I softened this a bit. When I first wrote this, I based it strictly from a civilian perspective. After thinking about it, I had to admit I was leaving out the military perspective - a major source of where the term negligent discharge is used. Still...
It seems that we simply don't know what to call an unintentional discharge of a firearm. Generally, unintentional discharges are correctly called accidental. The term negligent discharge likely got started in military circles, and is a punishable offense. but as you will clearly see from the following, negligent discharge may not a good term to describe an unintentional discharge. Here’s some pretty strong proof that the term negligent discharge is not a good term to use to describe civilian unintentional discharges. Here's how most of the US sees it.
First this, then I’ll give an example at the end illustrating how negligence is properly applied, and you will clearly see it has nothing to do with whether an accident occurred or not or whether a gun was unintentionally discharged.
Negligence (Lat. negligentia, from neglegere, to neglect, literally "not to pick up") is a legal concept in the common law legal systems usually used to achieve compensation for injuries (not accidents). Negligence is a type of tort or delict (also known as a civil wrong). However, the concept is sometimes used in criminal law as well. "Negligence" is not the same as "carelessness", because someone might be exercising as much care as they are capable of, yet still fall below the level of competence expected of them. It is the opposite of "diligence". It can be generally defined as conduct that is culpable because it falls short of what a reasonable person would do to protect another individual from foreseeable risks of harm.
Notice what I put in bold near the middle of the paragraph. Can it be any clearer that negligence is NOT synonymous with carelessness? I have said this on numerous ocassions.
From the NRA - please notice that I put in bold any place where any form of accident was used. There are no occurances of any form of negligence nor any reference to it.
(NRA-ILA :: Firearm Safety In America 2009) :
Firearm Safety In America 2009
The number of privately owned guns in the U.S. is at an all-time high, and rises by about 4.5 million per year.1 Below, statistics from 1981 forward are from the National Center for Health Statistics; those prior to 1981 are from the National Safety Council.2 NCHS annual numbers, rates, and trends of common accidents and selected other causes of death, for the U.S., each state, and the District of Columbia, are available on the NRA-ILA website in spreadsheet format.
The firearm accident death rate is at an all-time annual low, 0.2 per 100,000 population, down 94% since the all-time high in 1904. Since 1930, the annual number of such deaths has decreased 80%, to an all-time low, while the U.S. population has more than doubled and the number of firearms has quintupled. Among children, such deaths have decreased 90% since 1975. Today, the odds are more than a million to one, against a child in the U.S. dying in a firearm accident.
Then this: (GunCite-Gun Accidents).
As you read this notice what gun authority Gary Kleck calls gun ‘accidents’. Well, I’ll save you some time, he calls them accidents - just like the rest of the world. Again, I searched article for any form of the word negligent and none could be found.
OTOH, notice how many times a form of accident is used and especially the context it is used in.
Also, please notice that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and National Safety Council uses the term accident for all unintentional gun discharges.
Gun accidents (and Kids & Gun accidents)
A fatal gun accident, particularly when a child is involved, often makes state or national news. This gives the impression that: fatal gun accidents are more prevalent than other fatal accidents, gun accidents are increasing, and civilian gun ownership must be further restricted or regulated.
The reality does not correspond to the perception created by media coverage. Fatal gun accidents declined by almost sixty percent from 1975 to 1995, even though the number of guns per capita increased by almost forty percent.
Fatal gun accidents involving children (aged 0-14) also fell significantly, from 495 in 1975, to under 250 in 1995. More children die from accidental drownings or burns than from gun accidents.
(Gun supply statistics are from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, gun accident rates from the National Safety Council).
Examining the fatal accident table below, one sees that fatal gun accidents among children are rare. Gun control groups and pro-control medical researchers often include "children" up to the age of nineteen and in some cases twenty-four, to inflate the number of "child" gun accidents. (This is the only way it can be claimed a child is killed everyday in a gun accident. Compare fatal gun accidents to the number of kids killed while crossing the street.) The solutions one may propose to prevent child accidents should differ from those of young adults. For example pressure sensitive pistol grips won't help much when older "kids" are playing Russian Roulette, especially in places where it's legal for eighteen or twenty-one year-olds to own firearms.
As rare as fatal gun accidents are among young children, their actual frequency is probably overstated. Florida State University criminologist Dr. Gary Kleck suggests that some fatal gun accidents may actually be the culmination of a history of child abuse, in other words intentional homicides. Dr. Kleck cites a national survey conducted in 1976 (Strauss, M., et. al., Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family, Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1981), which found "3% of children had, in the previous year, had guns or knives (the two are combined in the source) actually used on them by their parents, according to the parents' own admissions. Since this translates into about 46,000 such incidents per year, it would not be surprising if a few dozen resulted in a gun death falsely reported as accidental."(Gary Kleck, Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, p 209. Walter de Gruyter, Inc., New York, 1997.)
