The Gun Industry’s Long History Of Producing Defective Firearms
The gun industry’s public position is that unintentional shootings almost always are caused by human error. For example, the firearm industry’s primary trade organization, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), claims: “If everyone handled a firearm so carefully that the muzzle never pointed at something they didn’t intend to shoot, there would be virtually no firearms accidents. It’s as simple as that, and it’s up to you.”25
Yet the industry itself is aware of many serious safety defects that cause guns to go off unexpectedly, often based on customer complaints. Below are recent notices of safety hazards, collected by the VPC, issued by top gun manufacturers.26 (The list is not intended to be exhaustive.)
Armalite safety alerts and recalls
AR-10, SPR MOD 1, SPR MOD 2, M15, Eagle-15 Rifles
Browning safety alerts and recalls
BAR MK3 Rifles
Bushmaster safety alerts and recalls (Bushmaster was part of Remington)
Caracal safety alerts and recalls
F and C Model Pistols
Charter Arms safety alerts and recalls
Lady .38 Special Revolvers
Daniel Defense safety alerts and recalls
Desert Tech safety alerts and recalls
FMK Firearms safety alerts and recalls
Henry safety alerts and recalls
H015 Single Shot Rifles and Shotguns
Howa safety alerts and recalls
1500, 1550, and 1700 LS Rifles
IWI safety alerts and recalls
Galil ACE Pistols
Kel-Tec safety alerts and recalls
Knight safety alerts and recalls
Revolution Muzzleloading Rifles
Lyman safety alerts and recalls
Black Powder Rifles and Pistols
Remington safety alerts and recalls
Model 887 Shotgun
Model 700 Rifle
Model Rimfire 22 Thunderbolt TB-22A Rifle
Law Enforcement Reduced Recoil 8 Pellet 00 Buckshot
270 Win. 150 Grain Soft Point Ammunition
.223 Remington 62 Gr Hollow Point (Match) Ammunition
22 Hornet 45 Grain PSP Ammunition
17 HMR Ammunition and Model 597 HMR
710 Bolt-Action Rifles
38 Special +P Ammunition
Rossi safety alerts and recalls
.38 Special and .357 Magnum Revolvers (class action notice)
Savage Arms safety alerts and recalls
Sig Sauer safety alerts and recalls
SIG716 DMR, SIG516 Carbon Fiber, and SIGM400 Predator Rifles
Smith & Wesson safety alerts and recalls
M&P Shield EZ Pistol manufactured between March 1, 2020 and October 31, 2020
Model 22A Pistols
i-Bolt Rifle (November 2008)
i-Bolt Rifle (January 2008)
Performance Center Model 460 Revolvers
Performance Center Model 329 Revolvers
M&P 15-22 Pistols and Rifles – Alert – Alert FAQ
Sturm, Ruger safety alerts and recalls
American Rimfire® Rifle
Old Model Revolver – “Pre-1973” – “The Empty Chamber” – “Handle with Care”
Mark IV Pistols
American Pistols (9mm)
Winchester safety alerts and recalls
Model 94 Rifles
38 Special 130 Grain Full Metal Jacket Ammunition
Super-X 17 HMR 20 Grain Jacketed Hollow Point Ammunition
The VPC collected these notices because there is no legally mandated central repository for these voluntary recalls of guns, some of which are referred to as “Warnings,” “Product Safety Notices,” or “Service Bulletins,” rather than recalls.27 Sometimes, these notices are buried obscurely on manufacturers’ websites, rather than well-publicized where gun owners might be more likely to see them.
Many of the notices identified by the VPC describe potentially deadly defects and urgent public safety problems. For example:
• A recall notice for the popular Winchester XPR rifle states: “In our continual product testing, we have learned of an issue that is important to the safety of all XPR owners. It has come to our attention that a manipulation of the safety switch may cause movement in the trigger system that could result in unintended firing of certain XPR rifles.”28
• A Winchester shotgun recall notice carries the following information: “Winchester Repeating Arms has discovered that a limited number of SXP (3 ½” chamber) shotguns (also called the Super X Pump) may, under certain circumstances, unintentionally discharge while closing the action. Failure to return any affected shotguns for inspection and/or repair may create a risk of harm, including serious personal injury or death.29
• A safety notice issued by Sturm, Ruger for its popular Mark IV pistols indicated that the pistol could fire without a trigger pull in some circumstances: “Ruger recently discovered that all Mark IV pistols (including 22/45 models) manufactured prior to June 1, 2017 have the potential to discharge unintentionally if the safety is not utilized correctly. In particular, if the trigger is pulled while the safety lever is midway between the ‘safe’ and ‘fire’ positions (that is, the safety is not fully engaged or fully disengaged), then the pistol may not fire when the trigger is pulled. However, if the trigger is released and the safety lever is then moved from the mid position to the ‘fire’ position, the pistol may fire at that time.”30
• In August 2017, gunmaker Sig Sauer announced with respect to its P320 pistols: “Recent events indicate that dropping the P320 beyond U.S. standards for safety may cause an unintentional discharge.”31
• Smith & Wesson, which as of date of writing lists 14 recalls on its website,32 issued the following recall for certain Model 22A pistols: “Based on our ongoing product review, we have determined that the slides of certain pistols manufactured from August 1, 2008 to February 19, 2009, may not meet the design specification. This can create a situation where insufficient headspace exists creating a risk of unintended discharge.”33
• In November 2018, Walther Arms, Inc., a German company that distributes guns in the United States, issued the following recall involving a drop-fire problem affecting some of its pistols: “Walther Arms, Inc., has recently discovered a potential safety issue with certain PPS M2 pistols. Walther is voluntarily initiating a recall to protect the safety of its customers because under certain conditions it is possible that some of these pistols may fire when dropped.”34
None of the notices meet the content requirements for Consumer Product Safety Commission supervised recalls of other consumer products, including, in particular, the requirement for information about known defect-related incidents, injuries, and deaths.35 In addition, each of these recall notices minimizes the risk of harm and weakens its warning to customers by creating doubt about whether compliance with the recall is really necessary.
