The AR-15 platform is a weapon system well-known for its accessories and customizability. Be it paint jobs, picatinny rail attachments, or custom inner workings, you could spend all day looking at AR-15s and not see the exact same one twice. Whole kits are even sold to replace large portions of the guns at once, which seems like a good deal for shooters wanting to increase precision or calibrate beyond factory specifications. However, sometimes those third-party kits aren't put together as well as they should be, and that's never okay for something as exacting as a firearm. We recently learned about a recall of one such kit in which the included parts may not fit together as intended, creating a risk of misfire and injury.
Which Products Are Affected?
The affected product is from Battenfeld Technologies Incorporated (BTI), a parts manufacturer under the American Outdoor Brands umbrella that also owns the gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson.
According to BTI's release, the recalled product is their Military and Police (M&P) branded AR-15 Lower Parts Kit Complete. Pictured to the right as it would be found in a store, it is a complete set of parts needed to build an aftermarket lower receiver for an AR-15 rifle. The specific inventory number for the faulty parts kit is 110114.
BTI stressed that the recall does not affect complete M&P rifles built and directly distributed by Smith & Wesson despite both companies' ownership by American Outdoor Brands.
What's Wrong With The Product?
The recall notes that kits created and distributed before September 12 of this year "may have been supplied with an incorrect hammer." An integral part of a rifle's fire control group, the hammer is a highly-recognizable gun component. A trigger pull causes it to move forward and strike a bullet's primer, triggering the explosion that shoots the projectile from out of the bullet casing. Using the hammer is seldom as cool as it looks in old movies when cowboys fan it for a high-speed shootout, but the piece still has to function properly for the gun to fire right. The recall isn't clear about what makes this kit's hammer "incorrect;" perhaps it was machined wrong or the company put the hammer for another rifle assembly in the package by accident. The reasons the piece is incorrect, though, are largely irrelevant next to the consequences of putting it in.
Installing the kit's incorrect hammer could lead to functional problems with the weapon, said BTI, up to and including "unintended discharge," which is a pretty good euphemism for "potentially lethal misfires." Therein lies the reason to even talk about this thing instead of applauding BTI for cleaning up its mistake. We're already talking about a device that's meant to present real danger to anyone on the wrong end of it, but if it works right that danger is intentional. Nobody should want unpredictable elements packed into their precision killing machines.
How Big is the Problem?
BTI estimates the number of faulty kits to be around 4,700. That is supposedly a liberal estimate to help ensure that all the problematic kits are found, but the issue allegedly doesn't affect all of them.
In terms of their manufacturing and distribution window (the time period in which the kits were actually created and sent to retailers for purchase), the company only says that the kits were distributed "prior to September 12, 2017," when the defect was presumably noticed. Until that time they were sold online and through various sporting-goods outlets like Turner's Outdoorsman and Cabela's, meaning they likely cannot be traced to any specific region of the country.
Roughly 4,700 kits circulating through a population of millions of shooting and hunting enthusiasts doesn't seem terrible, and as of yet there haven't been any reports of injury or death related to this problem, but even one injury or casualty caused by negligence is one too many.
What Can Be Done About The Issue?
Unsurprisingly, BTI's first and foremost suggestion for anyone using an AR-15 with a lower receiver built from this kit is to stop using that rifle. That's as much advice as the formal recall offers--discontinuing use until a replacement hammer can be sent--but several gun blogs covering the problem suggest going the full Monty: Unload the rifle, disassemble it, and put it somewhere safe with the safety engaged.
After doing that, you can contact BTI at (877) 416-5167 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up the return of your kit and get a replacement hammer sent to you.
So What Does This Mean?
With due respect to BTI, this really shouldn't have been necessary in the first place. Accidents happen, of course; I would have far less to write about if they didn't. But accidents vary widely in the harm they cause; there's a big difference between, say, calling a friend the wrong name and making a product with a potentially-lethal defect. If you're going to make parts for a precision instrument made for a lethal purpose, those parts had better fit properly. An "incorrect" hammer, be it small or misshapen or even intended for another weapon platform, is a clear risk to trusting consumers.
Official recalls like this generally stem from negligence somewhere during the manufacturing process. Of course nobody meant to churn out or package faulty parts, but it's important to think of it more in terms of its results than its intent. If someone is gravely injured or even killed by a misfiring AR-15 built with parts from this kit, it will not be enough for BTI to shrug and say "We didn't mean to."
I also want to restate something I said before with slightly different emphasis: There have been no reported incidents specifically related to the kits. Weapon misfires happen all the time, though, and it's hard to say whether BTI's product had anything to do with any of them. Think of it this way: How many casualties and injuries were suffered by drivers before General Motor's ignition switch fiasco first came to light? How many of them were blamed for losing control of their vehicles, or found some other explanation for the problem? It could be that someone injured by an AR-15 built with a BTI kit simply didn't know why the weapon misfired.
We've seen worse gun recalls over the past few months, but that doesn't let this manufacturer off the hook for negligently putting an unsafe product out on the market. I hope nobody's been hurt by the hammer malfunctions the recall is meant to address, but anyone injured this way in the recent past may want to take a moment to recall what happened and, if necessary, investigate their legal options.