Dr. Kleck further mentions, "The risk of being a victim of a fatal gun accident can be better appreciated if it is compared to a more familiar risk...Each year about five hundred children under the age of five accidentally drown in residential swimming pools, compared to about forty killed in gun accidents, despite the fact that there are only about five million households with swimming pools, compared to at least 43 million with guns. Thus, based on owning households, the risk of a fatal accident among small children is over one hundred times higher for swimming pools than for guns." (p 296)
In Targeting Guns, Dr. Kleck concludes in part, "Most gun accidents occur in the home, many (perhaps most) of them involving guns kept for defense. However, very few accidents occur in connection with actual defensive uses of guns. Gun accidents are generally committed by unusually reckless people with records of heavy drinking, repeated involvement in automobile crashes, many traffic citations, and prior arrests for assault. Gun accidents, then, involve a rare and atypical subset of the population, as both shooters and victims. They rarely involve children, and most commonly involve adolescents and young adults."
"The risk of a gun accident is extremely low, even among defensive gun owners, except among a very small, identifiably high-risk subset of the population. Consequently, it is doubtful whether, for the average gun owner, the risk of a gun accident could counterbalance the benefits of keeping a gun in the home for protection: the risk of an accident is quite low overall, and is virtually nonexistent for most gun owners." (p 321)
Deaths Due to Unintentional Injuries, 2000 (Estimates) (Chart compiled by GunCite. Source of data, except as noted, National Safety Council, Injury Facts, 2001 Edition, pp. 8-9, 84)
Fatal gun accidents often receive national attention. Subsequently politicians demand mandatory firearms safety classes for all gun owners, yet many more lives could be saved by randomly selecting and educating a group of drivers rather than gun owners, not to mention the populace at large regarding, administering first-aid, how to eat, and basic common sense safety habits. (It is not being suggested that such training be offered or mandated.)
Firearms are involved in 0.5% of accidental deaths nationally, compared to motor vehicles (37%), poisoning (22%), falls (17%), suffocation (5%), drowning (2.9%), fires (2.5%), medical mistakes (1.7%), environmental factors (1.3%), and pedal cycles (0.7%). Among children: motor vehicles (41%), suffocation (21%), drowning (15%), fires (8%), pedal cycles (2%), poisoning (2%), falls (1.9%), environmental factors (1.5%), firearms (1.1%) and medical mistakes (1%).
Education decreases accidents. Voluntary training has decreased firearms accidents. NRA firearm safety programs are conducted by more than 62,000 NRA Certified Instructors nationwide. Youngsters learn firearm safety in NRA programs offered through civic groups such as the Boy Scouts, Jaycees, and American Legion, and schools.4 NRA's Eddie Eagle GunSafe program teaches children pre-K through 3rd grade that if they see a gun without supervision, they should "STOP! Don't Touch. Leave The Area. Tell An Adult." Since 1988, Eddie has been used by 26,000 schools, civic groups, and law enforcement agencies to reach more than 22 million children.
So how about the anti-gun crowd? Well here’s this: (Gun Safety and Kids: Your Child: University of Michigan Health System).
Once again I used MS WORD to search for any form of the word negligent and once again they are totally absent. But accidental, accident, and unintentional appear throughout. I put them in bold. And do notice the context and what accident and accidental refer to.
Gun Safety and Kids
What are the statistics about kids and firearm deaths and injuries?
The 2002 edition of Injury Facts from the National Safety Council reports the following statistics  :
• In 1999, 3,385 kids ages 0-19 years were killed with a gun. This includes homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries.
• This is equivalent to about 9 deaths per day, a figure commonly used by journalists.
• The 3,385 firearms-related deaths for age group 0-19 years breaks down to:
o 214 unintentional
o 1,078 suicides
o 1,990 homicides
o 83 for which the intent could not be determined
o 20 due to legal intervention
• Of the total firearms-related deaths:
o 73 were of children under five years old
o 416 were children 5-14 years old
o 2,896 were 15-19 years old
For more information: Child Trends DataBank has available these teen homicide, suicide and firearm death statistics.
In addition to firearm deaths, we need to look at how many children and young people are hurt by guns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 1997, 2,514 children aged 0-14 were non-fatally injured by guns. In the same year, 30,225 young people aged 15-24 sustained nonfatal firearm injuries. These statistics include suicide attempts and both intentional and accidental shootings .
According to the CDC, the rate of firearm deaths among children under age 15 is almost 12 times higher in the United States than in 25 other industrialized countries combined. American children are 16 times more likely to be murdered with a gun, 11 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to die in a firearm accident than children in these other countries .
What do we know about kids and gun accidents and suicides?
