Shooting instructor reflects on gun safety after accident
MINOT, N.D. (AP) — At first she didn’t think anything had happened. Later she was told to prepare for amputation of her leg. She survived a fight for her life.
It was May 1, 2016, a Saturday when Cameon Eisenzimmer of Minot attended a shooter’s training session in Napoleon. The competitive handgun shooter who was always looking for ways to improve her approach to the sport, had a relatively uneventful morning.
A handgun she had acquired a few months earlier was acting up a bit, but nothing out of the ordinary, just some trouble with spent shell casings not ejecting properly. She ate lunch and did some cleaning of the handgun, a usual answer to improving its performance.
“I ran one stage after lunch and had a couple issues with brass sticking. No big deal,” said Eisenzimmer. “When I went to go again it was a start with the gun in the holster and hands above your head.”
The layout of the targets was such that Eisenzimmer would be moving to her left. While she was mentally preparing for engaging her assigned targets, Eisenzimmer and others heard a gunshot, Minot Daily News reported.
“I thought it came from the shooting bay next to me,” said Eisenzimmer. “The range officer asked me if I was sure it wasn’t my gun that went off. I looked down at the back of my jeans and there was a perfect circle. The whole bottom of my holster was completely gone. That’s when we realized it was my gun that had gone off.”
Eisenzimmer had never drawn the gun from its holster. The range officer’s timer showed the shot occurred at .0052 seconds from the start beep, far too fast for a person to actually move. Eizenzimmer’s holster also completely covered the handgun’s trigger guard, a holster she had chosen to prevent any accidental contact with the trigger. Nevertheless, she had sustained a gunshot wound, the severity of which wasn’t immediately realized.
“I was 80 miles from Bismarck and medical attention,” said Eisenzimmer. “An Air Force guy with a medical bag helped me as we waited for the rural ambulance. I was pretty sure I had shattered the bones in my lower leg. When they took my shoe off I actually thought they had taken my foot off with it.”
It was only then, said Eisenzimmer, who had been cooperating fully with those coming to her aid, that she became “a little panicked.”
“I thought I had amputated my foot,” said Eisenzimmer. “I texted my mom and told her I was pretty sure I had taken my foot off at the ankle.”
The Minot resident had a history of reactions to pain medicines, so was not administered any until the ambulance reached Bismarck more than an hour distant.
“They were waiting for me at the hospital in Bismarck. My mom came from Minot and met the ambulance,” recalled Eisenzimmer.
At the hospital she learned that the bullet entered behind her right knee, traveled down her lower leg and exited on the inside of her leg just above the ankle. Incredibly, no bones were struck by the metal-jacketed, 9 millimeter round and Eisenzimmer’s foot was solidly attached.
Her attending physicians were very optimistic, telling her she would be back playing softball by the following weekend. She was discharged and returned to her Minot home. A day later all hope for a quick recovery vanished. Eizenzimmer’s leg had swollen immensely and, ominously, was turning very dark. She was transported to Minot’s Trinity Hospital for further evaluation and treatment. The news from attending physicians wasn’t good.
“They thought they might have to amputate below the knee. The bullet had killed all the muscles from the knee down,” said Eisenzimmer. “I spent the next week in the hospital as they saved my life. I have what is called a salvage limb. Basically, I have the limb below my knee but it doesn’t work at all.”
The bullet that tore through Eisenzimmer’s leg had caused extensive and permanent damage.
“It didn’t hit any bone but it nicked an artery. I had no muscle. No hamstring. Absolutely everything was gone,” explained Eisenzimmer.
Eisenzimmer, determined to recover use of her leg, was on crutches within a few weeks. In two months she returned to the shooting range for a competitive match. Hobbling awkwardly on crutches, she made her way through a course of targets designed for shooter’s to run, stop, shoot and proceed. Her time was understandably slow but she demonstrated the grit required to come back, mentally and physically, from a life-threatening gunshot.
“I shot on crutches. I shot from a walker and with a cane,” remarked Eisenzimmer. “I tried to get back right away so I could keep going.”
Her shooting form and accuracy had returned but, unable to move quickly and easily, Eisenzimmer came to the realization that she would have to back away from competitive shooting sports. She still enjoys handgun shooting, but at a much different pace and with a few changes from what she did prior to her injury.
“My guns are never loaded from the holster,” said Eisenzimmer. “That’s a personal preference.”
During United States Practical Shooting Association competitive events, which Eisenzimmer frequently attended, shooters engage various sets of targets after drawing a loaded handgun from a holster. Speed is part of the sport where safety is paramount, overseen by the watchful eye of experienced range officers. Loading a handgun after drawing it from a holster adds time to a shooter’s score, something Eisenzimmer is now willing to concede.
She has had extensive training in operating handguns. Eisenzimmer has attended various schools and competitive events throughout the country. She has hosted several shooting seminars for women at the Minot Gun Club, usually with the help of other nationally known shooters. Her extensive shooting background, coupled with her emphasis on safe gun handling, made her near-fatal accident seem all the more improbable. Eisenzimmer wanted answers.
“I sent the gun to a couple of firearms experts so they could examine it,” said Eisenzimmer. “Guns don’t fire unless you pull the trigger. The timer said I couldn’t have. A firearms expert from Colorado looked at my gun and said it had a “dead” trigger. He knew exactly what it was.”
A dead trigger is used to describe a firing mechanism that has been altered to make trigger pull much smoother and easier. Eisenzimmer had purchased the handgun from a competitive shooter who had done his own alterations to the firearm.
“I had absolutely no idea,” said Eisenzimmer. “The sear that holds the hammer back had a negative angle to it. It was a bomb waiting to go off.”
When the altered firearm discharged while still in Eisenzimmer’s holster is did so with near deadly results. Eisenzimmer uses the experience of her misfortune as a teaching moment for others.
“The big message out of all of this, especially for competitors, is take your gun to a competent gunsmith. In the world of competition, where seconds are everything and milliseconds are even bigger, people like to do their own tinkering,” said Eisenzimmer. “I was doing something I’d been doing for years and never had a problem. It only takes that one time.”
Eisenzimmer has made countless friends through shooting sports. They were there to support her following her shooting accident and remain solidly in her corner today. She still sees many of them while attending major shooting matches throughout the U.S.
“I don’t compete anymore but, for me, it’s going to see the people. They are a great group of people to be around,” said Eisenzimmer.
Eisenzimmer keeps busy with a variety of activities, quilting and woodworking among them, but added another to help satisfy her competitive desires — sled hockey. She says she’s “found my niche” with Prairie Grit Adoptive Sports.
Unable to use her damaged leg as she once did, Eisenzimmer has been a quick learner while seated on a sled a mere six inches off the ice. Games are played on regulation hockey rinks and Prairie Grit has weekly practices at Minot’s Maysa Arena. Eisenzimmer had never skated, never played hockey and didn’t know any of the rules when she started. Now she’s an avid competitor.
“I absolutely love sled hockey,” remarked Eisenzimmer. “I went to the National Women’s Camp a year ago, been in two national tournaments since then and will try out for the Women’s National team in September as well. I think I have a pretty good chance of making the team. That’s my goal.”
That is not a surprising statement from a feisty competitor with a proven history of being on target.
Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com