A video circulating on social media appears to show an Air Force security forces airman incorrectly unloading his M240 machine gun into a clearing barrel, causing it to discharge a live round in a crowded room.
The video prompted hundreds of comments about weapons safety, negligence, and training for troops from every service.
To get an expert opinion on what went wrong, we talked to a former Marine Corps machine gunner who worked with the M240 every day.
A negligent discharge happens when a weapon is fired due to operator error or a lack of attention to basic safety rules, according to the Air Force.
“Some people like to call it an accidental discharge,” retired Command Sgt. Maj. Dave Henderson, a Combined Joint Task Force – 82 Safety director, said in a 2007 Pentagon article on negligent discharges. “But a weapon doesn’t accidentally fire by itself. There is negligence somewhere.”
Task & Purpose has not been able to authenticate the video but it appears to show a group of Air Force troops turning in weapons at an armory. A “clearing barrel” is marked off by red tape on the floor and is being overseen by a more senior troop, both common practices in armories
Task & Purpose spoke to Mason Rodrigue, a former lance corporal and machine gunner in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune, about what went wrong in the video.
In the video, the airman appears to begin the deliberate process of “clearing” an M240, which involves several specific steps, including pulling the charging handle fully backward to lock the bolt, engaging the weapon’s safety, and then opening the feed tray to look for stray rounds.
But he runs into trouble, Rodrigue said, by pulling the charging handle of his M240 only halfway back, also known as “half cocking,” which can damage the weapon, according to Rodrigue.
What the airman should’ve done, he said, was “aggressively pull” the rifle’s charging handle all the way with his right hand until it locked into place.
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“If you are maintaining control of that charging handle, you’re also maintaining control of the bolt and the operating group which is what has the firing pin,” he said. “If that right hand is holding that bolt to the rear the entire time while you’re clearing it out this can’t happen.”
“That looks like someone who is completely untrained in how that weapon operates,” Rodrigue said. “They don’t understand what’s happening inside of it. If they did understand what was going on, that would be grossly negligent.”
There’s a reason that machine gunners are their own MOS in the Marine Corps, he said. “They are simple once you learn them but if you are just walking up to it, you can seriously hurt yourself and others with that weapon just through negligence,” he added.
One thing the troop did right, Rodrigue said is that he fired the weapon into a clearing barrel, the shorthand name for bulletproof chambers used for capturing left-behind bullets. The military puts clearing barrels outside many buildings on base and troops are generally required to unload their weapons into one before handing them over for storage at an armory.
Rodrigue said he assumes the airman was not trained or if anything trained a year ago and hasn’t touched a machine gun since.
“I am more annoyed that we have a military that allows people to handle these weapons who shouldn’t be handling them just because they’re not trained,” he said.
Troops responsible for negligent discharges can face penalties of up to three months confinement and forfeiture of two-thirds of their paycheck for three months under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. More commonly, military members are likely to face non-judicial punishment like an Article 15 or loss of rank.
Statistics on negligent discharges are hard to come by but according to an Air Force release, at least 60 Air Force personnel were injured by negligent discharges in a 10 year period.
A Marine was killed by an accidental discharge in August during training at Camp Pendleton.
The Naval Safety Command even publishes round-ups of negligent discharges reported from across the Navy and Marine Corps. A 2021 round-up covered a Navy firearms instructor firing an M9 in class, a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on an M1 Abrahms tank firing and damaging the tank’s main barrel, a negligent discharge of an M72 Light Anti-Armor rocket, an infantry soldier firing real bullets instead of blanks in an exercise and an officer making the same mistake as the airmen in the viral video, firing a live round into a clearing barrel after incorrectly unloading.
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