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Normally in the world of "guns that go off by themselves," the root cause of the problem is something that involves someone's trigger finger being negligently on the trigger. However a case in West Virginia, of a sheriff's deputy in a struggle with a mentally ill subject, may be a true accidental (if you consider an unstable person intervening to be accidental) discharge.

The gun shot

Kanawha County, West Virginia is the most populated county in that mountainous state. Home to the state capital, Charleston, some 200,000 call it home. Last month, on Oct. 28, a Kanawha County Sheriff's deputy, Chris Atha, was sent to the local hospital after having a "quarter-sized" wound inflicted on his leg after a struggle with a suspect who was being transported from the county court to a mental health facility.

According to WOWK-TV, the subject began a scuffle that included going for Atha's holstered Springfield .45 ACP XD. While deputies tasered the unidentified man twice and were eventually able to get the situation under control, Atha's gun fired while still in the holster, blowing out the bottom of Safariland Level III duty gear, ripping his pants, and causing the minor wound.

View attachment 1878
Kanawha County Sheriff's carry Springfield XD-M models in .45ACP with Steamlight TLR-1 HL weapon's lights for which they receive over a 1000-rounds initial training on. Photo from the Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail

The investigation

According to a report in the Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail, Kanawha County Chief Deputy Mike Rutherford confirmed that the gun was fired from inside the holster.

From the article:

Humphreys said the mental health detainee was facing Atha at the time Atha's gun went off, and was allegedly trying to pull the gun out of its holster when it went off.

He said the retention devices in the holster kept the gun secure. But he said the detainee was apparently somehow able to depress the grip safety on the gun, and said there was just enough room at the mouth of the holster for a finger or something else to slip into the trigger guard and pull the trigger.

Our thoughts

Unlike many other striker-fired polymer-framed handguns, the Springfield XD is perhaps the only one on the market to incorporate a rear-grip beavertail safety, like the tried and true John Browning-designed Colt 1911, in the firing process. The fact that the subject in this case was able to manipulate the rear safety, worm his finger through the trigger guard and depress the trigger all while the pistol was still secured in the holster during a physical confrontation is a remarkable "1 in a million" case.

However, we live in a country with over 300-million people, which bring a certain economy of scale into play.

Still, the incident highlights just how careful you have to be in your weapon retention training, no matter whether you are a law enforcement officer, hunter who carries in the field or civilian concealed/open carrier who has their XD for personal protection.

Be sure to use a good quality holster, keep up to date on your core-strength physical fitness to be able to maintain control of your weapon in a closed-quarters situation where someone may want to take it from you, and brush up on your weapon-retention techniques.

Oh yeah, and avoid tussles with mentally ill people whenever possible.

The Kanawha County Sheriff's Department intends to keep using the XD/Safariland combination, because the last tip just isn't an option for them. .

We wish Deputy Chris Atha a quick and speedy recovery.
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