Protecting the Protectors

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By Jim V. Marshall


In spite of intensive training, accidental discharge of small weapons continues to be a problem within the US Marine Corps, as well as throughout the US Military, as a whole.  Gaining a better understanding of these unfortunate and often tragic occurrences is critical to the process of their elimination.  During the course of my training as a Rifle and Pistol Coach, while serving in the US Marine Corps, from 1985-1993, I first began to observe and analyze the characteristics of accidental discharges of small weapons.  Since 1996, I have served as a licensed Firearms Instructor for Tennessee Law Enforcement, and over this time have gained an even greater appreciation and understanding of the nature of accidental discharges.

Early on in my military training, I dismissed these accidental discharges as merely the end result of carelessness and/or negligence, along with inadequate training. However, I soon realized that my initial assessment was not in fact accurate in most cases. Seasoned and highly trained soldiers could also fall prey to accidental discharges. In 2001, there were five deaths in SWAT training exercises in this country as cited by the National Tactical Officers Association.  Were these the result of inadequate training?  When accidental discharges happen among highly skilled and trained law enforcement and military personnel, given the intensity of their training, it is counter-intuitive to merely dismiss these events as being the result of inadequate training. What then is the root-cause of this problem?

The vast majority of accidental discharges occur as a result of human error. This insidious quality of mankind can not be avoided. You can certainly reduce the incidence of human error by extensive training and awareness, but human error will always exist and can not be totally eliminated by training alone.  It has been said that familiarity breeds complacency which is yet another opportunity for human error.  Furthermore, the factors of fatigue and stress can greatly increase the probability of human error.  Few if any other professions can compare to the level stress and fatigue experienced as within the US Military. 

When the consequences of human error can lead to life-threatening outcomes, it becomes essential to adopt critical counter measures to reduce the likelihood of human error.  This concept is the very foundation of the field of Loss Prevention.  The losses as result of the accidental discharges within the U.S. Military are substantial and deserve our attention.  In keeping with these principles Secretary Rumsfeld has issued a challenge to the US Military to reduce the accident rate by 50% by the end of 2005.

Obviously, we can not eliminate stress and we can not train away human error, so how can we expect to reduce the inevitable bad outcomes like accidental discharges that occur when these elements converge?  One answer to this dilemma lies in first identifying the common denominator of all accidental discharges. By analyzing the common features of accidental discharges, there is one critical element that emerges as the common denominator; namely a chambered live round

The solution then for eliminating accidental discharges must lie in preventing the chambering of live ammunition, except of course when engaged in live ammunition training or combat. There are many ways to block the firing chamber of weapons, but unfortunately most of these disable the weapon. Clearly, preservation of accessibility and functionality of a weapon is essential for military and law enforcement purposes.  In the course of my law enforcement training, I utilized one device called the Saf-T-Round, an ejectable visible-load-indicator, that meets all of the above demands. This device, constructed of an International Orange or black polymer, blocks the firing chamber of weapons and also has attached to it a flag or indicator that gives visual and tactile proof of a chamber clear status. However unlike other load indicators and most importantly, a totally unique feature of this remarkably simple but effective device is that it has a brass back identical to live ammunition which is engaged by the weapon extractor. As a result, the simple maneuver of charging the weapon instantly extracts and then ejects the Saf-T-Round, while chambering a live round (provided a loaded magazine is in place). Consequently, the Saf-T-Round when in place provides visible safety from accidental discharge, but preserves instantaneous availability and function of the weapon. The recently developed Retention System for the Saf-T-Round, is a hook and loop strap that attaches to the weapon barrel and by retractable lanyard attaches to the Saf-T-Round tab, so that once ejected the Saf-T-Round is always available for reuse. This is a valuable combination of features, which I have found to have numerous applications within law enforcement.

As I recall from my Marine Corps experiences, I can see a multitude of important applications for the Saf-T-Round that in my opinion would greatly reduce the accidental discharge rate.

At the Recruit Depots this device will assist drill instructors and primary marksmanship instructors by ensuring a recruit’s weapon is safe, without a lengthy detailed physical inspection thus eliminating the long lines of Marines waiting to get their weapons inspected.  Time reduction is a key benefit in this example as the Saf-T-Round will allow junior and senior Marines to get along to the next step or task to be carried out, without getting bogged down.

