JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - Service members are among the most highly-trained personnel in the world and weapons safety training is second to none.
Still, as safe as military members may be during training, some may become complacent when handling personal weapons, such as handguns or rifles, outside of a "controlled environment of ranges and other training areas," said Adrain Kendrick, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall safety manager.
"My concern is what happens when our military personnel are off duty and they choose to own a personal weapon," Kendrick said.
Kendrick said one of the most common personal weapons accidents is accidental or negligent discharge, which accounted for the deaths of 16 soldiers between 2010 and 2013, according to reports from the Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center. The majority of these incidents involved privately-owned weapons and took place after the soldiers were on leave or liberty.
During that same time period, some 20 accidents associated with negligent discharges and privately-owned weapons were documented. Of those, 13 were off-duty accidental shootings of soldiers who were either "playing with" or "showing off" their weapons. Alcohol use was reported in some of these incidents. Four of the 20 accidents happened on-duty, during training on bases or during operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Three were listed as hunting accidents.
"Sometimes our most highly trained, talented personnel fail to practice safety precautions when handling their own weapons," said Kendrick.
Kendrick also referenced an accidental shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, which resulted in the death of a soldier.
"This could happen here at JBM-HH if our soldiers and Marines don't take the necessary precautions," said Kendrick.
He said common reasons for personal weapons accidents include: horseplay; alcohol use when handling weapons; improper storage; failure to ensure the weapon is unloaded and improper handling.
From 2005 to 2010, about 3,800 people in the U.S. died from unintentional shootings and more than 1,300 victims were under age 25, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence website.
Further, 14,675 people in the U.S. were wounded in an unintentional shooting, but survived, in 2011, according to the website.
According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence website, 33 percent of U.S. households have a gun and half of all gun-owning households do not lock up their guns, including 40 percent of homes with kids under age 18.
Based on data from 16 states, 65 percent of unintentional shooting deaths occur in the home. Thirty percent of those deaths were a result of horseplay.
Kendrick suggested the following precautions to prevent accidental shootings:
• Store and secure weapons and ammunition separately.
• Invest in trigger guards and loading indicators.
• Assume every weapon is loaded.
• Handle weapons properly: no horse-play or games.
• Do not handle weapons under the influence of alcohol.
• Take additional weapons safety training classes.
• Follow local, state and federal regulations.