Convicted felon “accidentally” shoots gun at airport, sending passengers into chaos and triggering manhunt

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ATLANTA, GA – According to reports, a convicted felon passing through a security checkpoint at Atlanta’s busy Hartsfield-Jackson Airport grabbed a gun in his bag and negligently discharged the weapon, sending passengers fleeing, and stopping flight operations at the airport.

As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, at approximately 1:30 pm on Saturday, November 20, a bag belonging to would-be passenger Kenny Wells was flagged as having a “prohibited item.”

The attending TSA officer began searching the bag and warned Wells not to touch it.

However, Wells reportedly lunged for the bag and grabbed a firearm concealed within it.  The firearm discharged.  There is no confirmation on how many shots were fired, but social media users reported hearing more than one gunshot.

According to 11Alive News, Wells, a convicted felon, then fled the scene with the firearm in hand.

As one might expect, chaos erupted immediately after the sound of gunshots.

Passengers told 11Alive that TSA agents and armed officers “yelled at them to run.”

In addition, passengers who were boarding were evacuated to the tarmac “for hours,” and other passengers were “held outside of the airport for hours.”

A quick review of Twitter posts in the confusing aftermath indicates that some passengers initially understood, or were informed, that the gunshots represented an “accidental discharge by a TSA agent.”

Other social media posts, such as that shared below, show passengers yelling, and some lying on the ground, in the ensuing chaos.

Additional video, shown in the tweet below, shows frightened passengers fleeing the airport building.

According to an official statement by Hartsfield-Jackson Airport authorities, Wells “fled the area, running out of the airport exit.”

Robert Spinden, TSA federal security director for Georgia, added:

“the passenger then fled the security checkpoint through an adjacent exit lane with his firearm.

“We’re fortunate that when the firearm went off nobody was seriously injured.”

According to the TSA, three persons were injured, but fortunately none were shot.  The injuries were non life-threatening, and included two persons with shortness of breath, and one person who requested EMS after falling in the atrium of the airport.

The airport “resumed normal operations” two hours after the incident, at approximately 3:30 pm.  All passengers had to be re-screened to continue their journeys.

Hartsfield-Jackson Airport police commander Maj. Reginald Moorman said in a statement on the day of the negligent discharge:

“We have taken out warrants for carrying a concealed weapon at a commercial airport, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, discharging a firearm, and reckless conduct.

“We are actively pursuing this individual [Wells] as we speak.”

The Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, according to AtlantaAirports.com, is the “world’s busiest airport, with more than 100 million travelers each year.”

Global News reports that the TSA has noted a recent increase in firearms found at security checkpoints at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

In 2019, 323 firearms were seized.  In 2020, that number had dropped to 220 “when passenger counts were down significantly because of the pandemic.”

However, in the first nine months of 2021, 391 firearms were detected and taken from traveling passengers.

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Dear America – guns don’t shoot themselves. Poorly trained people do (and then apparently sue everyone else).

Originally published November 3, 2021

Can a gun just shoot itself? 

We’re pretty sure that everyone with any basic education of firearms knows that’s not the case.  But that hasn’t stopped people over the years from trying to claim it happens.

Whether it’s those looking to enact sweeping restrictions on gun ownership… or those looking to get out of trouble because they inadvertently fired off a round… we’ve seen the claim made again and again over the years.

Law Enforcement Today became aware of an incident involving a police officer—Det. Brittney Hilton of the Bridge City, TX, Police Department, who has filed suit against firearms manufacturer Sig Sauer for an uncommanded discharge of her firearm.

This is not meant to disparage Det. Hilton whatsoever, however her story as to how her firearm went off doesn’t make sense, at least from the standpoint of an such a  discharge.

Here’s the back story. Hilton, a mother of three has been with Bridge City for about 11 years. Last December, she was inside the Bridge City police station when she claims her duty weapon—a Sig Sauer P320—discharged by itself.

Hilton claimed the firearm, used by over 325,000 officers and in almost 2,200 police departments across the country, plus the military (over 300,000 in service) and civilian markets (over 2 million), was inside her purse in a Serpa on-body holster when it went off, as reported by ABC News.

In an interview with ABC News, Hilton claimed the bullet came within one millimeter of killing her when it struck her upper leg, narrowly missing her femoral artery.

Hilton told ABC that the incident happened so fast that she didn’t even know that she’d been shot until she felt pain going down her leg.

“And then I took one step, and I felt this pain. It felt like a hot rod of metal had just been placed not only in my private, but through my leg,’ she told ABC, “and it [the bullet] exits out [of] my lower buttocks.”

