can be trusted to use them safely."
The Glock had no manual safety switch and no magazine safety that made the gun inoperable when the magazine was removed.
Having a magazine "safety" means you can't shoot an attacker when you're reloading. Such a safety will get people killed.
A Glock is a safe weapon, Cominolli said, but only if the person handling it knows how to use it.
If the gun is unloaded in the wrong order, for example, a round of ammunition can be left in the chamber without the user realizing it, he said.
If the user doesn't realize that clearing the chamber fist, followed by removal of the loaded magazine, leaves a round in the chamber, then that person shouldn't be handling guns and certainly shouldn't be in any kind of position that requires gun handling.
The article could have ended right there. Enough was said.
How difficult is it to test officers on procedures for safe handling of weapons? Have an instructor ask the officer to unload their weapon. If he leaves a round in the chamber, do not return the semi-auto pistol. Issue a revolver and a 1 bullet for their pocket.
A Colt 1911 semi-auto handgun (and probably many others) will fire a round in the chamber with the magazine removed. Even if a particular handgun has a mechanical disconnect designed to prevent it from firing with the magazine removed, you should NOT depend on it or any other mechanical safety
The situation in the article is a problem of lack of thought, forgetting the fundamental safety rules, and lack of practice with the firearm. The rule being violated is to keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are on the target. You don't need to have your finger inside the trigger guard to draw the pistol. The two other basic safety rules are to be sure of your target, what's behind it, and what's beyond it and to point your firearm only at something you are absolutely certain you wish to destroy.
I have a good deal of experience with more than one Glock. They are fine weapons and don't possess a fault a competent shooter can't deal with easily. Since no gun is perfect, one can only come close. For my money the Glock comes awfully close.