SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS FOR HANDGUN OWNERSHIP

This is the next of a series of columns on how the law can impact your life. Each month we will focus on various aspects of the law relating to personal injuries, those that happen both on-the-job and otherwise, including mishaps which occur in driving vehicles, using products and receiving medical care. The column will also respond to legal questions relating to personal injury that are sent to us.

Healy Scanlon Law Firm is comprised of eight trial attorneys, two of whom are from Ireland. We are located downtown at 111 West Washington Street, Suite 1425, Chicago, Illinois 60602 (800-787-5431 or 312-324-0409). www.HealyLawFirm.com . The firm concentrates in the representation of injured victims of all types of accidents.

Readers are encouraged to call or write with questions concerning personal injury law.

Safety Considerations For Handgun Ownership

There has been much recent news about the use of deadly force and carrying concealed weapons. While this column will not attempt to address all the questions involved with these issues which have sometimes been emotional and polarizing, we will address some threshold issues involving the use of handguns and safety.

For certain security or protection purposes having a gun on person or immediately accessible is very important. Anything that is carried all the time is subject to damage and dropping. On at least three occasions, our office has represented police officers and users who were seriously injured by dropped or damaged handguns that discharged unexpectedly.

Second-hand Guns

Handguns are meant to be durable. The infrequent use means that often, there is no appreciable wear on moving parts on guns that are decades old. For this and other reasons there is a vigorous second-hand market for handguns. However, the repair history is often not known. Parts substitution or inept repair may result in guns functioning normally to the casual inspector, but being subject to accidental discharge because a part is worn or slightly mismatched to the gun. Having a gun thoroughly evaluated by a competent gunsmith is crucial for safety.

Proper Holster

For those who need an immediately accessible gun, a proper holster is essential. However, design and manufacturing defects can make them unsafe in use. Our office has been involved in cases where defective holster design caused accidental discharge. In one case, a sheriff's deputy was injured when he holstered his service weapon. He carried a Glock handgun which, rather than having a conventional safety lever, relies upon a secondary trigger mechanism. The holster was equipped with a retention strap that was narrow enough to enter the trigger guard on the gun, causing the gun to fire. The manufacturer was aware of the problem for approximately one year before the injury and had issued a recall of the holster. However, the manufacturer did not locate defective holsters in the field or contact owners. The case settled after the manufacturer's representative was deposed.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued warnings and there have been voluntary recalls of several holsters that, because of the design of retention straps or release buttons, can cause the handgun to unintentionally discharge. These defects usually injure the wearer of the holster, but pose a major and unforeseen danger to anyone in the area.

Drop-Fire

In another case, a police officer was involved in a case involving a "drop-fire" which occurs when a gun discharges when it is dropped. The officer stored his off-duty weapon, a Smith and Wesson .357, in a gym bag in his locker while he was on duty. When he took the bag out of his locker and put it on the floor, it discharged, striking him in the knee. Inspection of the gun that was bought used showed that the gun had been repaired and a part of the trigger mechanism was replaced with a slightly mismatched part. The shop that did the repair failed to test the gun to ensure that the substituted part did not pose a drop-fire risk. The case settled after expert depositions were taken.

Safety Must Be Primary Focus

There is no substitute for formal training in the use, carrying, care and maintenance of handguns to ensure safety. There is no question that even with careful handling and training, mishaps and unintended outcomes occur.

In deciding whether to purchase a handgun, a review of statistics may be enlightening. National statistics indicate that in 2009, the US had 31,347 gun deaths. Gunshot wounds are the third leading cause of death behind motor vehicle crashes and accidents. Carriers of handguns were 4.5 times more likely to be shot than unarmed persons. Having a gun in the home increases the murder risk 2.7 times greater than not owning one. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, only about 3.5 percent of homicides are committed by stranger home invaders.

Conclusion

When an individual chooses to own or carry a handgun, basic steps must be taken to ensure the safety of the owner and others. Proper training in the use, maintenance, storage and carrying of the gun is the first place to start. Selection of the appropriate gun and holster for the intended use with safety in mind is crucial. Also, careful consideration of the benefits weighed against the personal costs of gun ownership and use, should be undertaken.

By: Martin Healy, Jr.

David P. Huber