Hilton said she is still experiencing issues from her injury.

“There’s never a point that I’m really not in pain unless I’m laying down,” she said.

According to Hilton, who has filed a lawsuit against Sig Sauer, she claims the gun was inside her bag and simply went off.

“I picked up my bag, my keys were on top,” she said. “As I walked around my desk, my purse swings out and it shoots out the bottom of my bag.”

Hilton’s attorney, Jeffrey Bagnell represents several other police officers who have made similar claims against Sig Sauer making the same claims over the P320.

“I think it’s a very, very serious safety problem for law enforcement and for the public at large,” Bagnell said. “I’m not aware of any other semi-automatic pistol today that has this problem.”

According to ABC News, Hilton’s lawsuit claims that “there have been 54 reported uncommanded discharges of the P320” in the past five years in 22 states and Washington, D.C.  LET cannot confirm numbers of that magnitude.

While Sig Sauer did not respond to ABC’s request for a response, the manufacturer has denied liability for these incidents and claims that in virtually all cases, the plaintiffs were negligent in how they managed the weapon.

In a 2017 press release, for example, Sig Sauer said that “the P320 meets and exceeds all U.S. standards for safety.” The company claims that a “foreign object entered the trigger guard (causing) the pistol to discharge.”

In Hilton’s case, Sig Sauer examined the gun on behalf of the police department and determined that “a foreign object entered the trigger guard (causing) the pistol to discharge.”

Hilton claimed the gun was holstered in her purse (in a Serpa holster and more on that later) and contend it would be nearly impossible for something to wedge inside the holster and be enough to pull the trigger.

Although as Hilton explains this on camera, she runs her finger into the holster trigger guard area.  Hilton, who claims to be pro-gun says the P320 is dangerous and says, “it just scares me that there are so many out there that don’t know the potential it has to go off.”

Hilton’s claims and those of ten others suing the gun manufacturer seem to back anti-gun zealots claims that guns kill people, not people with guns kill people. However, given what we have learned in our research about the P320, it doesn’t seem possible that these firearms could go off by themselves.

No one has ever exhibited or even rendered a hypothesis as to how this can happen.  They seem to claim that “it just goes off”.

A “voluntary upgrade” was offered by Sig Sauer in 2017, in which they said “the upgraded P320 has lighter internal components, including a new thinner-profile trigger and a lighter sear and striker. These upgrades will enhance protection against unintended discharges if the pistol is dropped.”  But the voluntary upgrade seems to be related to another issue (drops) and not these “guns going off” claims.

Hilton’s case represents a rather bizarre case in an unauthorized or accidental discharge of a firearm, especially among police officers who one might think should be some of the most qualified people there are who carry guns.

Bagnell claimed that “people with this amount of training shooting themselves isn’t credible.” However, one of the first things to go in police budgets is training, including firearms training.

Likewise, in this era of “defund the police” and now with police departments shorthanded due to early retirements or resignations, and with impending firings forced by government vaccination mandates, it is going to be a more serious issue still.

Bagnell also insinuated police officers are “experts” in handling firearms, however the reality is that a majority of police officers are neither comfortable nor proficient with handling firearms. This is through no fault of their own, but once again due to a lack of training. Simply put, a lack of training impacts proficiency.

There is also the issue of complacency. Since police officers handle their firearms all the time, moving it from their locker onto their gun belt or their locker to their off-duty holster, it becomes routine and officers let their guard down. Our own personal experience with firearms training is that most officers are barely proficient in handling firearms, with very few—a small percentage overall—who could be considered “experts.”

In regard to some of the other cases cited in Hilton’s lawsuit, we believe it was important to look into the circumstances.

One case, in Somerville, MA involved an officer who claimed he “carefully wrapped his P320 in a towel and placed it in his gym bag.” Clearly, this is not a recommended, nor is it a safe way to transport a loaded firearm, loose in a gym bag full of other items. There is no protection for the trigger of a loaded gun, loose inside a gym back with a bunch of other items in there.

In another case, this time in South Carolina, a retired police officer suffered an accidental discharge while inside the bathroom of a Chick-fil-A. The officer went into a bathroom with an unholstered gun, stuck in his waistband and claims it “went off” as he was exiting the restroom. Once again, an unprotected trigger on a weapon stuck inside a waist band or belt isn’t a recommended way to carry a firearm.

