A single-action revolver with its loading gate open

What are to make of this? Via the Of Arms and the Law blog (h/t Instapundit) comes this New York Times story about a tragic, accidental shooting — but alas, a story published in order to further the Times‘s notion that inanimate objects, especially inanimate objects of swaggering macho desire, have a mind of their own:

It was the second week in August, a Friday the 13th, in fact, in 1982. I was with a group of college roommates who were getting ready to go to the Omak Stampede and Suicide Race. Three of us piled into a red Vega parked outside a friend’s house in Okanogan, Wash., me in the back seat. The driver, who worked with the county sheriff’s department, offered me his service revolver to examine. I turned the weapon onto its side, pointed it toward the door. The barrel, however, slipped when I shifted my grip to pull the hammer back, to make certain the chamber was empty, and turned the gun toward the driver’s seat. When I let the hammer fall, the cylinder must have rotated without my knowing. When I pulled the hammer back a second time it fired a live round. 

My friend, Doug, slumped in the driver’s seat, dying, and another friend, who was sitting in the passenger seat, raced into the house for the phone.

The commenters at the blog are doing a good job of unpacking not only the principal paragraph above, but the whole intent of the piece (who recounts a story of killing his own friend in order to obliquely further the gun-control meme?), but what does it say about the editing chops at the Times that they would let this pass without at least some clarification? To wit:

  • “… who worked with the county sheriff’s department offered me his service revolver to examine.”

Let’s leave aside the sheer irresponsibility of handing a loaded firearm over to a kid. In 1982, the vast majority of police sidearms were double-action revolvers or semi-automatic pistols, which would make the description of the accident above completely unbelievable, unless the firearm in question was a single-action revolver with the hammer down on one empty chamber, about which more in a bit. 

  • “… when I shifted my grip to pull the hammer back, to make certain the chamber was empty…”

You don’t check to see whether a revolver is loaded by pulling the hammer back. You check it by pushing the cylinder out (which instantly renders it non-fireable, since there cannot be a round in the barrel) and making sure all five, six, seven, or even eight chambers are clear.

  • “When I let the hammer fall, the cylinder must have rotated without my knowing.”

The instant you pull the hammer back on a revolver, the mechanism also rotates the cylinder. It is impossible not to notice this, unless you have never seen a gun before in your life. 

  • “When I pulled the hammer back a second time it fired a live round.”

“Pulling the hammer back” will not fire a round. Releasing the hammer will. For this story to be true, the only possible explanation is that the author was (mis)handling a Colt-type single-action revolver — what shooters call a “cowboy gun” — which is loaded and unloaded one round or expended shell at a time via a gate on the right side of the cylinder.