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Pollard v. Remington Arms Company, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

March 14, 2017

IAN POLLARD, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,



         Pending are the parties' Second Joint Motion for Final Settlement Approval (Doc. #179) and Plaintiffs' Supplemental Fee Application (Doc. #181). For the following reasons, the parties' Joint Motion for Final Settlement Approval is granted, and Plaintiffs' Supplemental Fee Application is approved.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This matter began in January 2013 with the filing of a putative class action against Remington Arms Company, LLC, Sporting Goods Properties, Inc., and E.I. Du Pont Nemours and Company. Doc. #1.[1] The Complaint alleges certain rifles manufactured by Defendants since 1948 would fire unexpectedly without a trigger pull, and made claims of unfair and deceptive trade practices under Missouri statutes, breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty of merchantability, fraudulent concealment, and unjust enrichment in connection with the Walker Fire Control designed, manufactured, marketed, advertised, and sold by Defendants. Id.

         Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint. Doc. #40. The Court dismissed Counts II (strict liability), III (negligence), IV (violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act), V (breach of express warranty), and VI (breach of implied warranty of merchantability). The Court also found that to the extent Count I (violation of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act) relied upon fraudulent misrepresentations or fraudulent concealment, it must be dismissed. Doc. #40, at 5-8.

         The Complaint was later amended to include additional Plaintiffs and seek relief in connection with “all Model 700, 721, 722, 725, Seven, Sportsman 78, 600, 660, 673, XP-100, 710, 715 and 720 firearms manufactured by Defendants that contain trigger mechanisms utilizing a trigger connector, including the patented Walker Fire Control, and all Model 700 and Seven bolt-action rifles containing X-Mark Pro trigger mechanisms that are subject to an April 2014 voluntary recall by Defendants.” Doc. #90, ¶ 1. Among other things, Plaintiffs asked that the Court require Defendants to repair or replace their firearms. Id., Prayer for Relief. According to the parties, approximately 7, 500, 000 of these firearms have been sold in the United States. Doc. #180, at 17.

         After engaging in extensive settlement negotiations, the parties finalized the material terms of a nationwide settlement in July 2014, and informed the Court they were in the process of executing a comprehensive settlement agreement for all class claims. Doc. #61; Doc. #220, at 18. In December 2014, the parties filed their settlement agreement and sought conditional certification of settlement classes, preliminary approval of class action settlement, approval of their proposed notice plan, appointment of class action settlement administrator, and appointment of class counsel. Docs. #67-68, 79-80. The proposed settlement provides benefits in the form of retrofitted triggers, vouchers, and/or reimbursements for replacing the firearm's original trigger mechanism to owners residing in the United States of certain Remington rifles manufactured from 1948 to the present. Doc. #68-1, at 15. In exchange, class members would release claims associated with the firearms, but retain the right to bring claims for personal injury or property damage. Doc. #68-1, at 13, 27. The parties' proposed notice plan included (1) a joint press release; (2) direct notice; (3) short form notice; (4) long form notice; (5) notice through the settlement website; and (6) notice through social media and the internet. Doc. #80, at 17-18, 38-39; Doc. #80-1, at 20-24; Doc. #80-3; Doc. #80-4; Doc. #80-5.

         In February 2015, the Court held a hearing on the parties' joint motion. Doc. #84. The Court granted the parties' joint motion and preliminarily approved the settlement, conditionally certified the settlement classes, approved the notice plan, appointed the class action settlement administrator, and appointed class counsel. Doc. #88. The Court directed all requests for exclusion from the settlement and objections to the settlement be received by October 5, 2015. Id. at 6-8. The Court scheduled a final approval hearing for December 14, 2015. Id. at 7.

         In May 2015, the parties executed the Court-approved notice plan. Postcard notices were sent to approximately 2, 500 individuals who paid Remington for trigger replacements. Doc. #92-9, at 6; Doc. #180-10, at 3. A notice about the settlement was published in several magazines with a combined circulation of more than 36 million. Doc. #92-9, at 5-6.[2] Poster-sized notices were mailed to nearly 700 vendors known to have mailed in Remington firearms on behalf of customers seeking trigger replacements. Id. at 7. The joint press release appeared on at least 225 websites, and reached a potential audience of more than twenty-one million people. Id. at 8. Internet banners, purportedly garnering more than 970, 000 impressions, [3] were utilized, and some Facebook advertising was implemented. Id. at 6-7. As a result, 2, 327 claims were submitted. Id. at 9.