In some of the other cases, The Truth About Guns (TTAG) reported:

In one case, a sheriff in Loudoun County, VA received a settlement from Sig Sauer which should have been contested instead of settled. Testing showed the holster, which was blown apart allegedly as the sheriff attempted to remove her P320 while seated in her car, would only have suffered such damage if the firearm was partially out of the holster, at an angle. This was proven in an evidentiary manner by the fact the holster was destroyed.

In another case, a school security officer in Pasco County, FL said his P320 went off as he was leaning against a wall in the cafeteria. However, school video cameras showed the guard fidgeting with his gun. The officer was eventually terminated.

In Tampa, FL, a reserve officer claims he was shot with an accidental (unexplained) discharge from a right-handed gun with the gun holstered.  The department found that he was wounded in his left ankle with a casing on the ground and the gun in battery, all of which are not possible if the gun was holstered. The officer couldn’t explain those findings.

Bagnell provided a video where they interviewed an officer who claimed his gun went off as he exited his cruiser, as noted above.

What the video failed to mention is there were numerous cases where if a left-handed officer exits a “common” cruiser (in this case a Dodge Charger), it is common for the seat buckle to retract and land inside the holster, causing an accidental discharge when the officer turns to exit the car.  

In Ohio, the state police had such an occurrence and instead of calling a slip-and-fall attorney, they conducted an investigation, and worked with Dodge to relocate the seat belt buckle when in retention in Dodge police vehicles.

The issue didn’t affect just P320s, but other firearms as well. The same type of incidents have happened when right-handed officers exited the passenger seat as well.

Another case involved a lieutenant, Thomas Ahern who was “performing a routine function (test) of his P320 when it fired at him without any force towards the trigger, resulting in the bullet impacting his left thigh.”

That raises two questions—why would anyone function test their firearm with a round in the chamber, and why would they do so when it’s pointed at an extremity?  

Another case involved a civilian named Gunter Walker, whose P320 fired on its own “when he placed the weapon down on his nightstand, shooting him through the palm of his left hand.”

Why would anyone put a loaded handgun down with your palm in front of the muzzle?

Another incident involved a Texas gun shop manager, who said a P320 fired “as he cleared the weapon, blowing off one of his fingers. The weapon was out of battery when it fired.”

What was his finger doing over the muzzle? Have you ever heard of the “Four Rules?” We have:

  1. Every gun is always loaded.
  2. Never point a gun at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on your target.
  4. Be sure of your target and beyond it.

Fired out of battery? That also seems rather odd.

The allegation that in all of these cases the firearm just “shot itself” without being manipulated is somewhat difficult to believe. 

It seems these “accidental” (or negligent) discharges always seem to occur when an officer is handling a gun or placing it somewhere it doesn’t belong (without the proper type of compartment or holster). 

Why aren’t they occurring during foot chases or in everyday carry movements…only when in transition or being handled?

The fact is that the P320 is one of the most popular weapons in law enforcement and the military, meaning the weapon has gone through extensive testing and found to be a worthy piece of equipment. It would seem unlikely that such a weapon would be used if it were inherently dangerous.

According to The Truth About Guns (TTAG), the military employs hundreds of thousands of P320s in their inventory (Sig Sauer confirmed they have shipped over 300,000) and they have been unable to find “a rash of reports of soldiers claiming their pistols were firing on their own.”

TTAG said they contacted Sig Sauer about the incidents which they would not specifically comment on, however they said they had pointed ABC to a number of incidents where they provided facts about the circumstances surrounding many of the “un-commanded discharges” and their explanations.

TTAG noted that ABC didn’t provide any context to the lawsuits filed against Sig Sauer, i.e. suits filed against other gun makers claiming alleged design defects.

TTAG did note that Glock has also faced a number of LEOs suing that company as well. When you have as many handguns out in the market as Sig (or Glock or Smith & Wesson), you are bound to have a number of accidental discharges.

Glock faced an onslaught of criticism when the pistol was introduced (Washington Post – Washington DC Metro Police).  They did not face a barrage of lawyers looking for quick money or cover up for their client(s), nor did they have to contend with the anti-gun media or so-called internet “experts” who lay claims with no validity based on supposition, not experience.

As TTAG also noted, a majority of the lawsuits against Sig seem to be coming from law enforcement officers as opposed to the general public, who actually own far more P320s than police agencies. Is this because police officers stand to lose their jobs or be severely disciplined for unauthorized discharges? Perhaps.

Another factor is this…police officers simply handle their firearms significantly more than Joe Six Pack. The more one handles a firearm to load, unload, clear, clean, transport, etc., the better chance of having something go wrong – especially when not handling it properly or safely.

