Armorer Liability: Minimizing Risk and Exposure
By: Chad Mercer
There is a lot of confusion about liability, people hear that word and immediately associate it with criminal or civil. I am going to parse some words and offer some guidance so you know what my concerns are.
Granted, I worked in a Federal Armory and had lots of established policy and a huge budget compared to what the average department has. However, it was a very litigious agency and we worked closely with the FBI and BATFE. So my scope of experience is a bit broader than most. These aren’t two cents, these are two quarters.
What I want to be abundantly clear about is this boils down to minimizing two things; risk and exposure.
By Risk, this is about Officer/Agent survivability (WINNING THE GUNFIGHT OF THEIR LIFE). As an gunsmith/armorer that is a PRIORITY of our service. We do not cut corners. We provide due diligence to insure that the duty weapon and its accessories are NOT the weak link in the fight.
A gunsmith/armorer knows that the second he takes possession or more specifically performs work on a firearm (custody), he assumes liability. This is why gunsmiths and armorers maintain gun books where they record all pertinent info regarding the firearm, status, serviceability and procedures he performed.
On a related note, every manufacturers warranty has clauses that state alterations can and will void their warranty. In another thread I mentioned myInstructors liability insurance. When I told them that I intended to teach armorers (zero rounds fired) my application jumped from 5 pages to 15. That is due to LIABILITY in performing armorer level maintenance on firearms. Underwriters made that determination…
I understand that departments have limited budgets and administrators rarely “get it”. There is a ton of grey area where LE is concerned as far as acquisitions and maintenance. I know a lot of dept’s leave it up to the officer to provide their own carbines. How awesome is that? You can carry a Gucci Hodge&Kolt423 carbine, but your brother has the same latitude to have a Frankengun 7″ SBR. Realize that both of you have assumed the liability, meaning all responsibility is on you.
My worst fear was that an Agent might lose their life because of my mistake. If a Cop calls in “shots fired” and responding officers find him dead on the side of the road, gun in hand. That gun will be examined. If it is unserviceable and is determined to have been the “maintainers” fault, that is a heavy cross to bear.
If your Dept has an Armorer, use them. If your Dept doesn’t, find and authorized and Manufacturer Certified Armorer to perform maintenance and alterations.
Sure ARs and Glocks are lego’s. It doesn’t matter.
A big learning moment occurred for some of my guys several years ago. They got called in to rapidly deploy for an OCONUS mission (it was a joint training exercise in Florida). This stud was on the tarmac at Dulles, ready to get on a C17. He loaded his M4 and it wouldn’t go on safe. I got the frantic call at the end of the day and kept the shop open. This shooter had installed his own Tango Down grip and put the USGI screw in, which protruded too far into the receiver, blocking the trigger. I fixed it and sent him on his way with a word of warning. “I’m here for you, do NOT expose yourself, your team, and your country like this ever again. Your SAC will be getting an email today.” Which he did. Had that been a real call out, without wiggle room for a fix, all liability would have been on him.
Does this transcend to civilian guns? Some of it does. Anyone who does work on your gun assumes the liability. As far as legality that is not the context you should really be focused on. Its about making sure your weapon is ready for the fight of your life. There are ways to learn, don’t learn on the gun you are going to depend on.
As a guide, drop in mods aren’t a big deal as long as it is a quality component. I know a lot of guys polish shit. I do not. Just shoot the gun more and let it lap itself.
Again, this isn’t about “will I go to jail?” That is three jumps ahead. This is about covering your ass.