Products (Non)Liability: How Gun Manufacturers Avoid Responsibility for Blatant Defects

September 19, 2022

The belief that gun manufacturers should be liable for violent acts of their consumers has long been a topic of debate. On one hand, we sympathize with victims of gun violence and want the law to help them recover compensation. However, we also understand that there is something weary about holding a manufacturer liable for a consumer’s wrongful and unconfined use of the product. But, what about when issues occur because of the product and have absolutely nothing to do with the consumer? Surely the manufacturer should bear some responsibility, right? One can only hope.

Sig Sauer has found themselves on the forefront of litigation in this realm, defending numerous class action claims about a defect in their P320 Pistol. For context, the P320 is one of the most popular handguns in America. It’s used by most police forces in the US, and an upgraded version of the P320, the M17, is the official sidearm of the US Military. In 2020, there were more than a million P320s in civilian circulation alone.

So, what’s wrong with them? The P320s were firing when accidentally dropped. This issue was dubbed “drop-fire” and was due to a simple engineering problem. The weight of the pistol was causing the trigger to pull, and thereby fire, when dropped at a certain angle. After learning of the issue, Sig Sauer, added new lighter mechanisms to the P320 that supposedly curbed the issue. The company even implemented a voluntary upgrade program, where consumers could mail in the older version of the pistol and Sig Sauer would upgrade it with lighter parts for free. However, with the wide prevalence of P320s, it wasn’t long before consumers realized the claim of them now being “drop-safe” just wasn’t true. 

In 2020, Sig Sauer defended its first string of class action suits relating to the persistent drop-fire defects. However, Plaintiffs didn’t find much relief. In short, firearms lack a federal regulatory body to evaluate their safety and production. For instance, when certain automobiles are found to have design defects not in compliance with federal standards, they must be recalled. Unlike automobiles, however, “voluntary recalls and civil litigation are the only way alleged [weapon] defects are addressed… as no federal regulators have recall authority.” Thus, these cases usually settle, and the firearm manufacturers just band-aid their flawed product. (Is it worth noting that Sig Sauer’s slogan is “Never Settle”…?)

“Unlike automobiles, ‘voluntary recalls and civil litigation are the only way alleged [weapon] defects are addressed… as no federal regulators have recall authority.'”

In September of 2022, a New Hampshire Court ruled in favor of Sig Sauer, concluding its most recent legal battle. The case involved Kyle Guay, a responsible gun owner, who was shot by an involuntary discharge of his P320 pistol. According to Kyle, his Sig Sauer P320 fired into his own leg, without him touching the trigger, as he removed his holster from his belt. He sued Sig Sauer for the damages, arguing that Sig Sauer’s labeling of the upgrade system as “voluntary” instead of “mandatory” led him to believe that his P320 model was, in fact, still safe and did not require the upgrade. He also pointed to Sig Sauer’s website, which touted that the P320 would not fire “unless you want it to.”

The Court was unsympathetic, stating that Sig Sauer never claimed there to be problems with mere accidental misfires, but rather actual drop-fires. As to the website claiming that the pistol won’t “fire unless you want it to,” The Consumer Protection Act (CPA), under which Kyle sought relief, requires that Sig Sauer knew the representation was false or that they recklessly disregarded its truth. Unfortunately, there was no evidence that had occurred since Sig Sauer believed that they were boasting about their newly upgraded and allegedly drop-safe P320. 

A ruling like this one, albeit (probably) correct under the CPA, seems to reaffirm the public’s view that gun manufacturers tend to escape liability – even when the problem is inherently their own. The remedy here is not fast or easy, but there are certainly avenues for reform. Firstly, a firearm should not be treated the same as any old product when their defects can result in severe damage. Afterall, a firearm is an inherently dangerous product and should be engineered to heightened standards for reliability and safety. You would think that unintentional misfires would be at the top of Sig Sauers no-no list. But, at the end of the day, who’s enforcing that list? In my view, the problem stems not from the complexities of products liability law, but from the absence of a federal regulatory scheme. The federal government should, at the very least, introduce firearm manufacturing regulations that force mandatory recalls as opposed to voluntary upgrades and put forth guidelines for their safety and reliability. That doesn’t seem like so much to ask. 

Kyle Anthony Przypek

Kyle is a first-generation law student from southern Connecticut. He attended the University of Miami for college, where he studied both English Literature and Business Law. In law school, Kyle is a member of Carolina’s First-Generation Professionals and has garnered an interest in healthcare law.