For Release: Tuesday, March 30, 2021
New VPC Study Describes Safety Threat to Gun Owners and the General Public
Washington, DC — As gun sales have increased over the past 12 months, few new gun buyers are aware that the firearm they’ve purchased may be dangerously defective or lack proven safety features (such as an indicator that shows whether the gun is loaded). A new study from the Violence Policy Center (VPC), Misfire: The Gun Industry’s Lack of Accountability for Defective Firearms, details the prevalence of defective guns sold in the United States and describes the failure of government oversight in addressing this longstanding public safety issue.
Warning that there are millions of defective guns in America, the study details the real-world impact of the little-known fact that the gun industry is the only manufacturer of a consumer product that is entirely exempt from federal health and safety regulation. As a result of this unique exemption: 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; and, no agency can require a gun manufacturer to recall even the most plainly defective guns to repair or replace them.
VPC Research Fellow and study author Gary Klein states, “‘Buyer beware.’ Although guns are probably the most inherently dangerous product available to consumers, they are the least regulated for safety. The firearms industry has been playing Russian Roulette with gun owners’ lives for decades, and it’s not just gun owners themselves who are at risk. Often the victims of preventable gun accidents are family members, children who find guns, or other members of the public.”
In addition to manufacturing defects (for example, when a gun is prone to go off when it’s dropped, or fires without a trigger pull), gunmakers often fail to incorporate known and proven safety features to protect against unintentional firing and resultant injury. These include: a loaded chamber indicator (showing a gun user whether the gun is loaded); an external manual safety (a safety device that prevents the gun from firing unintentionally and from being fired accidentally by small children); or a magazine disconnect (which stops the gun from firing when the ammunition magazine is removed).
The study offers details on three recent examples that affect millions of guns: Taurus pistols, Remington rifles, and Glock pistols (including incidents in which gun owners have been killed or injured by these defects). The study contains links to scores of examples of recent notices of potential deadly safety hazards issued by more than two dozen gun manufacturers.
The gun industry consistently blames the victims for the foreseeable accidents caused by defects in its products. For example, the gun industry trade organization the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), simplistically states, “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.”
The study details how, when compared to recalls mandated by government agencies for other consumer products like toasters and ladders, recall notices from gun manufacturers often are inconsistent about the level of warning and severity of potential injury they convey. Typically, they undermine their safety messages with caveats and exculpatory language. Some “safety notices” issued by manufacturers: convey a warning rather than an effective remedy; are issued long after a problem becomes known; and, are inadequately publicized.
In its summary, the study enumerates the consequences resulting from the gun industry’s exemption from federal regulatory safety oversight. These include:
• no manufacturing standards for guns;
• no requirements that guns have basic safety features;
• no independent pre-market testing requirements to assure that gun designs meet basic safety requirements;
• no central entity to which consumers can make reports about defects;
• no agency empowered to obtain or receive information, known to manufacturers, about consumer complaints;
• no agency to require a recall when public safety is at issue;
• unsupervised recalls that are not advertised according to best practices;
• no central repository for gun owners to determine if their guns have known safety problems; and,
• no way to punish manufacturers that don’t play by the rules.
The study concludes, “Guns are inherently dangerous consumer products and should be subject to the same product safety oversight as other products. Congress should vest comprehensive oversight authority in an agency with expertise in firearms and the firearms industry.”
For online and PDF versions of the study, please visit https://vpc.org/misfire/.