The federal government oversees the safety of our food, our cars, even our pajamas. But if a gun is defective, the government can't do anything about it.
That's because when lawmakers passed the Consumer Product Safety Act, they exempted guns and ammunition. That means the government can order the recall of toy guns, but not real guns.
Lifetime NRA member Bud Brown of Griffin had no idea.
Brown and his son, Jarred, shared a love of hunting. It was a bond between father and son that was forever broken on the last day of 2016. That day Jarred jumped off a back-porch ramp, and a Taurus PT 145 Millennium Pro holstered on his waist suddenly went off.
"When I got out there, I found Jarred laying down, kind of on his side," Bud Brown said.
"He died in our arms," stepmother Sonie Brown told Channel 2’s Tom Regan. "It was the worst day of my life."
Jarred Brown's father and stepmother could not understand how a holstered gun could fire spontaneously. Here's what they didn't know: At the time of Jarred Brown's death, Taurus had already settled a massive class-action lawsuit over the unintentional discharge of some of its guns. As part of that settlement, Taurus had agreed to repair or buy back 955,796 guns. One of the models included was the gun that killed Jarred Brown. Taurus refused to call the buy-back deal a recall and the company denied the guns had any defects.
The Browns knew nothing about that settlement. They say they always read the NRA's magazine and they'd never seen anything about it. And they had no idea the government couldn't force a recall of guns.
The Georgia couple hired Alabama attorney Todd Wheeles to sue the gunmaker. He's filed numerous lawsuits against Taurus.
"If the gun is jostled or impacted, the striker can go forward and cause the weapon to fire. We think that's what happened in this case," Wheeles said.
The Taurus company wouldn't talk with us about the Browns' lawsuit. In court records, Taurus stated the allegations are insufficient to support any element of plaintiff's claims.
More Guns, More Lawsuits
The Taurus isn't the only handgun known for unintentional discharge. Police departments around the country use the Sig Sauer P320. But the website "Omaha Outdoors" issued an alert last August about the gun.
The announcement said, "We found in our testing, that the P320 will fire if it's dropped at a certain angle."
Riverdale, Georgia, police officers hadn't seen the video. Two months after that warning from Omaha Outdoors, Riverdale Officer Derrick Broughton answered a routine call and fell down outside a house.
His holstered P320 went off. Broughton wasn't injured.
At first, Chief Todd Spivey found the officer's story incredible.
"I've been around guns for a long time. I've never known a gun to go off accidentally unless someone touches the trigger,” he said.
The police department launched an investigation into the incident, even asking Broughton to take a lie-detector test. He passed. The entire investigation backed up Broughton's account.
But when the department sent the gun back to the company, it insisted there was nothing wrong with the weapon.
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That same gun is the subject of a lawsuit filed May 4 by Loudon County, Virginia, Sheriff Deputy Marcie Vadnais. She claimed her holstered P320 went off by itself.
The amended complaint filed this month explained what happened:
"On February 7, 2018, Vadnais, a seven-year veteran of the Loudoun County, Virginia, Sheriff's Department, was removing her fully-holstered P320 from her duty belt. In the process of removing the holster, the gun fired one round into her thigh, shattering her femur in several places and causing massive blood loss and other internal injuries. At no time during this incident did she touch the trigger.” That lawsuit is ongoing,
In January 2017, a Stamford, Connecticut, police officer accidentally dropped his P320.
"Upon impact with the ground, the pistol discharged, without the trigger being pulled,” the complaint says.
In court records, the gun maker said, "SIG denies any allegations that suggest that the P320 model pistol was subject to a recall or is otherwise defective." However, court records reveal the gun maker settled that case last month.
While the company didn't issue a recall, it did offer free "upgrades." The Riverdale Police Department took the offer.
No Forced Recalls
Gun makers aren't required to recall defective weapons in America. No agency tests the safety of firearms sold to the public. Jarred Brown's stepmom, a strong supporter of gun rights, says the omission is insane.
“I'm not so worried about my toaster. I'm really worried about my guns," Sonie Brown said.
Attorney David Selby, who filed the class action lawsuit against Taurus, says without government oversight, the only way to hold gun makers accountable for problem guns, is through the court system. And that has its limits.
"So without a recall, a lot of people with these guns may not know that they are dangerous?" Regan asked.
"That is correct," Selby answered.
Sonie and Bud Brown want the government to require safety testing and recalls to spare other families their grief.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan heard about what happened to the Brown family and is now pushing legislation that would give the Consumer Product Safety Commission the power to warn the public about problem guns and even force recalls. Dingell's husband, retired Rep. John Dingell, was part of the push that gave gun makers the exemption when the Consumer Product Safety act was first enacted.
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