My One Accident

In about 1976 I purchased a Single Action Colt .45 from a friend in Connecticut. He didn't want it, and was asking $165. It was a recent manufacture model, probably 1967. I took it. He had bought it from a friend in California who had bought it in Oregon as new. It had no paperwork. Oregon at the time didn't require records to be kept, and the gun was always passing between friends.

I took it home to Philadelphia. Philly does have purchase laws, but lots of folks there have pistols that were obtained out of state and were never registered. An unregistered gun in Philly is a valuable commodity. So I searched around the house (one of a row of attached houses) trying to find a place to stash it that was really "unfindable" were someone to burgle the house.

I found a place in the bathroom, in the 3" space in the vanity under the swing-out dirty-laundry hamper. I dropped the hamper out, put a sliding bolt in place, so for all intents and purposes, it seemed fixed in the cabinet-- unless you would reach around the back and drop the bolt.
And there the Colt sat, with a few other pistols, for the next few years.

In 1982 I came home from a half-year sabbatical from my teaching job, and found that the NRA was having their annual meeting at the Philadelphia Convention Center. I went. One of the display booths was from a local target range and was offering a "free trial" coupon.

Because of insurance reasons, most indoor ranges in Philadelphia require you to purchase ammo from them. I guess they didn't want someone testing home-made hot loads and hurting themselves.

I hadn't fired a pistol in over ten years. I figured that this was all an omen to get me back into pistol shooting. Which of my three pistols should I take? Well, I'd LOVE to shoot the .45. I called the range and asked them if they had a box of .45 Long Colt ammunition. They did.

The next morning, I got up feeling great. I was thinking, "I'm going to go shooting and get to use the beautiful Single Action Army." My girlfriend went out to the corner store to get some fresh bagels and I, in my undies, wandered into the bathroom. I dropped the hamper, and there was the Colt in its holster. I lifted it out. I pulled it from the holster. I cocked it, and aimed it out the door of the tiled bathroom. "Boy," I said to myself, "This is going to be fun!" And I squeezed the trigger.

I was aware of a giant orange ball appearing in the doorway, and a deafening roar. I felt no recoil. My first thought was, "What the fuck was that noise?" And then I realized that I had put it away loaded.
I lowered the gun, opened the loading gate, and ejected the four new and one spent round.

The picture (with hole).

I looked out of the bathroom. There was a neat hole in the wall at eye-height. That wall was one side of a heating return air shaft. I walked to the other side of the wall-- three feet further away. There was a much bigger hole on that side. The picture that had been hanging there was gone. There were no pieces of glass left bigger than a BB. I followed the track of the bullet. In seven more feet it had tried to go through the common wall to the other house. Happily the wall was concrete block. There was a big dent in the wall. I looked over the banister down the stairs, and there was a glint-- the bullet itself. Everything was glistening with powdered glass. My ears were still ringing.

Just at that moment the front door opened and my girlfriend walked in. There was silence. " OK?" she asked. "Yup. Get the vacuum cleaner." She said the whole house was smoky, glistening, and smelled like gunpowder.

The shell and bullet.

I eventually patched the holes in the wall and re-framed the picture with its large hole. I saved the cartridge and the bullet.

I waited for the cops. Surely the neighbors heard the noise and called. None came. Seems like no one heard a thing-- a single shot from a large .45 in a house in the city, and no one heard.

I went to the range. All I had for hearing protection were high quality ear plugs. I didn't have any muffs. "Will those do?" they asked. "It's a big gun. Ever fired it indoors?" "Yes," I honestly replied.
Ever since then I have been extra careful to check any weapon I'm around to make sure it is unloaded.