         In September 2015, the parties filed their joint motion for final settlement approval, accompanied by, among other things, the Second Amended Settlement Agreement, [4] claims forms, and declarations. Doc. #91. Plaintiffs also filed their application for attorneys' fees. Doc. #93. Objections to the settlement were timely filed by Terry Pennington, Jack Belk, and Rodney Townsend. Docs. #96-98.

         On December 8, 2015, the Court issued an order cancelling the final approval hearing, deferring consideration of the parties' joint motion for settlement approval and Plaintiffs' application for attorneys' fees, and directing the parties to provide supplemental briefing. Doc. #112. The Court's principal concern was “the low number of claim forms that have been completed, ” noting the claims rate was “quite low” given several million firearms were potentially involved in the class action settlement. Id. at 1. The Court ordered the parties to develop a notice plan that “will be effective and result in a more significant response rate.” Id. The Court also directed the parties to address additional concerns, including, most significantly, the settlement agreement potentially waiving personal injury claims. Id. at 2. The parties were directed to file their supplemental briefing by January 15, 2016. Id. The Court later granted the parties three extensions of time. Docs. #115, 124, 126.[5]

         On June 10, 2016, the parties filed their supplemental brief in response to the Court's December 8, 2015 Order. Doc. #127. The supplemental briefing was accompanied by, among other things, the parties' amended notice plan and the Third Amended Settlement Agreement.[6] Docs. #127-1 - 127-6.[7] The Court scheduled a hearing on August 2, 2016, which the Court deemed a second preliminary approval hearing. Doc. #128. Prior to the hearing on August 2, 2016, Objectors Townsend and Pennington filed withdrawals of their objections. Docs. #131, 132.[8] Additionally, Todd Hilsee, who represented himself as a “class action notice expert, ” submitted a letter expressing concerns with the proposed settlement, particularly the proposed supplemental notice plan. Doc. #134.

         The hearing was held on August 2, 2016. Docs. #136, 142. As of the date of the hearing, more than 6, 500 claims were submitted. Doc. #142, at 40-41. During the hearing, the parties presented their proposed supplemental notice plan and addressed the other concerns set forth in the Court's December 8, 2015 Order. Doc. #142. During the hearing, the Court also asked the parties to review the suggestions contained in Hilsee's letter and consider potential modifications to the proposed supplemental notice plan. Doc. #142, at 51-54. After the hearing, the parties filed the Fourth Amended Settlement Agreement. Doc. #138; see also Doc. #180-1. The paragraphs that drew concerns from the Court about potential waiver of personal injury were removed. Id.

         On August 23, 2016, the Court preliminarily approved the settlement again. Doc. #140. The Court also approved the parties' supplemental notice plan, which consisted of a targeted social media campaign, targeted national radio campaign, email and mail notification, and poster notification. Id. at 2-3. The Court accepted the parties' new claim forms, which removed language from the initial claim forms indicating the claimant read and acknowledged warnings. Id. at 3. The Court directed the parties to place the claims forms in a particular order, and instructed the parties to resend direct mail to the settlement class members who previously received direct mail. Id. at 3-4. The Court set November 18, 2016, as the deadline to submit all exclusions from and objections to the class action settlement, and scheduled a final approval hearing for February 14, 2017. Id. at 4.

         Eleven class members timely opted out of the settlement classes. Doc. #210, at 6. The Court received timely objections to the settlement from Jack Belk, Richard Barber, Lewis Frost, and Richard Denney. Docs. #150, 157, 161. The Court also received communications from Roger Stringer, David Wight, Paul Vigano, and Kelly Edwards, as well as additional communications from Barber expressing concerns about the settlement. Doc. #147-49, 154, 160, 163-65, 167-71, 182, 192, 199, 214.[9]

         In September and October 2016, the parties executed the Court-approved supplemental notice plan, which is discussed in detail infra. As of January 13, 2017, 19, 425 claims were received. Doc. #180, at 27; Doc. #180-13, at 4. Of the 19, 425 claims, 2, 666 firearms purportedly experienced an accidental discharge. Doc. #180-13, at 4. Of the 2, 666 claims with alleged accidental discharge, 788 individuals claimed personal injury or property damage. Id.

         On January 17, 2017, a motion for leave to file the brief of Amici Curiae Attorneys General (“amici curiae”) in opposition to the proposed class action settlement was filed. Doc. #176. The motion was submitted by the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and on behalf of the Attorneys General of the District of Columbia and the States of Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington. Id. After expediting briefing on the motion for leave, the Court granted the motion, and the amici brief was filed. Docs. #177, 190-191, 193, 194, 196. The parties were permitted to file responses to the amici brief, and amici curiae filed a reply. Docs. #201, 203, 208.

