The Insufficient Safety Regulation of Guns
Available evidence shows that there are millions of defective guns in America. Exemption of guns from federal safety regulations that we apply to almost every other type of product in the United States has led to sloppy manufacturing processes at many gunmakers as well as to poor design choices, including elimination of simple mechanical features designed to prevent unintentional injuries. Defective guns frequently fail and cause preventable injury and death.
When a gun is defective because it can go off when dropped or fire without a trigger pull, that gun is dangerous not just to its owner, but to the owner’s family and to the general public. Children are killed or injured all too frequently in unintentional shootings.1 Innocent people can simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Despite these risks, the gun industry is the only manufacturer of a consumer product that is exempt from federal health and safety regulation.2 As such, there is no independent premarket testing of guns for safety purposes. No federal agency collects information about gun defects or requires manufacturers to report on the safety complaints they receive from customers. Nor is there an agency that can require a gun manufacturer to recall even the most plainly defective guns to repair or replace them.
Just as important is the fact that some manufacturers, for reasons of aesthetics or perhaps sheer machismo, have stripped their guns of safety features designed to protect against unintentional firing by gun owners. Many guns have no loaded chamber indicator, external manual safety, or magazine safety disconnect: features designed to protect against foreseeable unintentional discharges. Despite these deficiencies, there is no federal regulator empowered to implement minimum design standards for firearms.
As evidenced by the recall notices listed later in this report, manufacturers acknowledge that gun defects regularly occur. Some defects are so common, and affect so many guns, that reports of injuries are commonplace. Examples include the following.
First-generation Taurus pistols, imported from Brazil, are notorious for firing when jostled or dropped. Reported incidents include:
• In 2016, 28-year-old Jarred Brown was shot and killed when his still holstered Taurus PT-145 Millennium Pro pistol fired without a trigger pull and tore through his femoral artery. His father and stepmother watched him bleed to death.3
• Eleven-year-old D.J. Simms was shot to death in 2015 when his father was attempting to seat the magazine in his Taurus PT 609 pistol and the gun fired without a trigger pull.4
• In 2009, Judy Price’s Taurus Model PT-140 pistol discharged with the manual safety lever in the “on” or “safe” position, after she dropped it. The bullet entered her thigh, passed through her colon and intestines, and remains lodged in her liver. Ms. Price had months of medical complications and surgeries.5
Taurus Manufacturing’s former CEO, Robert G. Morrison, admitted under oath in the trial of a personal injury case: “My answer to the question if you are referring to all [Taurus] PT 111s, … is [that] I believe that they can go off if dropped.”6 Drop fire has been so common that a class action case for owners of these Taurus guns recently resulted in a settlement requiring nearly one million pistols to be recalled for replacement or repair.7
The class action settlement came too late for the guns’ victims who died or were injured in unintentional shootings. In addition, because the settlement will most likely result in fewer than 50,000 handguns actually returned for recall (out of one million sold in the United States),8 these pistols, which should have been safety tested by a federal agency before they were approved for import, will continue to present a long term-safety concern.
Similarly, certain Remington rifles have long been known to have a trigger defect that can cause them to fire without a trigger pull.9 Remington first learned about the problem with its 700 series rifles in 1947.10 It concluded that a redesign would be too costly and instead produced nearly 7.5 million rifles over many years with defective triggers.11 During that period, it received thousands of reports from its customers that their guns fired without a trigger pull.12 Remington defended dozens of lawsuits after the defect caused injuries or death, often arguing that the gun owner was negligent.13 Reported accounts of resulting injuries include the following.
