A Loaded Gun Goes Off If Dropped: Truth Or Myth?

can a loaded gun go off if dropped

In my 40 odd years of involvement in the firearms fraternity, I have never personally witnessed a loaded going off if it was accidentally dropped.  I have, however, read plenty of accounts of incidents like these. It is never ideal to drop your trusty old gun as the consequences could potentially be serious. In addition to it possibly causing injury, the impact could damage the firearm itself. What are the chances that it will go off if it is dropped? Is it the truth or myth that it will fire when it hits the ground?

It is highly unlikely that a loaded gun will go off if it is dropped. The firing mechanism is designed to be manually activated by pulling the trigger. However, it is not impossible because a gun may fire if one of the safety parts that usually prevents firing malfunctions.

While it is improbable that a dropped gun will discharge, it is not impossible.  Gun owners need to understand their weapon’s safety features and take every precaution not to drop them accidentally. Dropping your weapon creates a vibration that could cause a part to move. If this part is, for example, the sear or trigger and the safety catch is not activated, it could cause the weapon to fire.  

Is A Handgun More Likely To Go Off When Dropped Than A Rifle?

A handgun is much smaller than a rifle or shotgun. If you drop a pistol, it would have more free fall time than a long gun would have if it detached itself from your hip holster. Due to its length, a rifle would generally be carried closer to the ground and would have less distance to fall. 

The rifle also has the added protection of the stock and barrel on the other end that would most likely strike the ground first and dissipate the shock effect of the fall.  Therefore, a handgun would be more likely to strike the ground harder than a rifle, increasing the possibility of the firearm going off.    

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Can A Handgun Go Off If Dropped?

The chances of a modern handgun that is in good condition firing when dropped are virtually none. 

All modern handguns have very reliable safety features, such as a transfer bar on specific revolver models.  This makes it possible for the hammer to transfer its energy to the firing pin only if the trigger is fully pressed.  This action lifts the transfer bar into place to enable the hammer to reach the firing pin. 

Older handguns, or guns with worn parts or no safety features, could go off if dropped. 

Can The Surface That A Weapon Is Dropped Onto Effect The Odds Of It Firing?

Momentum plays a large part in this scenario. For example, dropping an egg onto a very soft surface like a pillow from 6 feet would give the egg a significantly better chance of not breaking than if it was dropped into a concrete floor. 

If you drop a weapon onto a concrete floor, momentum has an effect on all the parts of the gun as its movement is suddenly halted. However, only those parts that can move, bend or break will continue their forward force and create the problem. Should one of these moving parts be the firing pin moving forward and strikes the bullet primer with sufficient force, this would cause the bullet to fire. Dropping the weapon on a soft surface would make this much less of a possibility.  

How High Do You Need To Drop The Gun From To Make It Fire?

With most, if not all, guns that are in good working condition, dropping it would not make it fire, even if the safety catch was disengaged. The distance, or height, from which the weapon is dropped is important. The longer the fall, the greater the force exerted on the gun when it comes to an abrupt halt when it hits the ground. 

Striking a solid obstruction during its fall increases the risk of the gun possibly discharging. 

How Does Momentum Contribute To A Gun Accidentally Discharging?

Momentum plays an integral part in the accidental firing of a weapon. 

Envisage this scenario. You’re climbing up into your favorite tree stand with your old rifle—the strap on your rifle breaks or slips off your shoulder. The loaded gun falls 20 feet to the ground and lands on its butt. The worn sear is forced out of place by the trigger.  Due to momentum and the sudden impact of the rifle hitting the ground, the trigger moves a fraction of an inch, releases the sear, and fires the gun. Let’s hope you’re not in the line of the muzzle!

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The Danger Of Home Gunsmithing

Many gun enthusiasts strive for the ultimate let-off in terms of a light trigger pull. As we know, a heavy trigger pull often negatively affects our ability to accurately place a shot as you’re only on target for that fraction of a second. 

Some enthusiasts try to improve the length of pull. This is almost always a bad idea. Why? Weapons parts are made to extremely tight tolerances and are generally of an odd-shaped design. Taking even one-thousandths of an inch off the bearing face of a key component might make the functioning of the part unreliable. This would render the weapon unsafe. 

Designers of the parts have gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid lawsuits resulting from build defects. Modifying any weapon parts can lead to a catastrophic failure or injury if the work is done incorrectly.  

What Is A ‘Safety’ On A Gun?

The ‘safety,’ or safety catch, is a lever that has to be moved from a ‘safe’ to ‘fire’ position on a weapon before the gun can fire a shot. Many old design weapons did not have this feature as it was deemed unnecessary at the time. As technology has improved, all modern weapons have a safety feature that inhibits the unintentional discharge of the firearm. 

Safety catches generally stop the firing pin from being able to strike the bullet’s primer. This prevents the possibility of a shot being fired, even if the trigger is pulled. 

What Is The Function Of A Sear On A Gun?

The function of the sear is to hold the hammer, bolt, or striker in place until the trigger is pulled. Only then would the firing pin be released to make contact with the bullets primer and the shot fired. The sear is thus the link between the trigger and the firing pin release mechanism. 