         Also on January 17, 2017, the parties filed their Second Joint Motion for Final Settlement Approval, and Plaintiffs submitted their Supplemental Fee Application. Docs. #179, 181. The final approval hearing was held on February 14, 2017. Docs. #215, 220. During the hearing, the parties presented arguments in favor of approving the settlement agreement. Doc. #220, at 7-52, 93-114. At the time of the hearing, 22, 000 claims had been submitted. Id. at 23. Objectors Denney and Frost, through their attorneys, and Objector Belk, appearing on behalf of himself, argued against approval of the settlement. Id. at 53-59, 66-92. On behalf of amici curiae, Gary Klein from the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office presented arguments against approval of the settlement. Id. at 59-66. The Court must now decide whether to approve the settlement.


         In Section A, the Court will address class certification, including the requirements of Rules 23(a) and 23(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In Section B, the Court will determine whether the proposed settlement should be approved. Therein, the Court will address objections raised to the settlement, followed by its analysis of whether the settlement is fair, adequate, and reasonable. Finally, in Sections C and D, the Court will consider Plaintiffs' request for service awards to class representatives and Plaintiffs' Application for Fees and Costs.

         A. Class Certification

         To grant final certification of this litigation as a class action, the Court must find the putative class action meets the four requirements found in Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and fits within one of the categories of Rule 23(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Amchem Prods., Inc. v. Windsor, 521 U.S. 591, 613-14 (1997).

         (1) Rule 23(a) Requirements

          Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth four prerequisites all class actions must satisfy:

(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable;
(2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class;
(3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and
(4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a); see also Amchem, 521 U.S. at 613.

         a. Numerosity

          To satisfy the numerosity requirement, Plaintiffs must show the class of plaintiffs is so large that joinder of all members would be impracticable. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(1). The parties represent to the Court, and no one has disputed, that approximately 7, 500, 000 of the firearms at issue have been sold in the United States. Doc. #180, at 17. Although number of class members is uncertain - because a class member could own more than one firearm or a firearm could have been destroyed or owned by someone outside the United States - it is apparent there are millions of potential class members. Accordingly, the Court concludes this requirement has been satisfied.

         b. Commonality

         Commonality is satisfied when a “legal question linking the class members is substantially related to the resolution of the litigation.” DeBoer v. Mellon Mortg. Co., 64 F.3d 1171, 1174 (8th Cir. 1995). “Commonality is not required on every question raised in a class action.” Id.; see also Paxton v. Union Nat'l Bank, 688 F.2d 552, 561 (8th Cir. 1982) (noting factual variations do not necessarily deny class treatment when the claims have a common thread).

         This lawsuit contains questions of law that link the class members and are substantially related to the resolution of this matter. Each class member shares a claim that his/her firearm, which was manufactured by Defendants, is defective, and his/her firearm's value and utility is decreased due to the alleged defectiveness of the firearms. The class members seek economic damages and equitable relief for buying a firearm that is allegedly worth less than its purchase price due to the alleged defect with the trigger mechanism. The class members will not need to present evidence that varies from member to member; the same evidence will suffice for each individual to make a prima facie showing. Thus, the Court finds this requirement has been satisfied.

         c. Typicality

         The typicality requirement is “fairly easily met so long as the other class members have claims similar to the named plaintiff.” DeBoer, 64 F.3d at 1174. The named plaintiffs' claims are typical to the class members' claims because they all maintain Defendants manufactured defective firearms, and as a result, they are entitled to an economic recovery. The Court finds this requirement has been satisfied.

         d. Adequacy of Representation

          Rule 23(a)(4) requires “the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(4). This requirement focuses on “whether (1) the class representatives have common interests with the members of the class, and (2) whether the class representatives will vigorously prosecute the interests of the class through qualified counsel.” Paxton, 688 F.2d at 562-63 (citation omitted). This adequacy inquiry also serves to uncover any conflicts of interest between the named parties and the classes they seek to represent. Amchem, 521 U.S. at 625 (citation omitted).

         The class representatives stand in the same factual and legal shoes of the absent settlement class members. They assert the same claims and suffered the same injury as the absent settlement class members. Id. at 625-26 (stating a class representative must “possess the same interest and suffer the same injury” as the absent class members) (citation omitted). There are no apparent conflicts of interests between the class representatives and settlement class members or among individual settlement class members. There is no indication any of the class representatives were antagonistic to the other members of the classes or did not vigorously pursue the claims. Therefore, the Court finds the class representatives adequately represent the settlement subclasses. The Court approves and appoints class representatives as set forth in Appendix A.