• In 2000, nine-year-old Gus Barber died when his mother released the safety of a Remington rifle to unload it after returning from a day of hunting. The gun fired even though she did not touch the trigger. The bullet passed through the Barbers’ horse trailer and struck the child, who was out of sight behind it.14
• Lanny O’Neal was deer hunting with friends in 2008 near Eagle Butte, South Dakota. His friend, hunting with a Remington rifle, was exiting O’Neal’s pickup truck when he moved the safety lever on the rifle from the safe position to the fire position without pulling the trigger. The bullet passed through the seat of the pickup and struck O’Neal, who died from the resulting wound.15
• In 2014, Randall Zick shot and killed his brother Robert while hunting with a Remington rifle, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Robert’s three minor children. Randall had stopped to unload his rifle, had pushed the safety to its off position (which should have prevented the gun from firing), and was opening the bolt when the rifle discharged and struck Robert in the back of the head.16
For more than 60 years, Remington suppressed evidence of how commonly their guns misfired.17 A class action was recently settled with an agreement to recall 7.5 million defective Remington rifles.18 Only a small percentage of the guns were actually returned for repair and at least one media report asserts that the repair made sometimes did not even fix the problem.19
Glock Pistols and Similar Guns
The popular Glock pistol and its many imitators have few safety features. Because their triggers require very little pressure to pull, there are many reported incidents of Glock pistols being fired by very young children who find them in homes or cars. In addition, the sequence required to take apart the handgun requires that the trigger be depressed. Police officers and others have frequently unintentionally fired their Glock pistols when taking them apart to clean them. Again, examples abound:
• In 2015 in Ocala, Florida, 33-year-old police officer Jared Forsyth was shot and killed by a fellow officer following a firearms training session. The officer who killed Forsyth did not realize that there was a round in the chamber when he depressed the trigger as part of the 40 caliber Glock pistol’s normal disassembly procedure.20
• Norwalk, Connecticut police officer Phillip Roselle was shot in the chest in 2017 by another officer who did not realize that his 9mm Glock pistol was loaded when he depressed the trigger in order to disassemble it. Officer Roselle’s injuries included nerve and kidney damage.21
• In 2019, 20-year-old Christian Collister unintentionally shot himself in the face while taking his 40 caliber Glock handgun apart in his car. Since then, he has undergone nearly a dozen surgeries. As he tells his story:
So to take apart Glocks, you have to empty the chamber and then pull the trigger and slide the chamber back and push it forward. I pulled the trigger and when I did it just blew everything. I looked down at the center console, all I saw was my jaw and the row of teeth just sitting there so I was like okay, this is very serious.22
• In May 2016, Glock settled a civil case with former Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer Enrique Chavez, who in 2006 was left paralyzed from the waist down after his service weapon, a Glock 21 pistol, was unintentionally discharged by his three-year-old son from the back seat of the officer’s truck. After a Court found that a jury should decide whether the absence of safety features on the Glock are a safety defect, the case was settled for an undisclosed amount.23
Millions of Glock pistols have been sold in the United States.24 Yet no federal safety agency has the power to set standards that might require a more prominent loaded chamber indicator (to better warn users that there is a round in the chamber) or to mandate features that would make the gun difficult for a three-year-old to fire. Similarly, there is no regulator with the power to require that Glock change its disassembly process so that it does not require a trigger pull as part of the procedure for cleaning the gun.
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1 According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019, 88 victims age 17 and under died from unintentional firearm discharges.
2 Guns do not come under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) because they are outside the definition of “consumer product” under the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) pursuant to a special exemption, 15 U.S.C. 2052(a)(5)(E). For additional information, see https://vpc.org/regulating-the-gun-industry/regulate-htm/.
3 Michael Smith and Polly Mosendz, “How Defective Guns Became the Only Product That Can’t Be Recalled,” Bloomberg Businessweek (February 28, 2018), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-02-28/how-defective-guns-became-the-only-product-that-can-t-be-recalled.
