Glock markets its weapons as "safe action pistols." But internal company documents reviewed by BusinessWeek—and reported here for the first time—reveal that in the late 1990s, company employees in the U.S. expressed concern about the safe performance of the Glock 22, a model commonly used by American police officers.
If these documents had surfaced in injury lawsuits filed over the years against Glock, they could have created potentially serious liability trouble for the company, according to plaintiffs' lawyers. "Documents of this sort were requested in pretrial discovery by us and by lawyers in other cases," says Daniel G. Abel, an attorney who helped represent the city of New Orleans in an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit against the gun industry in the late 1990s. "These documents should have been disclosed in discovery. There is no excuse—no legitimate excuse—for their not being disclosed."
Glock's general counsel, Carlos Guevara, said in a written response: "Glock pistols are remarkably safe and reliable, historically and currently, and are of exceedingly high quality.…When involved in products liability cases, we respond to discovery requests following the rules of the jurisdiction, evidentiary rules and practices, and pursuant to the laws of the United States and orders of the courts."
Safety has long been a point of contention for Glock of Austria. Unlike most handguns, which have external on-off safeties, Glock pistols are equipped with internal mechanisms that prevent firing. These internal safeties are disengaged merely by depressing the trigger. The ability to fire immediately, without worrying about an external safety, is one feature Glock has stressed as an advantage when selling its guns, especially to police departments.
Skeptics see this feature in a different light. The Consumer Federation of America has cited the Glock's design as one reason the gun has been the subject of dozens of lawsuits filed after unintentional shootings, including a number by police officers. The company has won or confidentially settled most of these cases without acknowledging any liability.
Paul F. Jannuzzo, Glock's former top executive in the U.S., says in an interview that, overall, the company's pistols are as safe as comparable handguns—and more durable. "The one problem," he says, "was [the Glock] would go off sometimes when it wasn't supposed to."
Another problem that surfaced in the 1990s and persisted for years thereafter was occasional jamming, Jannuzzo says. In 1998 he and other Glock officials in the U.S. discovered guns that failed to fire properly. "These malfunctions were very difficult to clear and could not be cleared with the normal 'tap, rack' drill," stated a Feb. 12, 1998, memo from American employees to Glock founder and owner Gaston Glock entitled "Performance of G 22s." "Law enforcement officers see this type of stoppage as a serious failure and one which has life-threatening implications," the memo added. "If these were received by the FBI or DEA [both Glock customers], they would immediately suspend the contract and demand a retest or other action."
The memo described tests on eight sample guns that were fired more than 2,000 times in all. "In particular, we are concerned with the difference in the poor test results in the U.S., compared with the better results achieved in Austria," the memo told Gaston Glock. The company manufactures parts in Austria and assembles guns for the American market at a plant outside Atlanta.
Four days later, on Feb. 16, Jannuzzo followed up with a letter to Gaston Glock. Jannuzzo disputed the contention by company executives in Austria that the malfunctioning pistols needed a "breaking-in period," after which they would work properly. This notion "flies in the face of the Glock pistol's reputation as being the best shooting semi-automatic 'out of the box,'" Jannuzzo wrote.
In an interview, Jannuzzo adds: "It was a problem, and it was much more of a problem than they [executives in Austria] wanted to admit.…They never knew which guns were going to break."
Guevara, the Glock general counsel, disagreed: "Each pistol undergoes numerous quality control checks throughout the manufacturing and assembly process.…Additionally, the firearms industry is highly regulated in the United States (and internationally), and Glock fully complies with all rules and regulations with respect to every aspect of Glock's business, including sales."