Ronn TorossianRonn Torossian

Rifles work thanks to explosive force, but they’re not supposed to explode on their own. Recently one did, however, and that has Massachusetts-based Savage Arms heading to court.

The incident began during the first day of deer season, when avid hunter Ronald Hansen loaded his rifle, sighted a target and pulled the trigger. Instead of the target falling, however, the gun barrel exploded. The concussive force of the explosion sent Hansen falling backward onto the ground, and also caused damage to his hand, ear and face.

You might think it was a freak accident, or, maybe, Hansen just didn’t take good care of his firearms. But that may not be the case here: apparently, Savage Arms had been hearing complaints about this particular weapon having a stubborn tendency to crack, split or … explode.

Hansen also heard about these reports and hired his own attorneys. Now they’re headed to court, and the word is out on Savage’s allegedly shoddy equipment. Hansen’s is just one of multiple different lawsuits that all claim Savage “recklessly” continued to sell the muzzle loaders even though they allegedly explode on occasion.

Worse, with most of the Hansen explosions came permanent injuries: to date, three of those suits have settled out of court. This means there are probably more still coming. According to experts who looked at one gun that exploded back in 2009, the metal used in the weapon’s barrel was found to be “defective.” Hansen’s attorneys hired a similar expert who agreed with that assessment in his rifle’s case.

Despite multiple incidents and multiple payouts, Savage Arms continues to insist its weapons are safe “when used properly” and built according to industry standards. Essentially, then, their argument comes down to blaming the explosions on user error. They argue the operators overloaded the weapons by using incorrect powder or too many projectiles. Liability will be decided in court, but, for the time being, there’s not a lot protecting consumers outside the legal realm. And that’s something many consumers may not be aware of.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Kristen Rand, a legislative director for the Violence Policy Center, said, “It’s an example of an industry that can essentially do whatever they want and there’s no consequences other than being held accountable in a civil liability context …”

In this case, liability is something that has yet to be determined. Regardless of the outcome of this case, though, more consumers realize gun manufacturers are playing by different rules than manufacturers of other products. The more negative public relations attention this case gets, the more likely that will be to change.

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Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, one of America’s leading PR firms.