4 Catherine Dunn, “Bullets Beyond Recall: Defective Guns Outside US Government’s Reach,” International Business Times (December 17, 2015), https://www.ibtimes.com/bullets-beyond-recall-defective-guns-outside-us-governments-reach-2226935; Kent Faulk, “Alabama Man Files Lawsuit Against Gun Maker Taurus; Claims Safety Defect Killed Son,” AL.com (November 12, 2015, updated January 13, 2019), https://www.al.com/news/birmingham/2015/11/alabama_man_files_lawsuit_agai.html.
5 Catherine Dunn, “Bullets Beyond Recall: Defective Guns Outside US Government’s Reach,” International Business Times (December 17, 2015), https://www.ibtimes.com/bullets-beyond-recall-defective-guns-outside-us-governments-reach-2226935. See Carter v. Forjas Taurus, S.A., 1:13-CV-24583-PAS, (S.D. Fla.) Doc. No. 73, ¶ 45 (First Amended Class Action Complaint).
6 Testimony of Robert G. Morrison, Maroney v. Taurus International Manufacturing, Inc., Case No. 07-73 (Ala. Cir. Ct. dismissed 2009), Trial Transcript, p. 124.
7 Taurus Carter Settlement Website, http://www.tauruscartersettlement.com/. Carter v. Forjas Taurus, supra, Court Order Approving Settlement, Docket No. 197, p. 1 (stating that the case provides a remedy to approximately 955,796 class members).
8 In the class action, counsel for the parties reported to the Court in September 2018 that fewer than 20,000 guns (about two percent of the class guns) had been returned for inspection and repair. Returns were continuing at a rate of approximately 20 a week (about 1,000 per year), making it unlikely that the case could ever result in repair of more than 50,000 of the nearly 1,000,000 defective pistols that Taurus had sold. Carter v. Forjas Taurus, supra, Status Conference Hearing Transcript, Docket No. 272, p. 10, lines 4-22.
9 “Gunfight: Remington Under Fire,” CNBC, (Videos bearing various dates), https://www.cnbc.com/remington-under-fire/, CNBC catalogs numerous videos by reporter Scott Cohn on the problems associated with the rifle’s trigger. “Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation” is at the heart of these materials: “Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation,” CNBC (December 8, 2015), https://www.cnbc.com/video/2015/12/08/remington-under-fire-a-cnbc-investigation.html. The videos include many interviews with victims of the defect, or the relatives of victims who died, as well as a demonstration of the defect, and a review of many of the most relevant documents from Remington’s files. 60 Minutes also produced a compelling piece about the defect, by correspondent Lesley Stahl: “Popular Remington 700 Rifle Linked to Potentially Deadly Defect,” CBS News (February 19, 2017),
10 Pollard et al. v. Remington et al. No. 4:13-CV-00086-ODS (W.D. Mo. 2013), Doc. No. 196-14 (Remington internal memo describing problem dated April 9, 1947). Remington’s own documents, obtained in litigation, show that the company was well aware of the trigger design problem for many decades and chose to hide it. The documents are now posted at
11 Pollard v. Remington, supra, Doc. No. 196-16 and 196-15. (Remington internal documents showing an inexpensive proposed fix and then concluding that the additional cost wasn’t warranted because the liability wasn’t out of proportion to the legal risk.) In Pollard, the parties (including Remington) agreed that there have been approximately 7.5 million rifles manufactured with the potential defect since 1947, though not all presently remain in circulation. Pollard et al. v. Remington et al. No. 4:13-CV-00086-ODS (W.D. Mo. 2013) (Doc. No. 221, Order And Opinion (1) Granting Parties’ Joint Motion For Final Settlement Approval, (2) Certifying Classes For Settlement Purposes, (3) Approving Plaintiffs’ Supplemental Fee Application, And (4) Dismissing Matter With Prejudice, p. 38.)
12 Pollard v. Remington, supra, Doc. No. 196-17, ¶ 7; Doc. No. 196-19 (complaint log records).
13 Pollard v. Remington, supra, Doc. No. 196-9 (list of additional litigation produced to a Plaintiff by Remington in discovery). See, e.g., Weeks v. Remington Arms Co., Inc., 743 F.2d 1485 (11th Cir. 1984) (addressing Remington’s claim that a hunter was negligent in light of Remington’s failure to turn over evidence of other similar incidents in its files).