The Winchester XPR rifle recall says, for example, “In order to exercise an abundance of caution on behalf of all XPR owners, we have decided to replace certain trigger group parts at no charge,” implying that the repair may not even be necessary at all.36
The notice for Sturm, Ruger Mark IV pistols says, “Although only a small percentage of pistols appear to be affected and we are not aware of any injuries, Ruger is firmly committed to safety and would like to retrofit all potentially affected pistols with an updated safety mechanism,” insinuating that a large percentage of the pistols work properly and therefore might not need to be fixed.37
The Sig Sauer press release announcing its recall begins with two full paragraphs of language stating that the pistols meet applicable standards before acknowledging a drop-fire problem, raising doubt about why a gun owner would need to have the P320 pistols fixed at all.38 It fails to warn customers not to use the gun and suggests that the proposed repair is “voluntary” rather than mandatory.39 The Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, and Walther notices all suggest that the recalled guns “may” have a problem rather than that they do have a problem.40
These types of limitations in recall notices and safety warnings are inconsistent with recall practice mandated by the CPSC41 for other consumer products and they appear likely to undermine compliance by consumers with the requirements of the recall.
Because there is no third party or government agency supervising these gun recalls, there is no way to know how many consumers are availing themselves of the recall remedy in order to determine the number of defective guns still in circulation. And there is some doubt about whether gun recall and safety warnings are advertised according to best practices or sent by mail to those consumers who filled out warranty cards when they bought their guns.42
In fact, some recall notices might be cynical attempts to obscurely post a warning about the gun that could then be used as a legal defense in the event of a death or injury caused by the firearm. A frequent argument in personal injury cases is that the manufacturer failed to warn of a known defect. These notices identified by the VPC could, arguably, thwart such claims.
Back to Table of Contents
25 Firearms Safety – 10 Rules of Safe Gun Handling, National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), https://www.nssf.org/safety/rules-firearms-safety/.
26 See https://vpc.org/regulating-the-gun-industry/gun-product-safety-notices/ for a continuously updated version of this list. In addition, “Firearm Recalls/Warnings Index,” a summary of more than 280 older recall notices related to gun and ammunition defects, apparently collected privately until August of 2003, can be found on the Internet at FirearmsID.com, (http://firearmsid.com/Recalls/Firearm%20Recall%20Index.htm).
27 By contrast, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) publishes a comprehensive list of all recalls of other consumer products: https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls and https://www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/search-by-company. Motor vehicle recalls overseen by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are searchable by vehicle identification number: https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls.
30 See https://ruger.com/dataProcess/markIVRecall/. There is no obvious link to Ruger’s several recall notices on its website.
31 Angelica LaVito, “Sig Sauer Announces ‘Voluntary Upgrade’ of Its P320 Pistol That May Discharge When Dropped,” (August 8, 2017), https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/08/sig-sauer-offers-voluntary-upgrade-of-p320-pistol-that-can-discharge-erroneously.html; and, “Sig Sauer Issues Voluntary Upgrade of P320 Pistol,” Sig Sauer press release (August 8, 2017), in files of Violence Policy Center. The “U.S. Standards for safety” referred to in the press release only apply to pistols for procurement by law enforcement agencies and are limited to dropping the gun from a height of four feet onto a rubber mat. See “Autoloading Pistols for Police Officers,” NIJ Standard 0112.03, National Institute of Justice (July 1999), https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/249929.pdf.
33 See https://www.smith-wesson.com/safety/recalls/model-22a-pistols-safety-recall. Unintended discharge might occur, for example, when the trigger is jostled or partially pulled because the firing pin would unexpectedly hit the chambered round.
34 A link to the notice appears among the 14 notices listed on the Smith & Wesson website. For a period of time, Smith & Wesson was Walther’s United States distributor (https://www.smith-wesson.com/safety/recalls and https://waltherarms.com/recall/).
35 16 C.F.R. §§ 1115.27, 1115.29.
38 “Sig Sauer Issues Voluntary Upgrade of P320 Pistol,” Sig Sauer press release (August 8, 2017), in files of Violence Policy Center.
39 “Sig Sauer Issues Voluntary Upgrade of P320 Pistol,” Sig Sauer press release (August 8, 2017), in files of Violence Policy Center.
40 See https://www.smith-wesson.com/safety/recalls/model-22a-pistols-safety-recall; http://dev.waltherarms.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/PPS-M2-Recall-PressRelease.png; and, “Sig Sauer Issues Voluntary Upgrade of P320 Pistol,” Sig Sauer press release (August 8, 2017), in files of Violence Policy Center.
41 16 CFR § 1115.27.