As More Carry Guns, Some Fire Accidentally

Derringers made by Cobra Enterprises of Utah Inc. have been named in at least 15 lawsuits by people who allege that flaws in the guns caused injuries or death.

More Americans are carrying concealed handguns, but some of these small pistols are coming under scrutiny for accidentally shooting their owners, the Wall Street Journal reports. Travis Barthel, a 34-year-old elementary school teacher from South Dakota, set down his coat with a pistol made by Cobra Enterprises of Utah Inc. in a pocket. The gun fired and hit him in the stomach, sending him to the hospital, where it took two surgeries and 11 pints of blood to save his life. Cobra says its guns are safe if used properly. Barthel disagrees, saying, “A gun should never fire unless the trigger is pulled.” The number of Americans with concealed-carry permits soared to 17.2 million this year, almost four times the number in 2007, says the Crime Prevention Research Center, and 12 states now allow gun possession without a permit.

Utah-based Cobra’s small guns, some called derringers, are easy to conceal and among the cheapest available, selling for as little as $100. Cobra has also been sued at least 15 times in the past decade by people who allege that flaws in its guns caused injuries or death. The company’s lawyers have argued in court filings that the guns are safe when used properly, blaming the injuries on misuse by owners. In the owner’s manual, Cobra warns against carrying a loaded derringer and says to keep the manual safety on. Another firm, Taurus International Manufacturing Inc. in 2016 agreed to repair or replace nearly one million pistols to settle a class-action lawsuit over handguns that fired inadvertently when dropped. Cobra traces its origins to Davis Industries, one of six Los Angeles-area gun manufacturers that churned out millions of cheap handguns in the 1980s and 1990s. They were often called “Saturday Night Specials,” a pejorative nickname that conveyed a cheap throwaway gun used by criminals.