Muzzleloading Tragedy

By Randy Wakeman


Firearms are generally as safe as you allow them to be. Modern metallurgy, modern manufacturing techniques, generally known and recognized principles of firearms design and manufacture developed and well-documented over the years have all played a role in today’s firearms being extremely safe to use as directed. However, there are a couple of tragic exceptions to this rule.

On December 8, 2008, I received an unsolicited e-mail from eye-witness Erik Zenger, which states in part:

"I am currently sitting in a courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa listening to the CVA attorneys trying to defend the safety of their guns . . . The most recent [lawsuit] was filed in federal court on November 10. Apparently the guy lost an eye and suffered brain damage. There needs to be national attention brought to this issue. How can we do this? Please let me know what we can do."

Further, on December 9, 2008, Erik Zenger reported:

What I heard yesterday was this . . ..

  1. One out of every 25 barrels was tested with a go - no go tool to see if the threads for the breach plug are the right size. That's a mere 4%.
  2. Every gun that left the factory for the USA has a proof stamp on it, even though they have not been to the proof house. The Dikar guy said that they have no documentation from the proof house authorizing them to do this, he had just been told by "someone" at Dikar (he could not remember who it was) to just go ahead and put a proof mark on each barrel. If a Dikar barrel is to be sold in Europe (which they have not been for about four years) they ALL need to go through proof testing
  3. Four barrels a month are sent to the proof house to be pressure tested. They fire the barrel with a load that is equal to twice that which is recommended. These are not randomly selected barrels, they just grab four consecutive out of a batch. That is four total for all the different barrels they make.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that issues with the Ford Pinto, Firestone Tires and space shuttle ‘O’ rings were resolved. Though not common, problems do occur that take not just months, but often many years to come to light. When egregious and obvious consumer safety issues reveal themselves, it is the responsibility of any journalist to bring those issues to the attention of the public. Though hardly a financially rewarding thing to do, in fact it often has the result of being an uncomfortable, perhaps perilous, career move. Nevertheless, defective firearms are bad for the industry, bad for the sport and bad for those cherish the Second Amendment. The big brown spot of recklessness and negligence that permeates one company can unfairly taint and stain an entire industry, an industry well known for transparency, candidness and honesty: our firearms industry.

The story begins not "once upon a time," but in the mid-1990’s. In an industry generally flat in sales, muzzleloading firearms experienced unprecedented growth, a trend that has continued for some twenty years. Once relegated to reenactments and those that find comfort and history in the smoke and the smell, the modern inline muzzleloading industry was born thanks to the efforts of pioneers like Tony Knight, Doc White and Del Ramsey. No longer impractical and unreliable, modern muzzleloading, although restricted to one fairly close range shot in the field, sprang to life. People loved it and still do. I do. The opening up of dedicated muzzleloading seasons gave this appealing new sport broad appeal. However, along with those that prospered honestly and fairly by their hard work came a foreign company with questionable scruples.

Most people today still don’t know the name of this company. The company is Spanish, its name is Dikar. Specifically, it is Dikar S. Coop. Still, that likely rings a bell with no one. More commonly known as “CVA Brand” muzzleloaders, Dikar was and is the manufacturer.

We might all have slightly different visions of quality control, but what do you think of an inline muzzleloading company that was forced to recall all inline muzzleloaders that it made for two consecutive years? It is a voluntary recall, but you will have great trouble naming any company in the world that recalled all similar items manufactured, not for a week or a month, but for two full years. Not even Firestone did that and I can think of no muzzleloading company that has ever done so, other than CVA with all inline muzzleloading rifles it sold during 1995-1996.

