Muzzleloading Tragedy: the CVA Menace

(Opinion by Randy Wakeman)

Firearms, as a generality, are as safe as you allow them to be. Modern metallurgy, modern manufacturing techniques, generally known and recognized principles of firearms design and manufacture developed and well-documented over the years have all played a role in today's firearms being extremely safe to use as directed. However, there are a couple of sad, tragic exceptions to this rule.

On December 8, 2008, I received an unsolicited e-mail from eye-witness Erik Zenger, which states in part:


I am currently sitting in a courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa listening to the CVA attorneys trying to defend the safety of their guns. I am sick to my stomach over the blatant lies and disregard for human life and safety. It has come to my attention that it is not just tens of people hurt by their guns like they had told me-- but its like 300 or more.....the most recent was filed in federal court on November 10. Apparently the guy lost an eye and suffered brain damage.

Something has to be done. There needs to be national attention brought to this can we do this? Please let me know what we can do.

Further, on December 9, 2008, Erik Zenger reported:

"What I heard yesterday was this.....

1) 1 out of every 25 barrels is tested with a go - no go tool to see if the threads for the breach plug are the right size....thats a mere 4%.

2) Every gun that leaves the factory for the USA has a proof stamp on it, even though they have not been to the proof house. The Dikar guy said that they have no documentation from the proof house authorizing them to do this, he had just been told by "someone" at Dikar (he could not remember who it was) to just go ahead and put a proof mark on each barrel. If a Dikar barrel is to be sold in Europe (which they have not been for about 4 years) they ALL need to go through proof testing.

3) 4 barrels a month are sent to the proof house to be pressure tested. They fire the barrel with a load that is equal to 2 times that which is recommended. These are not randomly selected barrels they just grab 4 consecutive out of a batch. And that is 4 total for all the different barrels they make."

It wasn't all that long ago that issues with the Ford Pinto were finally fleshed out, "Firestone Tires," and space shuttle 'O' rings. Though not common, problems do occur even in this modern information age that take not just months, but often many years to come to light. When egregious and obvious consumer safety issues reveal themselves, it is the responsibility of any journalist, or those aspiring to become journalists, to bring those issues to the attention of the public. Though hardly a financially rewarding thing to do, in fact it has the common result of being an extremely uncomfortable, perhaps perilous career move. Nevertheless, defective firearms are bad for the industry, bad for the sport, and bad for those cherish the Second Amendment. The big brown spot of recklessness, negligence, and greed that permeates one company can unfairly taint and stain an entire industry: an industry known for transparency, candidness, and honesty: our firearms industry.

The story begins not once upon a time, but fairly recently-- that being the mid-1990's. In an industry generally flat in sales and growth, the firearms industry, muzzleloading firearms experienced unprecedented growth-a trend that has continued for some twenty years. Once relegated to reenactments and those that find comfort and history in the smoke and the smell, the modern inline muzzleloading industry was born . . . thanks to the efforts of those pioneers like Tony Knight, Doc White, and Del Ramsey. No longer impractical and unreliable, modern muzzleloading though restricted to one fairly close range shot in the field, sprang to life. People loved it, and still do. I do. The opening up of dedicated muzzleloading seasons gave this appealing new sport broad appeal. But, along with those that prospered (or not) honestly and fairly by their hard work came a foreign company with no scruples, no concept of consumer safety, no visible effort except to make some fast, smarmy American dollars regardless of the consequences to the public.

Most people today still don't know the name of this company, or the long sordid history they have written for themselves. The company is Spanish, its name is Dikar. Specifically, it is Dikar S. Coop. Still, that likely rings a bell with no one. More commonly known as "CVA Brand" muzzleloaders, Dikar was and is the manufacturer.