When researchers studied the 30,000 accidental gun deaths of Americans of all ages that occurred between 1979-1997, they found that preschoolers aged 0-4 were 17 times more likely to die from a gun accident in the 4 states with the most guns versus the 4 states with the least guns. Likewise, school kids aged 5-14 were over 13 times more at risk of accidental firearm death in the states with high gun ownership rates. The findings indicate that gun availability is associated with accidental death by shooting .
Most guns involved in self-inflicted and unintentional firearm injuries (that is, in suicides and accidents) came either from the victim's home or the home of a friend or relative .
Now referring back to the Wikipedia treatise of negligence, here is an example of the difference between gun accidents and the term negligence. Notice the title of the article - Gun Accidents, then read how negligence is associated with legal terminology in the sense of being out of compliance with law. Specifically the antis have been accusing the gun manufacturers of being negligent - not because they are having accidental discharges, but because they do not include certain safety features. Notice two things, it is the gun manufacturers they are being sued for negligence, not the gun owner because he has had an accident. And, it is not necessary for an accident to occur in order for a business/company/person to be found guilty of negligence.
They do mention gun owner negligence, but notice they are not suing the gun owners because they belive it is the manufacturers that are making gun owners negligent. Notice again it is irrelevant whether the owner or the manufacturer has had a gun accident. All that is necessary to prove negligence is for a court to find that a gun does not have some mandated safety feature. If that is the case, the manufacturer and/or gun owner could be found negligent.
Also, notice that the US Centers for Disease Control/Prevention refer to unintentional injury due to guns with some form of the word accident. And just like all the other examples, notice how many times a form of the word accident is used to describe the unintentional discharge of a firearm.
At one point you will see that they even consider a gun accident due to horseplay a gun accident.
1/9/99 (am. 5/2/03)
About .5 people per 100,000 population (1400 total, all ages) die from accidental gunshot wounds and about 33 per 100,000 (100,000 total) are injured accidentally with gunshots (per US Centers for Disease Control/prevention) per year recently. The rate has been dropping steadily for years.
Some of the accidents are results of hunting accidents. Some are associated with mistakenly thinking a gun was unloaded. Some involve idiotic behaviour like "horseplay." Some involve unsupervised children. Virtually all of them involve inattention to a few basic safety rules. Very few of them involve pre-teen children.
Reductions in the rates of gun injury have been the result of gun owners and their organizations providing training opposed by gun control advocates.
Gun controllers have been propagandizing that one of the "reasonable" regulations that is needed is to require that semiautomatic handguns have a feature to indicate whether or not the gun has a cartridge in the chamber. They have been accusing manufacturers of being negligent in not having such indicators (in suits they have been bringing against manufacturers in attempts to make the manufacturers responsible for gun owner negligence). A California gun control legislator recently tried to get a law to require that each new semiautomatic pistol in the state have an indicator that would be understood by people with no knowledge of such firearms (and would automatically not even know what a "cartridge" or "firing chamber" is or that a cartridge in a firing chamber would mean that the gun might fire and hurt someone).
Such indicators are a good idea as long as people don't rely on guns having them (since some won't) and, in fact, have been a feature of good pistols for some time because it's useful and gun owners want true, reliable safety features on their guns. But, an indicator that can communicate unerringly in all languages to the deaf, blind, ignorant and stupid is impossible. In a recent suit, the manufacturer was accused of not having such indicator on a gun that was used to accidentally kill a child. In fact, the gun did have such indicator, like every handgun made by that manufacturer and most others. Just another indication of the ignorance of gun control advocates.
It is inescapable, in civilian circles, the correct term for an unintentional discharge is accidental. Accidental is what is used in reports and stats etc. and hence the better choice. So I have to make a change in my thinking. I have always favored the term unintentional but now I'm gonna change that to accidental.
As it is clear from the above, for civilians a negligent discharge is rare, we have accidental discharges, the military has negligent discharges and it is a punishable offense. That's not true of the civilian world although civies can be sued for injuries caused by an accidental discharge.
If a civilian does something negligent with a gun it could lead to an accidental discharge, not a negligent discharge - in civilian circles. Granted, the military is different, but if we are not in the military, then we are bound by civil law, not military rules.
Also if you note from the above, the entire world, outside the military, refers to mishaps due to human error universally as accidents, not negligents. Every person in the US understands car, motorcycle, swimming, shooting, hunting, accident. If I go to an emergency room and say I've had a knife negligent, they would have no idea what I meant. If I said I had a knife accident, they would know immediately that I had been injured with a knife.
Plus, negligent carries a culpabable component that implicates foreknowledge of a particular outcome and proceeded anyway. We see a refernce to this idea in the Wikipedia discussion where it says talks about carelessness not being the same as negligence as someone may be operating as well as they know how and still not be operating at the level required. I think that describes a lot of gun owners.