As it turns out, these CVA muzzleloaders would be considered illicit firearms in a significant portion of the modern world. To sell or possess one in England, Germany, Italy, France, Chile, or even the country where they are manufactured, Spain, would be illegal. Ditto in Finland, Belgium, Russia, Slovakia and Hungary. Most people should be curious as to why; the reason is consumer safety. The C.I.P. mandates that firearms be proofed, all firearms, specifically including muzzleloaders, before they can be sold to consumers. Not only must they be proofed, but they must be proofed by an accredited C.I.P. proofhouse. That is a matter of international law, a law intended to protect consumers from inadequately made firearms.

“But wait!” you might think. “I’ve seen (or perhaps owned) CVA brand muzzleloaders and they have an official proof mark stamped on them. Surely, they are proofed? They have got to be!”

The answer, as it turns out, is a true stunner. Yes, they are stamped with proof marks. However, none of them are so much as fired, not even with a standard load, much less the C.I.P. designated proof load, before they arrive in the United States, or before they are sold to the unknowing consumer. How and why could this be?

As it turns out, this is something that the United States does not look at. Muzzleloaders in the United States are “Gun Control Act of 1968 exempt” arms, meaning the BATFE does not control or enforce their sale like other firearms that require Form 4473. Nor is there any reason for the BATFE to get involved, as muzzleloaders are less likely to be used in crime than steak knives. Steak knives give you more “shots” and obviously are a heck of a lot easier to conceal.

What about U.S. standards? Well, in the United States, firearms standards have been administered by SAAMI, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer’s Institute.

“The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute is a trade association of the nation’s leading manufacturers of sporting firearms and ammunition. Founded in 1926 at the request of the federal government, SAAMI has been actively involved in the publication of industry standards, coordination of technical data and the promotion of safe and responsible firearms use. SAAMI currently publishes more than 700 standards related to firearm and ammunition quality and safety.”

SAAMI is, as they define themselves, a trade association. SAAMI has done a very good job in promoting firearms safety. Firearms in the United States have fewer accidents every year. In the home, accidental firearm fatalities have been reduced by 50% between 1992 and 2002, from 1,000 to 500 annually. The National Safety Council ranks firearm accidents among the lowest of all causes of unintentional deaths. Again, as muzzleloaders are not Form 4473 arms, there are few to no unique muzzleloading standards from SAAMI.

That essentially covers the “how,” but what about the “why?” The why part is a very simple. Quality control costs money, quality materials cost money, proper testing costs money. Proofing firearms cost money. Sell a cheap product and advertise long enough, it gets accepted by some and profits accrue.

Their ads, claiming the “only real difference” a couple hundred dollars versus Thompson and Knight could not possibly be more fraudulent, more misleading, or more wrong. Some of us are ignorant and apathetic; some of us don’t know or don’t care.

Some readers may never have heard of Erik Zenger. Well, here is part of an e-mail he sent to me:

“As I mentioned before I was injured by the Prohunter version of CVA rifle that was included in the recall that CVA initiated in 1997. The recall covered all Prohunter rifles that had been manufactured in 1995 and 1996. I purchased my CVA rifle in 1999 at a local sporting good store. It was a rifle that had been a trade-in, but which was brand new and never shot. I was sighting in my rifle on November 4, 2001 with my brother. My brother had shot the gun seven times and handed it to me saying that his shoulder was getting sore and that it was my turn. It was my first shot that went terribly wrong. It was determined later by several specialists that two separate, but related, manufacturer defects ultimately resulted in not only my gun failing, but the many others that these specialists had investigated. These two defects were 1) the steel the barrels were made of was substandard and 2) the scope mounting holes were drilled too deep. This ultimately caused the barrel to split around the circumference at the point of these holes. In my gun's case, the part that blew out the back of the gun was actually the last 1.5 inches of the barrel (which included the breech plug), then of course the bolt mechanism, the spring and the plastic end cap at the back of the gun. I have the written reports about the defects from one of the specialists that I would be more than happy to forward to you.”

I can’t tell you exactly how many failures occurred with the 1990’s versions of CVA product. Certainly, CVA knows what has been reported to them, how often they have settled out of court like in the case of Erik Zenger. Checks all have numbers on them. However, CVA's Company policy is not to discuss legal matters.