Regarding Advanced Training Schools, the Saf-T-Round will help at any MOS training schools by providing safety during extensive weapons handling and live fire exercises.  

During live fire exercises the Saf-T-Round would provide visual security to all Marines involved. Firing line NCOs will not have to worry as the Marines step up to the line with the Saf-T-Round visible. This device will assure them that the weapon is clearly not in condition 1 which allows for a calmer and safer environment for both the Marine that is shooting and the Marine in charge of the line.

Transportation of weapons and Marines can be a very stressful situation. The Saf-T-Round will provide a visual security of all weapons during the transfer. This would apply to weapons in transit via shipping or physical transportation by Marines on post to various locations. From a platoon in the back of a 7 ton truck or packaged weapons being transported from the manufacturers to the actual buyers, the Saf-T-Round will offer a more definitive secure transportation.  

Use of this additional safety measure will also ensure the crew chief and rest of the crew on helicopters, AMTRAKS, and LAVS that weapons are completely safe.  As well, the current requirement for the breakdown of weapons being transported on commercial airlines could be obviated totally with use of the Saf-T-Round

Checking weapons in and out of the armory can be expedited with the presence of the Saf-T-Round, all the while reassuring the armorer that the weapons are safe.

When standing on post in non-hostile countries, the Saf-T-Round offers Marines an additional safe way to secure their weapon. Live ammunition may be authorized for posts in and outside of the U.S., but is not authorized to be loaded in chamber without a viable threat to the Marine or government property in some given situations. The existence of the Saf-T-Round in the situation is better than just having a magazine inserted into the weapon without any outward reassurance of a safe weapon.  Once again this will assure the inspecting officer that the weapon is clearly safe by visual inspection without extensive physical inspection.  For situations when one does not want to draw attention to the weapon the Saf-T-Round is available in black.

Firearm training within the Marine Corps has evolved over years into a highly-developed process.  SOP’s are in place for very good reasons. The Saf-T-Round is designed as an additional standard control measure to enhance these rules and heighten safety awareness.  The Saf-T-Round is not intended to short circuit basic firearm safety.   In other words the Saf-T-Round is an adjunct, not a replacement, to intensive firearm training just as the air bag, shoulder harness, and lap belt are designed to supplement and not replace intensive driver safety instruction.

In summary, we cannot entirely eliminate human error or the precipitating forces of stress and fatigue.  Nor can we hope to ever completely eradicate accidental discharge by rote methods of training because in the final analysis accidental discharge always involves two elements---the weapon and the individual handling the weapon. Even our most intense training methods still leave us vulnerable to accidental discharge.  However, by adopting truly effective loss prevention methods like functional load indicators (e.g. the Saf-T-Round) we can neutralize the forces that leave the door open for accidental discharge.  By so doing, in my opinion and based on my experience, I believe the employment of the Saf-T Round will greatly contribute to the reduction of accidental discharge and as a result reduce the tremendous cost associated with accidental discharges attributed to: acute and chronic medical care, short and long-term disability, death gratuities, retraining, investigations, etc.  Finally many readers may not be aware that the Saf-T-Round is now available through the DoD supply system.  For your information the following NSN’s have been issued:




Item Name



.50 cal. M2A SAF-T-ROUND, firearm safety indicator



.50 cal. Barret SAF-T-ROUND, firearm safety indicator



12 gauge Auto SAF-T-ROUND, firearm safety indicator



12 gauge Pump SAF-T-ROUND, firearm safety indicator



.308 cal. / 7.62 NATO bolt-action SAF-T-ROUND, firearm safety indicator



.308 cal. / 7.62 NATO semi-auto SAF-T-ROUND, firearm safety indicator



.223 cal. Mini-14 SAF-T-ROUND, firearm safety indicator



.223 cal./ 5.56 NATO SAF-T-ROUND, firearm safety indicator



.45 ACP long-tab  SAF-T-ROUND, firearm safety indicator



.45 ACP short-tab  SAF-T-ROUND, firearm safety indicator



9 mm short-tab  SAF-T-ROUND, firearm safety indicator



9 mm long-tab  SAF-T-ROUND, firearm safety indicator



SAF-T-ROUND Retention Kit (includes orange STR223, black STR223, retractable lanyard, two retracting end w/ split ring, strap)

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