10-22-2001, 05:25 PM
Join Date: Dec 2000
Air Rifles In Line of Fire From Safety Chief
Outgoing Chairman Seeking a Recall
By Caroline E. Mayer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 20, 2001; Page E01
With less than two weeks left in her tenure as chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Ann Brown is aiming to take a parting shot at an American cultural icon, the Daisy air rifle.
Spurred by concerns that high-powered air rifles made by Daisy Manufacturing Co. are unsafe, Brown is aggressively pushing for a recall that could affect as many as 9 million rifles, industry officials estimated.
The recall would apply only to high-velocity rifles that are far more powerful than Daisy's Red Ryder model that many boys grew up with. However, gun industry officials said they feared any such action could lead to an even wider recall, probably of the 20 million high-velocity guns made by all manufacturers and perhaps of all BB guns, which number more than 100 million.
CPSC officials declined to discuss Brown's effort yesterday. But industry sources said the agency's staff is concerned about the gravity-loading features, the lack of any automatic safety mechanism and the silver color of the BB, similar to the color of the inside of the gun, which might lead users to think the gun isn't loaded when it is.
"The [safety defect] allegations the CPSC is looking at are not unique to the Daisy product or to high-velocity rifles," said Lawrence Keane, vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents manufacturers and ammunition suppliers. "The alleged defect pertains to virtually every single air rifle ever made."
Daisy officials declined to acknowledge whether the CPSC was investigating one of its products. But Aaron Locker, who has represented Daisy in previous suits, said the CPSC has looked at Daisy air rifles before and "determined these guns were safe and met industry standards." Keane made the same argument.
It is unclear whether Brown, a Democrat, has the support of the other two commissioners, Democrat Thomas Moore and Republican Mary Sheila Gall. Neither returned phone calls yesterday.
However, time is running short for Brown. A vote on the recall was scheduled for Thursday but was postponed at the request of another commissioner, industry sources said.
The three are now scheduled to meet Tuesday to consider the matter privately and then vote on it Oct. 30, one day before Brown leaves office.
The CPSC is barred by law from regulating guns, but it has looked at BB guns several times. BB guns are not considered firearms because they use air instead of explosive force to propel projectiles.
Three times the commission has rejected requests to regulate the high-powered air rifles. In 1996, it concluded a two-year investigation of the Daisy 880 model and found it was not defective.
Brown declined to discuss the issue yesterday. The proposed recall was first disclosed in the CPSC Monitor, a monthly publication of Consumer Alert, which calls itself a "market-oriented consumer group."
The recall proposal was prompted by a private lawsuit against Daisy by the family of a Pennsylvania boy who was permanently disabled in May 1999 after his best friend accidentally shot him in the head with a Daisy 856 model -- two days after the injured boy received the gun for his 16th birthday.
The company's marketing material warns that the model is not a toy and should be used only by those age 16 or older.
Daisy settled the suit earlier this year for ย million, according to news reports.
Last year the boy's lawyer, Shanin Specter, urged the CPSC to investigate the gun. "There is a propensity for BBs to become lodged in the magazine without the user knowing it," he said.
That's what happened to Tucker Mahoney and his friend, the lawyer said. They thought the gun was empty, shook it, heard no BBs and eventually fired at each other.
Specter said he is also concerned about the velocity of high-powered air rifles -- about 750 feet per second, compared with the Red Ryder model, which fires a BB at about 300 feet per second. "Over 350, a BB can penetrate the skin; over 650, it can penetrate the skull," he said.
Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company