What Is An ‘Accidental Discharge’ In Gun Terminology?

An accidental discharge occurs when a weapon fires a shot when it is not intended

For many years, a friend of mine been carried a semi-compact 9mm Parabellum as a concealed carry gun in a hip holster. The pistol, a hammerless design, polymer pistol of well-known make didn’t leave his side. On one occasion, he went to the bathroom, dropped his trousers to take a seat on the lavatory, and bang, he shot himself through the right thigh—all of this without the weapon leaving the holster. The exact reason that the gun fired was never found, but in all likelihood, it impacted the floor heavily when he dropped his trousers which caused the firearm to discharge.  

Can A Gun With Loose Parts Accidentally Discharge?

All metal objects containing moving parts, will if moved for long enough, show signs of wear. Weapons are built with very tight tolerances, especially critical inner moving parts. Many of these components and parts rub against each other. They may also be exposed to hot gasses during firing. 

Over time these parts wear down. Critical items such as the sear are both small and finely machined. Should the wear become excessive, this could result in the part no longer functioning consistently. In the case of a worn sear, this could result in a shot being fired when not intended with potentially disastrous consequences.

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Can Wear And Metal Fatigue Cause A Gun To Fire Accidentally? 

Metal fatigue and wear over time can take their toll on weapons. Often a worn gun is referred to as being ‘shot loose.’ This saying undoubtedly came from the old wing shooting fraternity where the shotguns would develop ‘play’ in the weapon’s action due to years of being slammed shut. 

If the weapon was shaken, a wobble could be felt. This stemmed from the barrels fitting loosely to the action.  A gun in this condition would undoubtedly be more likely to discharge if it was dropped.

How Do Accidental Discharges Happen? 

Accidental discharges with guns are usually a result of negligence by the user. An example is where someone forgets to engage the weapons safety after loading the weapon and then accidentally drops the gun. The natural reaction is to try to catch the gun while it is falling.

The possibility of accidentally bumping the trigger of the loaded gun while grabbing onto the falling weapon is very real.  

Can Climbing Through A Wire Fence Cause A Weapon To Fire?

Climbing through a tightly strung cattle fence while out on a stroll is tough enough. Trying to negotiate the fence while trying to weave your favorite long gun through can end in disaster for you or your hunting buddy.  If a wire strand snags the trigger of a loaded gun, the chances of an accidental discharge are high.  

Can A Dog Cause A Weapon To Fire?

Always be vigilant regarding the movements of your dogs that accompany you when out hunting or walking. All it would take is one touch of the trigger if an excited dog jumps up against you.  The dog’s paw can easily come into contact with the trigger, which could cause the weapon to discharge. 

Is It Dangerous To Travel On The Back Of A Truck With A Loaded Weapon?

When traveling on the back of a truck, especially over uneven ground, trying to keep an un-bagged rifle under control is often a challenge. Add to this an icy cold winter’s morning, thick gloves, jacket, backpack, fellow passengers, and a dog or two.  Everyone jostling for space to stay out of the cold can quickly turn a fun outing into a disaster. 

A weapon and especially a hunting rifle should always be made safe before getting onto a vehicle. Ask a second party to double-check. Safety always needs to always be the top priority. Accidentally discharging a live round while grappling around with gloved hands on the back of a truck would be highly irresponsible and completely avoidable if the correct safety procedures are followed. 

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What Is A Trigger Shoe For Weapons?

A trigger shoe is a device designed to be attached to the existing trigger of a gun to improve the trigger let off. It works by covering the trigger face (where your finger touches the trigger) and adds width to the trigger. This device reduces the trigger’s perceived pull as the shoe has a wider bearing surface than the original trigger. Liken this to pressing onto a pin versus blunt stick with your finger.  

Could Fitting A Trigger Shoe To Your Weapon Cause It To Fire When Dropped?

A trigger shoe is a modification to the original design of the weapon. By adding a trigger shoe to the trigger, adds additional weight to the trigger. This modification can foreseeably reduce the functionality of the trigger mechanism as originally designed. 

Dropping the weapon when the safety is disengaged can increase the possibility of the gun discharging due to the additional weight added to the trigger by the trigger shoe.    

Can The Design Of A Weapon Increase The Risk Of Accidental Discharge When Dropped?

The design of a weapons firing mechanism can increase or decrease the risk of an accidental discharge. 

For example, a very well-known WW11 submachine gun chambered for the 9mm Luger was well known for its high rate of fire, but the challenge was how to stop it firing!  The breech block was essentially a metal block that was flung backward and forwards as it fired.  The mechanism designed to catch the block often didn’t work as well as intended. Unfortunately, dropping the weapon also started the firing action, and it didn’t stop until the magazine was empty.


While it is improbable that a modern weapon in good condition would discharge if it were dropped, it is not impossible. Many contributing factors could cause a gun to fire if it suddenly impacted the ground. Gun owners should always be vigilant while carrying a weapon to ensure that it is always securely held and cannot unexpectedly fall.

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