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Defective Firearms Greater Threat than Thought

No federal product safety oversight on firearms

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Dateline: February, 2005

Would you be surprised to learn that, unlike almost every other consumer product, firearms and ammunition manufactured in the U.S. are not subject to any federal health and consumer safety oversight? Fact is, no federal agency has the necessary authority to ensure that poorly made guns don't explode or unintentionally discharge when they are dropped or bumped.

A new study from the Consumer Federation of America, "Buyer Beware: Defective Firearms and America's Unregulated Gun Industry," examines what is known about defective firearms, the gun industry's response to the problem, and suggests a comprehensive solution to reducing deaths and injuries from such products. It also addresses the gun industry's current push to inoculate itself from civil liability. The study was recently distributed by the Consumer Federation of America.

"The gun lobby maintains that unintentional shootings generally occur as a result of carelessness on the part of the gun owner," said Sue Peschin, CFA Firearms Project Director. "But while consumer education certainly plays an important role in injury prevention, no amount of user instruction can eliminate the risks associated with product defects in design or manufacture."

The study explores firearm models that have been dubbed "the most common offenders" because of the high number of complaints associated with them. These manufacturers are aware of the safety issues associated with these guns. Exactly how many victims are killed or injured each year by defective firearms is unknown because there exists no coordinated data collection on unintentional firearm injuries and deaths that includes vital information. The report notes that comprehensive data is essential to identify firearms that are exceptionally likely to be involved in unintentional firearms-related injury or death, and to inform the public of the risks associated with such guns.

"To successfully reduce death and injury from defective firearms, the gun industry must be regulated for health and safety," continued Peschin. "At the very least, manufacturers should be required to recall, repair and refund consumers for products deemed defective. Absent health and safety regulation, defective firearms will continue to be a deadly threat to public safety."

Product liability litigation is currently the only mechanism available to hold gun manufacturers accountable when a defect in a gun's design or manufacture results in death or injury. Confidentiality agreements, common in product liability settlements, have kept critical information about the safety record of gun manufacturers from the public and are a prime example of how the gun industry actively conceals information about injuries and fatalities connected with its products. The report calls for an elimination of such agreements. Additionally, all incidents of unintentional firearm injuries should be evaluated to determine whether the manufacturer contributed to the injury.

"In the 109th Congress, the gun lobby will once again try to limit civil liability for injuries and deaths caused by industry negligence," said Peschin. "If successful, it will further erode consumer recourse and advance the gun industry's campaign to retain its unique exemption from responsibility. Ultimately, this dangerous dynamic can and must change. How many more firearm injuries and deaths it will take to spur this change remains to be seen."

The study also contains three Appendices that list known warnings and/or recalls of 1) Handguns, 2) Rifles, and 3) Shotguns. The appendices are broken out by type of firearm; listed alphabetically by maker and within that chronologically by date of first known public advisory.

Video on Home Firearm Safety

Gun Safety at Home (VHS)
Three firearms and personal safety experts present rules for safely handling and storing guns in the home, as well as common-sense accident prevention tips for non-owners. (VHS video tape)
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