We might all have slightly different visions of "quality control," but what do you think of an inline muzzleloading company that was forced to recall all inline muzzleloaders that it made for two full, consecutive years? Characterize it as a "voluntary" recall if you will, but you will have great trouble naming any company in the world that recalled all similar items manufactured not for a week or a month, but for two full years. Not even Firestone did that, and I can think of no muzzleloading company that has ever done so, other than CVA with all inline muzzleloading rifles it sold from 1995-1996.

As it turns out, these CVA muzzleloaders are considered illicit, illegal firearms thoughout a large portion of the modern world. To sell or possess one in England, Germany, Italy, France, Chile, or even the country where they are manufactured, Spain, is illegal. They are illegal, illicit firearms in Finland, Belgium and even Russia. They are also illegal arms in Slovakia and Hungary. Most people should be curious as to why; the reason is consumer safety. The C.I.P. mandates that firearms be proofed, all firearms, specifically including muzzleloaders, before they can be sold to consumers, or any civilians for that matter. Not only must they be proofed, but they must be proofed by an accredited C.I.P. proofhouse. That is a matter of international law, a law that protects the consumer from fraudulently or inadequately made firearms.

"But wait!" you might think. "I've seen (or perhaps owned) CVA brand muzzleloaders, and they have an official proof mark stamped on them. Surely, they are proofed? They have got to be!" The true answer, as it turns out, is a true stunner. Yes, they are intentionally stamped with proof marks. But none of them are so much as fired, not even with a "standard" load, much less the C.I.P. designated proof load before they arrive in the United States, or before they are sold to the innocent, unknowing consumer that might be you, or might be me. Lord have mercy, how and why could this be?

As it turns out, this is something that the United States does not look at. Muzzleloaders in the United States are "Gun Control Act of 1968 exempt" arms, meaning the BATFE does control or enforce their sale like other firearms that require Form 4473. Nor is there any reason for the BATFE to get involved; as muzzleloaders are less likely to be used in crime than steak knives. Steak knives give you more "shots," and obviously are a heck of a lot easier to conceal. Bow and arrows make a lot less noise.

But what about U.S. standards? Well, in the United States, firearms standards have been administered by SAAMI, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer's Institute. "The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute is a trade association of the nation's leading manufacturers of sporting firearms and ammunition. Founded in 1926 at the request of the federal government, SAAMI has been actively involved in the publication of industry standards, coordination of technical data and the promotion of safe and responsible firearms use. SAAMI currently publishes more than 700 standards
related to firearm and ammunition quality and safety.

However, SAAMI is, as they define themselves, a trade association. SAAMI has done a very good job in promoting firearms safety. Firearms in the United States have fewer accidents every year. In the home, accidental firearm fatalities have been reduced by 50% between 1992 and 2002, from 1,000 to 500 annually. The National Safety Council ranks firearm accidents among the lowest of all causes of unintentional deaths. CVA / DIKAR is not a SAAMI member, so they need not follow SAAMI guidelines. Again, as muzzleloaders are not "form 4473" arms-there are few to none unique muzzleloading standards from SAAMI.

Imported muzzleloaders from CVA have slipped beneath the radar. The BATFE doesn't care, SAAMI has no jurisdiction, and fraudulent, illicit nature of Dikar / CVA product cannot easily be reported. What should a concerned firearms owner do, call Spain?

That essentially covers the "how," but what about the "why?" The "why" part is a very simple one, particularly if you are morally bankrupt Spanish company seeking to relieve Americans of American dollars. Quality control costs money, quality materials cost money, proper testing costs money. Proofing firearms costs money. Put out the cheapest thing you can possibly slap together, ignore both international standards and industry standards, and you can cash in. Sell a cheap product for a high margin, and you have enough advertising dollars to misrepresent your product. Tell your lie long enough and loud enough, it gets accepted by some. CVA ads that proclaim themselves as "America's Best-Built Muzzleloader" are a shining, sordid example for us. They aren't American, they sure aren't the best built-- in fact, they are so bad they would be considered illegal, illicit arms throughout Russia, Chile, Slovakia, and even Spain. They don't sell CVA stuff there at all, opting for the easier American green.

