by B.B. Pelletier

This posting comes to you at the request of Pyramyd Air. They have had a gun returned that shows evidence of a dangerous mishandling accident, and they asked me to address some common and dangerous airgun “accidents” that we all have to learn to avoid. I will cover the incident at the end of this post.

“Accidental” discharge
Accidental discharges are extremely rare, but guns do get fired all the time when they shouldn’t be. One place this happens is at gun shows. Several years ago, an airgunner I know had a table at a gun show on Long Island. He had a semiautomatic firearm pistol on his table, into which he inserted a loaded magazine, for reasons I cannot fathom. It is against the policy of every gun show to load a weapon in the show for any reason, but enforcement is left up to the tableholders, of which my airgunner acquaintance was one.

Then he showed the gun to a potential buyer, but before he handed it over he “cleared” it in the classic backwards method that’s usually the cause of accidental shootings. He pulled the slide back to look into the chamber, which was empty of course. Then he released the slide and removed the magazine. Of course the act of releasing the slide stripped off the top round from the magazine and chambered it, so when the man pointed the pistol toward the ceiling and pulled the trigger, he ventilated the ceiling with a 9mm hole! After everyone in the show recovered, the man was escorted out and asked never to come back.

At the SHOT Show last year, a new exhibitor showed up with his custom .45 pistols that he built and some live ammo to demonstrate to potential buyers how well they fed. One of the other exhibitors warned him to get rid of the ammo immediately, but he just laughed it off. Half an hour later, I saw him being escorted out of the exhibit hall by several security guards. He was pulling a wheeled cart with everything that had been in his booth. He lost his $3,000 booth fee, and he’ll never be allowed to display at the SHOT Show again!

At an airgun show, I once had a Daisy model 25 pump gun for sale on my table. It was loaded because I had just demonstrated that it fired to a potential buyer. While I was away from the booth and my wife was watching the table, another man came up and picked up the gun. He cocked it and when my wife told him it couldn’t be uncocked (the No. 25 cannot be uncocked), he said, “No problem,” put the muzzle on the toe of his shoe and pulled the trigger. He was thinking that by putting the muzzle against his shoe he was creating a cushion of air to slow the piston (which doesn’t work). What he actually did was shoot himself in the foot! He then expressed surprise that the gun was loaded (he was right about that – I should have been thrown out of the show for leaving a loaded gun on my table), and then he bought the gun! My wife said he looked embarrassed, and she thought he bought the gun to cancel his embarrassment.

The BAD one!
Now to the business of the day. A customer sent back a Fire 201 9mm rifle with a ruined nosecap. He told Pyramyd Air that the “accident” happened as he was pumping his rifle with a hand pump, but that story doesn’t hold water. Folks, there is NO WAY using a hand pump could cause the damage you are about to see. So, let’s get to it.

This is what happens when a VERY HOT flame is held against aluminum for a long time! It looks like a cutting torch has been used on this gun from the inside out.

Note the discoloration of the anodizing. Forensic scientists use clues like this and the bending of the steel barrel to determine how much heat caused the damage and how long the fire lasted.

The probable cause of this damage is the use of oxygen instead of compressed air to charge the gun. People have done this before, and the results are always the same. Someone is too lazy to get his scuba tank filled or to use a hand pump, so he figures there isn’t much difference between compressed air and compressed oxygen in a welding tank. Oxygen and petroleum products combine to make an explosive gas that takes very little to ignite. The friction of a pellet or bullet passing through the bore is enough to set it off. The resulting fire would have looked like a cutting torch flame that would have lasted until the last of the oil was burned from the outside of the gun. The air reservoir could easily have ruptured like a hand grenade in a lethal explosion. At least one shooter in England is believed to have died from this kind of abuse.

The heat generated by this fire vaporized a major percentage of the aluminum nose cap of the rifle. It also heated the barrel hot enough to bend it, so in a few seconds the gun got up over 1,200 degrees, and more likely closer to 2,000 degrees.

The damage you see here is the reason every precharged airgun maker in the world specifies the use of compressed air only in their guns. With compressed air, a fire like this cannot occur. This damage is just as much the fault of the user as an “accidental” discharge of a firearm is the fault of the shooter. I think you can see just how close this user came to never having accidents again!

One of the best things about shooting airguns is their relative margin of safety compared to firearms. But, airguns are not toys for big kids. They demand the same respect as anything that shoots, and their users have to be willing to play by the rules, because the consequences of some thoughtless acts can be too high to pay.