Self-Defense and the Law: Eight Cases, Part 2 of 2

If you missed Part 1 of this article you can…

If you missed Part 1 of this article you can find it here.

Internal Locks

The industry movement toward internal locks has festered in the gun owners’ community much like helmet laws among motorcyclists. There is a natural American resistance to being told what to do in such matters. Many of us take it as an insult to our intelligence and our responsibility.

The locks come from state legislation in certain jurisdictions that demands them, and to some degree from a long chain of litigation that we can call collectively Case Five in which municipal governments have broadly sued the firearms industry with specious claims that their guns are not safe enough. The infamous agreement between Smith & Wesson’s old regime, and the Clinton Administration, is often cited as a case in point. Of course, that agreement became moot two Presidential terms ago, and the company that made it no longer owns S&W, and the executive who signed the agreement is long gone from the industry.

However, while such lawsuits have been thrown out of court right and left, some are still in progress and together they have cost the industry countless millions of dollars. This explains the trend toward internal locks in new firearms designs.

The day before the SHOT Show opened, we in the firearms media had the chance to test-fire the new Ruger LCR, mentioned above. Its ingenious new design incorporates an internal lock. Designer Joe Zaik of Ruger went out of his way to assure us that it is physically impossible for this particular design to engage itself without the shooter’s intent.

This is important, because there is an ongoing controversy among gun enthusiasts about the internal lock incorporated in Smith & Wesson revolvers. Not only does it subtly change the look of the gun in a way traditional S&W fans find offensive, but there have been a relatively small number of cases reported in which the guns have locked by themselves while shooting. I’ve personally documented a small number of these that occurred at the Manchester Indoor Firing Line in Manchester, NH, and at the Sand Burr Gun Ranch in Rochester, IN. In all cases, it involved very powerful ammunition being fired in very lightweight guns. I haven’t personally documented a case of it happening with an aluminum or steel frame Smith & Wesson revolver.

I’ve discussed this at length with Smith & Wesson personnel. Bear in mind that the current owner of S&W is a company that made its initial reputation manufacturing safety devices for handguns. Bear in mind too that to be cost-effective, a manufacturing organization can’t build to one standard of construction for a few states, and another standard for the rest of the US market. Recognizing that, we can understand why Executive A told me recently that there was very strong sentiment within the Smith & Wesson company to abandon the internal lock…and why Executive B told me at the SHOT Show that it just wasn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. (Since both of those executives want to keep their jobs, I won’t name them here.)

Thus, S&W models  such as the iconic Model 58 fixed sight .41 Magnum re-produced for the first time in something like 30 years, comes with the controversial lock. However, for those adamantly opposed to internal locks on their S&Ws, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

S&W recently produced a short run of Centennial Airweight revolvers with no such lock They sold out immediately. However, they were put together because S&W had a stock of the old style frames remaining, or so I’m told. It’s unlikely that many more are available.

Still, the somewhat recent and successful introduction of the Model 40-1 Classic, the old steel-frame Centennial complete with “lemon-squeezer” grip safety. They were superbly made revolvers (I bought one myself), and because they came with the additional safety lever on the backstrap, S&W felt comfortable producing them without the internal lock. They are still in the catalog, and for 2009, S&W has added the Model 42-1, which is the same “lemon-squeezer hammerless” .38 Special in aluminum frame Airweight configuration.

It is significant that S&W only felt comfortable doing away with the internal revolver lock in models that had an additional safety device…and were double action only designs.

The internal lock is also an option with the Military & Police series of S&W semiautomatics, and has been so virtually since the M&P auto’s introduction. I for one think that this is all to the good. The consumer can simply order the gun without the internal lock, or look on the dealer’s shelves to find a specimen so configured.

In a similar vein, consider the safety device known as a magazine disconnector, which prevents the pistol from discharging the round in its firing chamber if the magazine is not in the gun. These devices have been around since the early 20th Century, and they have been the focus of numerous lawsuits.

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