As we noted, Bagnell tries to hold up police officers as “highly trained” in carrying and using firearms. However, with familiarity often comes complacence. As TTAG notes, while the overwhelming number of police officers use good, safe practices when handling firearms, there have been a number of cases where officers have engaged in unsafe or dangerous practices in handling firearms.

While some officers, such as those on SWAT teams or emergency tactical units train much more often and are highly adept at handling firearms and are quite comfortable in doing so. But saying all officers are “highly trained?” That simply is not the case.

Is that the case with these officers who have filed suit against Sig Sauer? Who knows? But given what we know about the safety upgrades Sig put into the P320 after 2017, and the safety mechanisms built into the gun itself, it’s hard to believe it’s got anything to do with product liability on Sig’s part.

The issue of the accidental discharges bears some investigation, and we found a company, BoomStick Tactical which did an outstanding breakdown and synopsis of what would have to occur in order for an accidental discharge to occur on the P320.

This is not to disparage the officers who experienced accidental discharges with the weapon, it is to present a factual, expert-based breakdown of the failures that would have to occur to result in an accidental discharge of this firearm.

According to BoomStick, Sig P320s have a firing pin block, as well as a secondary ledge on the rear sear which keeps the weapon from firing. In other words, there would need to be failures of several components all at the same time in order for the weapon to fire.

The YouTube video breaking down the issue was based on the upgraded P320 manufactured after the 2017 upgrade.

As explained, in order for the gun to fire, the firing pin sear, located in the frame, which catches the firing pin and holds it back would have to fail. If the main ledge fails, there is a secondary ledge of the sear that holds back the firing pin.

When the catch is pushed forward by an object, the firing pin does not protrude into the frame. There is a physical firing pin block which prevents the firing pin from striking the primer. The only time the safety mechanism moves up out of the way is when the trigger is pulled. Otherwise, unless the firing pin block physically breaks, the firing pin cannot protrude and strike the primer.

In order for the firearm to go off negligently, or without someone pressing the trigger, there would have to be failures of the first section of the sear fail, the secondary of the sear fail as well, and finally you’d have to have the firing pin safety block, a solid piece of metal fail. It is basically a physical barrier.

BoomStick said that none of the weapons examined after the accidental discharges showed any such combinations of failures to their knowledge. The likelihood of multiple failures of multiple components on these weapons to fail on a continuing basis is unlikely, they said, noting it is a physical impossibility for the gun to fire in such a manner without the combination of failures.

That brings us to the issue of the holster, a Serpa model which has in fact been banned by a number of agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, which banned use of the holster in 2017.

The Serpa Blackhawk holster was also banned by numerous other departments, including the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service, also in 2017 after a number of accidental discharges.

In a memo prohibiting use of the Serpa Blackhawk, the U.S. Forest Service spoke to two students who had experienced accidental discharges of weapons being carried in the holster, in this case the “Active Retention” design. The memo states that it is possible for users (or something) to push the release button which disengages the retention device thus making it possible to contact the trigger, causing a discharge.

In the ABC News piece, the network used a hired “expert” Peter Villani, a 35-year police officer who was a firearms instructor and a Sig Sauer-certified armorer. He claimed to ABC there were design flaws and manufacturing issues with the weapon.

“I carry Sig. I own Sig. I just don’t own a [P]320, nor would I ever,” he told ABC in reference to all models of the P320, including the upgrade.

Villani has been hired as an expert witness for Hilton, which means he’s getting paid to testify in a particular way. That isn’t to denigrate his experience but merely to state a fact. Villani said he started to investigate the P320 after an officer in his department was injured by an upgraded version of the firearm.

According to body camera footage, an officer was exiting his car during a traffic stop when his gun discharged.

“Something hit my leg,” the officer is heard on the video. “I don’t know if I’m shot or what…I just for the life of me can’t figure out how that went off,” he said.

“When I see videos of police officers getting out of their car and their weapon discharges in their holsters…there’s a problem with the gun.”

An ABC News consultant and firearms expert Joshua Harrison agrees that there was probably an issue with the P320 but believes it has been fixed.  

“There were a lot of changes. It was expensive, and they would not have done that for no reason at all,” Harrison told ABC. “In my opinion, the only reason Sig would have done that is if they knew there was a safety problem with the original gun, otherwise they would not have done it.”

We think this an interesting finding since the rash of claimed discharges are not related to the 2017 Voluntary Upgrade.  The issue with the original P320 was that of accidental discharges if the gun were dropped at a certain unique angles and from extreme heights.

