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Here's why you never, ever, ever try to catch a falling gun.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that a federal agent made himself the victim of a negligent discharge in the Orlando International Airport on Monday. According to the police department, “While the weapon was falling, the agent tried to catch the firearm and inadvertently pulled the trigger. A bullet hit the agent in the heel..."

Humans, like all animals, are blessed with survival instincts and reflexive abilities that protect us from injury and can also allow us to protect our precious loved ones and belongings from harm. One classic example of this is the reflexive motion of throwing your arms and hands up to protect your face when an object is thrown at it. And every parent can confirm that our Spiderman-like reflexes go into overdrive when our children are small and just beginning to be mobile; I'll never forget the almost automatic feeling of grabbing my then-two-year-old out of a busy New Orleans street an instant before a speeding taxi would have flattened her. There was no time to stop and think about it; my body simply reacted to the situation before I could rationalize what was happening.

So it goes when we drop things. How many of us can remember dropping a fragile object and catching it just before it hit the floor and shattered? Unfortunately, this instinct can be extremely dangerous when we allow ourselves to apply it to firearms. Modern guns have drop safeties, which prevent the gun from discharging when dropped from a height. They aren't failsafe--no mechanical safety is!--but they reduce the risk of a negligent discharge substantially compared to the likelihood of your finger getting into the trigger guard while trying to catch a falling gun. (Here's some technical information about drop safeties from Tamara Keel at USCCA if you're interested in more details.)

In the case of our unfortunate federal agent at the Orlando Airport, he did exactly what we teach our beginning students not to do: he tried to catch his sidearm as it was falling to the floor. His finger caught the trigger instead, and he shot himself in the foot. Sometimes our instincts and reflexes protect us. Sometimes our technology is more advanced than our instincts, however. In the case of a falling gun, make like Elsa and let it go, let it go, let it go. You might get a scratch or two on the finish, but at least you won't be making an unscheduled visit to the hospital, police station, and/or morgue.