So, trying to make some cash on the backs of Tony Knight and Thompson Center Arms is exactly what they have done. Their ads, claiming the "only real difference" a couple hundred dollars versus Thompson and Knight could not possibly be more fraudulent, more misleading, or more wrong. Some of us are ignorant and apathetic; some of us just don't know and don't care.

Some readers may never have heard of Erik Zenger. Well, here is part of an e-mail he sent to me:

"As I mentioned before I was injured by the Prohunter version of CVA rifle that was included in the recall that CVA initiated in 1997. The recall covered all Prohunter rifles that had been manufactured in 1995 and 1996. I purchased my CVA rifle in 1999 at a local sporting good store. It was a rifle that had been a trade-in, but which was brand new and never shot. I was sighting in my rifle on November 4, 2001 with my brother. My brother had shot the gun 7 times and handed it to me saying that his shoulder was getting sore and that it was my turn. It was my first shot which went terribly wrong. It was determined later by several specialists that 2 separate, but related manufacturer defects, ultimately resulted in not only my gun failing, but the many others that these specialists had investigated. These two defects were 1) the steel the barrels were made of was substandard and 2) the pre-drilled scope mounting holes were drilled too deep. This ultimately caused the barrel to split around the circumference at the point of these holes. In my guns case, the part that blew out the back of the gun was actually the last 1.5 inches of the barrel (which included the breech plug), then of course the bolt mechanism, the spring and the plastic end cap at the back of the gun. I have the written reports about the defects from one of the specialists that I would be more than happy to forward on to you."

I can't tell you exactly how many failures occurred with the 1990's versions of CVA product. Certainly, CVA knows what has been reported to them, how often they have settled out of court like in the case of Erik Zenger. Checks all have numbers on them. But, CVA isn't talking. It was apparently enough to initiate the belated "voluntary" recall, and widespread enough to force CVA into bankruptcy hearings. That would be the end of the story, but for "CVA" it was just a good start. CVA was and is just a name, and the real manufacturer, Dikar, never did go out of business.

CVA brand is now used by "BPI," Blackpowder Products Inc., a Georgia corporation. Reportly, in 2003, all shares of stock of "BPI" were purchased by Dikar. Dikar, once considered the exclusive manufacturer for CVA brand, is clearly the parent company. They are the same Spanish manufacturer that perpetrated the "old CVA" mess.

Still, to this day, "CVA" uses the same cheap, soft, extruded metal they've always used. Considered universally unsuitable for muzzleloaders by Thompson and Knight (and just about every firearm manufacturer I can think of), it is clear and obvious that extruded metal, perhaps suitable for paintball guns, is vastly inferior in terms of tensile and yield strength to 4140C and related carbon steels that are a firearms industry standard. But, good barrels cost money-- as does individual button rifling as opposed to pre-rifled barrel stock of unknown origin, except to say it is Spanish.

In 2002, Thompson / Center Arms hit a home run with the introduction of its Omega, a simple but durable sealed action drop-action muzzleloader. For several years after its introduction, T/C was above capacity and just couldn't fill orders. Dikar saw the opportunity for more cash.

It wasn't long before a clumsy copy of the Thompson Omega appeared under the "CVA" brand covertly made by Dikar: the CVA Kodiak.

Not properly tested, not proofed, apparently the same old soft metal used in recalled CVA guns, out goes the CVA Kodiak. A user's manual was concocted, using loads developed and published by T/C. Yes, again amazing, rather than test and develop loads-- the more profitable move of just copying Thompson loads was used.

I was deposed earlier this year as a named expert witness in the CVA Kodiak injury case of a Mr. Mark Kohn. The case settled, out of court, a very short while after my partial deposition of many hours. Most folks reading this have never heard of Mark Kohn. Well, the barrel was made out of the same soft extruded steel you'd expect. Dr. Block, Consulting Metallurgical Engineer, found that among other things, "The subject BPI / CVA Kodiak rifle was defective and unreasonably dangerous." The scope mounting holes were drilled too deep. For Erik Zenger, history repeats itself.