That was when Sig took extra measures to upgrade the weapon.  Sig Sauer claims that the reason they did a voluntary upgrade and not a recall is because the P320 was declared drop safe by all gun safety governing bodies and numerous military and agency tests. 

“I have not seen enough to convince me that the upgraded version’s dangerous,” Harrison said. I do not have an explanation for why the updated version should have these complaints from trained individuals. If it’s not legal momentum, then it would have to be some other mechanism of failure.”

Legal momentum…aka $$$. For slip and fall attorneys. Gun manufacturers meet one of the primary criteria for lawyers to attack—deep pockets and they are often portrayed as villains by mainstream media. Is it out of the realm of possibility that lawyers aren’t actually going out and recruiting these officers whose cases are ripe for perhaps transferring liability or responsibility away from those officers and to the companies with deep pockets?

As anyone who works in law enforcement is well aware, accidental discharges otherwise known as negligent discharges typically result in significant discipline up to and including termination. If a propensity of the evidence can somehow show liability, officers can typically beat such charges. Thus, going after Sig.

As an experienced police officer, one also needs to question how the firearm, at least in the case of Hilton was being carried. By the appearance of it, she was carrying the weapon in a questionable holster not designed to be carried loose inside a purse, pocketbook, gym bag or backpack.

There are weapons retention solutions specifically designed for these applications. The Serpa holster she was using did not seem appropriate for how it was being utilized and has been banned for safety reasons by numerous large agencies.

Numerous trainers have told Law Enforcement Today that they would never teach, nor do they recommend carrying a loaded gun in a purse or bag unsecured in a holster which is not intended for that purpose.

That brings us to an interview with Diana Muller, a former Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer with 22 years of service. She was a law enforcement firearms instructor and certified by the state of Oklahoma.

She addressed proficiency of police officers where it concerns firearms and noted much of what we addressed earlier, explaining that most police officers are not “firearms savvy,” with many being “intimidated” and “not very good at it.”

She noted that most police officers come to police work without a great deal of experience dealing with firearms, and noted that while training at the police academy is usually pretty intensive, once officers go back to their departments training is sporadic at best, occurring once or twice per year.

Muller said that there is not enough training to build proficiency, and most police officers don’t take the time to seek training on their own, and agreed that the amount of handling officers do of their firearms can lead to accidents.

This is especially true now with the push to defund the police, shortages in police departments which don’t allow for on-duty training, and a general feeling that training can be sacrificed.

She said that the current firearms training that is conducted is insufficient, too “static” as she called it, with extraordinarily little if any reality-based training, such as shoot-don’t shoot and other realistic training. Muller said the more training officers have, the greater comfort they will have with the weapon. She said making shooting second nature is vital.

False bravado over the four safety issues addressed above can also lead to carelessness, which can cause uncommanded discharges.

When asked about uncommanded discharges, Muller expressed skepticism, and said the most probable cause was not a firearm malfunction but rather human error.

She noted the easiest course of action when an officer experiences such a discharge is to blame the firearm, because having such an incident happen can be career-impacting, from an internal investigation, restriction to desk duty, loss of promotional opportunities and in some cases termination.

Muller noted that transferring to an alternate means of carry, such as off-duty holsters needs to be practiced as well. If an officer carries off-duty, they need to practice drawing the weapon from that holster as well.

She also noted that firearms need to be carried in a holster that has a hard trigger guard, and should never be carried loose, such as wrapped in clothing or a towel, or even inside a purse or duffel bag without any protection.

Our research found that the Sig-Sauer P320 is one of the…if not THE most tested, proven, and successful handgun in recent history.

The firearm has undergone rigorous testing and became the official sidearm of all branches in the United States military, the Department of Homeland Security, as well as military and law enforcement agencies worldwide.

The U.S. Army procurement office called the P320-based M17/M18 the “safest, most dependable, most accurate handgun every procured by the U.S. military.”

There are currently over two million p320s in service, making it one of the most widely carried firearms in the world today. As a side note, there have been no reports of surprise “un-commanded discharges” among our military to our knowledge.

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Editor note: In 2020, we saw a nationwide push to “defund the police”.  While we all stood here shaking our heads wondering if these people were serious… they cut billions of dollars in funding for police officers.

And as a result, crime has skyrocketed – all while the same politicians who said “you don’t need guns, the government will protect you” continued their attacks on both our police officers and our Second Amendment rights.

And that’s exactly why we’re launching this national crowdfunding campaign as part of our efforts to help “re-fund the police”.

For those looking for a quick link to get in the fight and support the cause, click here.

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