14 Barber v. Remington Arms Corp., 2013 WL 496202, *2 (D. Mont. 2013).
15 O’Neal v. Remington Arms Co., LLC, 817 F.3d 1055, 1058 (8th Cir. 2015).
16 See A.M.Z., a minor, et al. v. Remington Arms Co., LLC, 2017 WL 2963526 (W.D. Wis. 2017). Case No. 16-cv-778-wmc, Doc. No. 8, ¶ 12 (W.D. Wis) (Amended Complaint).
17 A complaint filed in the District of Oregon compiles 15 cases in which a Court found that Remington failed to meet its legal obligation to produce business records including its internal investigations and customer reports about the defect. See v. Remington Arms Co., Inc., No. 3:13-cv-01765-BR (D. Ore. 2015), Doc. No. 25, ¶ 93-94. See also Weeks v. Remington Arms, supra.
18 Scott Cohn, “Remington Rifle Settlement, Including Free Trigger Replacement, Is Official,” CNBC (October 24, 2018), https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/24/remington-rifle-settlement-is-official.html.
19 As in the case of Taurus, the Court had evidence that only a tiny percentage of the 7.5 million defective guns (22,000 or fewer than one percent) were returned for repair. Pollard, et al. v. Remington et al., 320 F.R.D. 198, 205 (W.D. Mo. 2017). See Scott Cohn, “Gun Owners Say Rifles Still Malfunction After Remington Class-Action Settlement Repairs,” CNBC (April 6, 2020), https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/06/remington-trigger-problems-surface-as-class-action-settlement-deadline-nears.html.
20 Carlos E. Medina, “Ocala Officer Shot to Death Accidentally During Training,” Ocala.com (April 7, 2015), https://www.ocala.com/article/LK/20150406/News/604142131/OS/; “Ocala Police Officer Died From His Injuries After Training Accident,” Ocalapost.com (April 6, 2015), https://www.ocalapost.com/ocala-police-officer-died-from-his-injuries/; Katie Pohlman, “Judge Rules Ocala Not Liable in 2015 Police Officer Death,” Ocala.com (July 26, 2018), https://www.ocala.com/news/20180726/judge-rules-ocala-not-liable-in-2015-police-officer-death.
21 Ethan Fry, “Former Norwalk Cop Shot in On-The-Job Accident Sues Gunmaker,” The Hour (September 3, 2019), https://www.thehour.com/news/article/Former-Norwalk-cop-shot-in-on-the-job-accident-14411520.php; “Veteran Officer Still Suffering 1 Year After Accidental Shooting,” News 12 Connecticut (September 7, 2018), http://connecticut.news12.com/story/39050365/veteran-officer-still-suffering-1-year-after-accidental-shooting.
22 Kailey McCarthy, “Local Boy Recovering After Gun Accident, Benefit Tuesday to Help with Hospital Expenses,” KALB (December 9, 2019), https://www.kalb.com/content/news/Local-boy-recovering-after-gun-accident-benefit-Tuesday-to-help-with-hospital-expenses-565994351.html.
23 See Chavez v. Glock, Inc., 207 Cal.App.4th 1283, 1298, 1309 (Court of Appeals, 2d District, 2012). Bob Owens, “Glock Settles Negligent Discharge Case With Paralyzed Ex-LAPD Cop,” Bearing Arms (May 12, 2016), http://bearingarms.com/bob-o/2016/05/12/glock-settles-negligent-discharge-case-paralyzed-ex-lapd-cop/.
24 “Celebrating 30 Years in the U.S.,” stating, “Our pistols are the choice of millions for personal or home protection and target shooting,” https://us.glock.com/en/learn/brand/celebrating-30-years-in-the-us.