CVA brand is now used by BPI, Blackpowder Products Inc., a Georgia corporation. Reportly, in 2003, all shares of stock of BPI were purchased by Dikar. Dikar, once the exclusive manufacturer for CVA brand, is clearly the parent company. They are the same manufacturer that perpetrated the old CVA mess.

In 2002, Thompson/Center Arms hit a home run with the introduction of its Omega, a simple, durable, sealed, drop-action muzzleloader. For several years after its introduction, T/C was above capacity and couldn’t fill all the orders. Dikar seized the opportunity for more sales. It wasn’t long before a copy of the Thompson Omega appeared under the CVA brand made by Dikar, the CVA Kodiak.

I was deposed earlier this year as an expert witness in the CVA Kodiak injury case of a Mr. Mark Kohn. The case settled, out of court, a very short while after my partial deposition of many hours. Most folks reading this have never heard of Mark Kohn. Dr. Block, Consulting Metallurgical Engineer, found that among other things, “The subject BPI / CVA Kodiak rifle was defective and unreasonably dangerous.” The scope mounting holes were drilled too deep.

(Although they settled the case out of court to avoid the legal expense of a defense, CVA authorities claim that this rifle failed because the shooter was using smokeless powder for which it was not designed. -Editor.)

These are names and lives adversely affected. Just because Erik Zenger was injured by a CVA inline, Jimmy Dial was injured by a CVA inline, Troy Cashdollar was injured by a CVA inline, Eliot Best was injured by a CVA inline, Mark Kohn was injured by a CVA inline and several others have been injured by CVA inlines does not automatically mean that all shooters will be.

From what I’ve seen, the injuries that have occured are needless. There is no question in my mind that all muzzleloaders made with extruded barrels should be removed from the marketplace and it can’t happen too soon. Your friends and neighbors are at risk, a very clear and present danger. (According to CEO Dudley McGarity, CVA muzzleloaders now use Bergara Barrels drilled from solid steel bar stock. -Editor.)

The CIP needs to step up and so does SAAMI. So do gunshops and retailers that care about the well-being of their customers. So do we all. We don’t create mismanufactured muzzleloaders, misrepresented muzzleloaders, or clearly hazardous muzzleloaders. We just identify them.

So, to Erik Zenger, yes, we can make a difference. An educated consumer makes all the difference in the world. According to the CIP, to put a proof-mark on a muzzleloader that has never been fired with a proof load--or any load--is totally unacceptable. I have personally examined CVA muzzleloaders with a variety of defects, including mismachined, bell-mouthed barrels apt to blow-out breechplugs.

Erik, what you have heard and reported should send lightning bolts of shocked disbelief through the spines of CVA owners. To put a proof mark on a barrel that has never been proofed, never so much has been fired, is a total misrepresentation of product. You’ve made the menace of the recalled 1995-1996 CVA inline muzzleloaders quite clear.

It isn’t plausible that properly proofed barrels regularly fail; that is what the international standards of proof are all about. Misrepresenting your product is not necessarily illegal. It is damnable, of course, but not necessarily illegal. One can only hope that the CIP, SAAMI, quality firearms manufacturers and the major retailers of this nation would step up to the plate to protect our sport, our industry and the well-being of innocent consumers.

It is more than a bit sinister that so many items in daily use are tested prior to sale: from condoms to fire hose to cheap propane tanks. Yet, a consumer-directed muzzleloader that needs to contain 25,000 PSI of hot gas just a few inches away from our faces is not fired at all prior to sale, much less properly-proof tested. Not even a representative sampling of them are tested. All this, despite a internationally recognized proof mark stamped on the barrel that represents that all of the barrels are proof-tested. It just adds injury to insult.

Erik, you’ve asked me, “Something has to be done. There needs to be national attention brought to this issue...how can we do this? Please let me know what we can do.” Yes, Eric, I understand; you might think it is a daunting task.