These are names and lives adversely affected. Just because Erik Zenger was injured by a CVA inline, Jimmy Dial was injured by a CVA inline, Troy Cashdollar was injured by a CVA inline, Eliot Best was injured by a CVA inline, Mark Kohn was injured by a CVA inline, and several others have been injured by CVA inlines does not automatically mean all people are.

The fundamental mismanufacturing, inappropriate metals, non-existent testing, and fraudent proof marks that make these cheaply made firearms illicit, illegal arms thoughout the world and in the very country of origin tell me that my American countrymen should not be exposed to such unreasonable dangerous levels by any retailer or dealer with any conscience.

Enough is enough. It is one thing for Spanish cooperatives to grab cash off the backs of the American muzzleloading pioneers. It is quite another to literally make some smarmy cash from illicit guns, quite literally from the blood of American Sportsman. Every year, an estimated 150 - 200 CVA pot-metal guns fail. Not all result in life-changing injuries, of course. Too many do. Small wonder a firearm may fail to contain pressure when it never has seen any pressure prior to that when operated by the new owner. 25,000 PSI a few inches from your skull is no joke.

From what I've seen, the injuries that regularly occur are completely needless, as are CVA inlines. There is no question in my mind that all CVA guns with extruded barrels should be removed from the marketplace; it can't happen too soon. Your friends and neighbors are at risk, a very clear and present risk.

The CIP needs to step up, so does SAAMI, so does the BATFE. So do gunshops and retailers that care about the well-being of their customers. So do we all. We don't create mismanufactured muzzleloaders, misrepresented muzzleloaders, or clearly hazardous muzzleloaders. We just identify them.

So, to Erik Zenger, yes-- we can make a difference. An educated consumer makes all the difference in the world. Based on your report, a good question is why wouldn't a CVA muzzleloader fail? According to the CIP, to put a proof-mark on a muzzleloader that has never been fired is totally unacceptable, much less a firearm that has never ever been fired with a proof load-- that is, by common knowledge, an over-pressure load.

I've personally examined CVA muzzleloaders with a variety of defects: from mismachined, bell-mouthed barrels that like to shoot breechplugs into the operator's skulls and so forth. This, on top of the relatively soft extruded barrels well-known as unsuitable for pressure applications-- which common sense screams that a pressure containing application is precisely what a firearm barrel is.

Erik, what you have heard and reported should send lightning bolts of shocked disbelief and horror through the spines of CVA owners. To put a proof mark on a barrel that has never been proofed, never so much has been fired is a total misrepresentation of product. You've made the menace of CVA quite clear.

It isn't plausible that properly proofed barrels fail with great regularity; that is what the international standards of proof are all about. Lying about your product and misrepresenting your product is not necessarily illegal. It is damnable, of course, but not necessarily illegal. One can only hope that the CIP, SAAMI, quality firearms manufacturers, and the major retailers of this nation would step up to the plate to protect our sport, our industry, and the well-being of innocent consumers.

It is more than a bit sinister that so many items in daily use are tested prior to sale: from condoms to fire hose to cheap propane tanks. Yet, a consumer-directed muzzleloader that needs to keep 25,000 PSI of hot gas away from our faces just a few inches away is not fired at all prior to sale, much less properly-proof tested. Not even a representative sampling of them are tested at all, based on what you have reported. All this, despite a internationally recognized proof mark intentionally stamped on the barrel that represents that all of the barrels are proof-tested. It just adds injury to insult.

Erik, you've asked me, "Something has to be done. There needs to be national attention brought to this can we do this? Please let me know what we can do."

