Honor Defense, a Georgia gunmaker dogged by complaints of faulty pistols, has been sued by a former police officer who claims one of its weapons malfunctioned and caused him serious injury.
In a lawsuit filed in Florida District Court, Ernest Huang, a retired New York City police officer, alleges that his still-holstered Honor Guard 9mm pistol fired when he accidentally dropped it. The misfired round sliced through Huang’s left leg, shattering the bone, before piercing the ceiling. Huang says the incident happened just a few feet away from his two young children and pregnant wife. His injuries may leave him permanently disabled.
Huang’s lawyers allege that Honor Defense was negligent in developing and selling a weapon that is not “drop safe,” shorthand for a firearm’s ability to withstand a fall without discharging. They argue that Honor Defense knew about widespread issues with its products for over a year but failed to take necessary action or adequately warn its customers.
“Honor Defense should have recalled the Honor Guard,” wrote Jenny Kim, who is representing Huang, in an emailed statement to the Trace. “[The gun] is not drop safe.”
Honor Defense, which did not respond to request for comment, has repeatedly noted that its handguns meet industry standards for drop safety. Those standards, however, are not enforced by any federal entity. Instead, they’re established by outside organizations like the industry-funded Sporting Arms Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI). It’s completely voluntary for gun companies to submit their products for testing.
Some critics have argued that the SAAMI’s assessments are inadequate to ensure gun owners’ safety. SAAMI’s tests, for example, do not evaluate firearms dropped at a 30 degree angle, which has been shown by independent reviewers to cause several models of pistols, including those made by Honor Defense and Sig Sauer, to discharge. Andrew Tuohy, a firearms writer who drop tested a Sig Sauer P320 pistol, told Guns.com in 2017 that the organizations creating safety standards “should come at this from a ‘worst case scenario’ mindset rather than the current mindset, which seems to have set extremely minimal standards.”
Honor Defense was founded in 2014 by Gary Ramey, the former vice president of sales and marketing for Beretta USA. The company specializes in subcompact pistols sold in the $300-$400 range. Besides complaints about the Honor Guard’s ability to fire when dropped, the model has received generally positive reviews.
Honor Defense is a privately held company, and does not disclose how many firearms it has sold to civilians. (The company manufactured 9,500 9mm pistols between 2016 and 2017, according to ATF data.) But according to the company’s website, several law enforcement agencies have approved the weapon for back-up or off-duty gun carry, including the Fresno Police Department in California and the Huntsville Police Department in Texas. Neither department returned a request for comment.
Huang’s lawsuit is not the first time Honor Defense has found itself accused of making unsafe weapons. In 2017, the company came under scrutiny in the gun community after Patrick Roberts, the founder of The Firearm Rack, published a YouTube video demonstrating how the Honor Guard pistol could fire if dropped or tapped by a rubber mallet.
In his video, Roberts said that he alerted Honor Defense to his concerns with their products months earlier, but was told by the editor of The Firearms Blog, his-then-employer, to stay silent on the matter. Roberts struck out on his own to tell his story. “For them to continue selling them, and pretending like there is nothing wrong is irresponsible,” Roberts said. “I certainly hope [Honor Defense] stand up and do the right thing.”
In a post on its company Facebook page, Honor Defense issued a statement in response to the videos. “Any firearm can discharge when dropped,” it read. “Like any user of a firearm, users of Honor Defense’s products must handle firearms in a safe manner.” In the comments section of the post, Honor Defense added, “no gun company can overcome Darwin.”
Ramey, the company’s president, doubled down during an appearance on Concealed Carry Podcast. “Let’s be honest, no firearm is drop safe,” Ramey said, adding that he was investigating the claims. “I don’t think anyone would get their favorite brand, pull the kids out into the driveway… and toss a gun in the middle.”
The company then released its own video showing an Honor Guard pistol repeatedly struck by a mallet but not discharging. Some commenters questioned the veracity of Honor Defense’s tests.
A month after Roberts’ video, Honor Defense offered a “voluntary upgrade,” to its pistols. On the upgrade page, the company stresses its products exceed drop test criteria, and that the upgrade will create “increased drop performance” beyond current safety standards.
“A discrete listing on their website for a ‘voluntary upgrade’ does not even come close to satisfying the standard of care owed by Honor Defense to its customers,” said Huang’s lawyer, Kim.
Such “upgrades” are common in the gun industry, which has a history of stopping just short of a full recall or an admission of responsibility for defective products.
In 2017 Sig Sauer announced a “voluntary upgrade” for its P320, a pistol that shares the Honor Guard’s chassis-based design. The P320, as it happened, also shared a similar issue of firing when dropped. Sig allegedly knew about the problem before selling 500,000 of the faulty pistols to the public. Again it was gun YouTubers who brought the issue to light. Three police officers later sued the company after being accidentally shot by the weapons.