We can take a small measure of comfort in the First Amendment. It does not give us license to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater, that is, unless the theater really is on fire. Well, in my opinion, the CVA theater is a real barn-burner. We can also find solace that the truth is an absolute defense against libel. The truth may have come a bit too late to prevent injury to you, to Mark Kohn, to Troy Cashdollar, to Jimmy Dial, to Eliot Best, or to Mr. Tommy Delvis, who just sent me several photographs of his CVA Optima that blew up with, according to Tommy, 90 grains of Pyrodex RS powder behind a 300 grain saboted bullet.

We have all kinds of serious questions and issues. According to Marc Pirlot, director of the C.I.P, it is not permissible for a manufacturer to apply a proof mark to a firearm that has never been fired. Based on what you have heard and reported, Erik, that is exactly the case. So now what? (According to CVA's Dudley McGarity, Dikar ceased stamping fraudulent proof marks on their barrels sometime in 2006. -Editor)

The C.I.P. apparently failed to control Dikar / CVA proofing, and has no mechanism in place to enforce it. Nor has the C.I.P warned consumers. CVA, based on your report, has failed to warn anyone about the complete misrepresentation of the proof marks they applied to their guns. I’m not aware of CVA informing consumers that proof marks were applied to unproofed guns, are you?

This also casts a rather chilling shadow both on the C.I.P.’s ability to enforce and implement its own standards and the veracity of the Spanish House of Eibar Proof itself. How could the House of Eibar be blind to the use of their proof marks in their own country? Erik, you’ve heard that out of all the firearms CVA makes, just “four barrels a month” are sent to the proof house. I’m wondering for what purpose. It is mystifying that apparently the House of Eibar proof facility and the CIP are not equally mystified at what purpose four barrels a month could possibly serve? It certainly has the appearance of impropriety.

As you might know, Erik, I live in Illinois. Our last governor, George Ryan, is now in Federal Prison. Our current governor, Milorad R. Blagojevich, is someone you can’t avoid hearing about as I write these words. On December 9, 2008, Blagojevich was arrested by FBI agents and charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and with solicitation of bribery. The Justice Dept. complaint alleges that the governor conspired to commit several pay-to-play schemes, including attempting to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated US Senate seat to the highest bidder. One can argue that that the Spanish system of government is somehow immune from the issues that have recently and currently plagued Illinois, but I’m not buying it. It would be naďve to assume so.

We have done our job, Erik, as best we can. As journalists and writers, we cab forthrightly report on what we have witnessed. We can further express our opinions, concerns and the reasons for them. That’s what we have done here. We can ask the tough questions, and we can demand answers. We can expect the major players in our industry to wake up, get involved and do what is reasonable to protect the innocent consumer. That is what is being asked here.

Now, it is up the CIP, SAAMI / ANSI, the CPSC, the firearms industry and the sporting goods distributors and retailers around the United States to do their respective jobs. It looks like there is a lot of cleaning up to do.


CVA VOLUNTARY RECALL NOTICE:

In August 1997 CVA implemented a Voluntary Recall of In-Line rifle models with serial numbers ending in -95 and -96. If you have a CVA In-Line model with such a serial number, DO NOT USE OR ALLOW ANYONE ELSE TO USE THE GUN. If you have one of these rifles, please call CVA immediately at 770-449-4687 for complete details and a free replacement gun. Example serial numbers: 61-13-XXXXXX-95 or 61-13-XXXXXX-96.

In May 1999 Blackpowder Products, Inc. purchased the assets of Connecticut Valley Arms, Inc. and now operates under the trade name of Connecticut Valley Arms and/or CVA. Any claims relating to the above described Voluntary Recall should be addressed to Connecticut Valley Arms, Inc., not Blackpowder Products, Inc. Blackpowder Products, Inc. assumes no liability for any products manufactured prior to January 1, 1998.




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Copyright 2009 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.



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