Yes, Eric, I understand . . . you might think it is a daunting task. Not many folks care to bear the thought of what the situation really is. You have CVA that advertises heavily, publishes their own magazine, buys television and other media spots claiming to be "America's Best Built Muzzleloader." The media is well-polluted with CVA misrepresentations, lies, and half-truths. This same bundle of ridiculous hyperbole is repackaged and regurgitated in an endless yet mindless stream in the form of sales flyers and catalogs again and again. There is no simple, clear law prohibiting people from lying and misrepresenting what they are trying to profit from that I'm aware of.

We can take a small measure of comfort in the First Amendment. It may not give us license to yell "Fire" in a crowded theater, that is, unless the theater really is on fire. Well, in my opinion, the CVA theater is a real barn-burner. We can also find solace that the truth is an absolute defense against libel. The truth may have come a bit too late to prevent injury to you, to Mark Kohn, to Troy Cashdollar, to Jimmy Dial, to Eliot Best, or to Mr. Tommy Delvis that just sent me several photographs of his CVA Optima that blew up with, according to Tommy, 90 grains of Pyrodex RS powder and a 300 grain sabot causing serious injury.

We have all kinds of serious questions and issues. According to Marc Pirlot, director of the C.I.P, it is not permissible for a manufacturer to apply a proof mark to a firearm that has never been fired. Based on what you have heard and reported, Erik, that is exactly the case. So now what?

This sounds like an amazing series of failures to warn. The C.I.P. has apparently failed to control Dikar / CVA proofing, and has no mechanism in place to either enforce it. Nor has the C.I.P warned consumers about it.

CVA, based on your report, has failed to warn anyone that the untrue, complete misrepresentation of the proof marks they apply to their guns may create a dangerous situation. I'm not aware of CVA informing consumers that their proof marks are applied to unproofed guns, are you?

Hodgdon Powder has failed to warn consumers that their propellants may be dangerous in CVA guns. WAL*MART, Cabela's, and BassPro have failed to warn their customers that CVA guns may be extremely dangerous when used as directed. You'd think since they promote, sell, and profit from CVA branded product that they would be both concerned and involved?

This also casts a rather chilling shadow both on the C.I.P.'s ability to enforce and implement its own standards, and the veracity of the Spanish House of Eibar Proof House itself. How could the House of Eibar be so blind to the use of proof marks in their own country? Do they somehow think that CVA / Dikar is making hula hoops, not firearms? Erik, you've heard that out of all the firearms CVA makes, just "four barrels a month" are sent to the proof house? I'm wondering for what purpose? It is mystifying that apparently the Spanish House of Eibar proof facility and the CIP could not be equally mystified at what possible purpose just "four barrels a month" could possibly serve? It certainly has the loud appearance of impropriety, as far as I'm concerned.

As you might know, Erik, I live in Illinois. Our last governor, George Ryan, is now in Federal Prison. Our current governor, Milorad "Rod" R. Blagojevich is someone you really can't escape from hearing about these days. On December 9, 2008, Blagojevich was arrested by FBI agents and charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and with solicitation of bribery. The Justice Dept. complaint alleges that the governor conspired to commit several pay-to-play schemes, including attempting to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacated US Senate seat to the highest bidder. One can argue that that the Spanish system of government is somehow immune from the issues that have recently and currently plagued Illinois, of course, but I'm not buying it. It would be naïve to assume so.

We have just done our job, Erik, as best we can. As journalists and writers, we can candidly and forthrightly report on what we have witnessed first-hand. We can further express our opinions and concerns, and the reasons for them. That's what we have done right here. We can ask the tough questions, and we can demand answers. We can expect the major players in our industry to wake up, get involved, and do what is reasonable to protect the innocent consumer. That is what is being asked here.

Now, it is up the CIP, SAAMI / ANSI, the BATFE, the CPSC, the firearms industry, and the sporting goods distributors and retailers around the United States to do their respective jobs. It looks like there is an awful lot of cleaning up to do.



Copyright 2009 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

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