         Additionally, the Court finds class counsel to be experienced, competent, and qualified to prosecute this matter. The Court also finds class counsel has fairly and adequately represented and protected the interests of the settlement class members.[10]The Court appoints Richard Arsenault, Charles Schaffer, Eric Holland, and W. Mark Lanier as class counsel for the settlement classes. The Court concludes the requirements of Rule 23(a)(4) have been met.

         (2) Rule 23(b) Requirement

         In addition to satisfying the Rule 23(a) prerequisites, Plaintiffs must demonstrate their claims qualify under one of the three subparts of Rule 23(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The parties contend they have met the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3). Doc. #180, at 51. This subpart is satisfied if “the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to the members of the class predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of the controversy.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(3).

         a. Predominance of Common Issues of Law and Fact

          “The Rule 23(b)(3) predominance inquiry tests whether proposed classes are sufficiently cohesive to warrant adjudication by representation.” Amchem, 521 U.S. at 623; see also Blades v. Monsanto Co., 400 F.3d 562, 566 (8th Cir. 2005).[11] “[T]he court must look only so far as to determine whether, given the factual setting of the case, if the plaintiffs['] general allegations are true, common evidence could suffice to make out a prima facie case for the class.” Blades, 400 F.3d. at 566.

         In this matter, common questions predominate over any issues individuals within the settlement classes may have. First, class members' claims relate to the design, manufacture, marketing, and sale of allegedly defective firearms. Second, class members seek the same relief - economic damages and equitable relief for buying a firearm that is alleged to be worth less than its purchase price due to the alleged defect with the trigger mechanism. Third, the question of whether the firearms are indeed defective and the evidence to establish said defect would be the same for each class member. If each class member were to bring an individual claim, each class member would have to demonstrate the same defect to prove liability. The nature and scope of the common questions in this matter satisfy the predominance requirements. The Court finds that common issues of fact and law predominate here.

         b. Superiority of Class Action

         A class action settlement is the superior method for resolving the disputes in this matter in a fair and effective manner. First, the settlement provides concrete, substantial remedies to individuals, many of whom, due to applicable statutes of limitations, may not otherwise be entitled to any relief. Second, the settlement of the class members' claims avoids duplicative litigation, saving Plaintiffs and Defendants from expending resources to adjudicate common legal and factual issues. Because individuals were permitted to opt-out of this settlement, those individuals who timely filed exclusions and desire to prosecute their claims on their own may do so. Accordingly, the Court concludes the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) have been satisfied. Pursuant to the Court's finding that the settlement classes satisfy the requirements of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the settlement classes are approved and finally certified for settlement purposes. The settlement classes are defined in Appendix A. The Court finds the following class members submitted valid requests for exclusion from the settlement: Vincent Agnelli Jr., Leon Baily, Mike Blair, Carol Bonham, Leonard Bonham, David Harris Jr., John Hoober, Ronson Ibarra, Brad Sisneros, Timothy Tomlinson, and David Wight. Doc. #210, at 6. These individuals' rights are not affected by the settlement, and they shall not receive any benefits from the settlement.

         B. Approval of Settlement

          To approve this class action settlement, the Court must find the settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(e)(2); see In re Uponor, Inc., F1807 Plumbing Fittings Prods. Liab. Litig., 716 F.3d 1057, 1063 (8th Cir. 2013). Before turning to this particular analysis, the Court will address objections to the settlement.

         (1) Objections to Settlement[12]

          Objections to the settlement concern the following issues: (a) adequacy of notice; (b) fairness to class members; (c) adequacy of relief; (d) claims process and claims period; (e) release; and (f) differences among state laws.[13]

         a. Adequacy of Notice

          Most objections to the settlement question the adequacy of notice to class members. See Docs. #150, 161, 196. Rule 23(c)(2)(B) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires class members receive “the best notice that is practicable under the circumstances, including individual notice to all members who can be identified through reasonable effort.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(2)(B). “Notice of a settlement proposal need only be as directed by the district court…and reasonable enough to satisfy due process.” DeBoer, 64 F.3d at 1176 (citations omitted). The notice must also “clearly and concisely state in plain, easily understood language” the following: (i) nature of the action; (ii) definition of the class certified; (iii) the class claims; (iv) a class member may enter an appearance through an attorney if so desired; (v) the court will exclude from the class those members who request exclusion; (vi) time and manner for requesting exclusion; and (vii) binding effect of a class judgment on members. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(2)(B)(i)-(vii).

         1. Supplemental Notice Plan

         After the parties' initial notice plan resulted in an appalling claims rate, the Court required the parties to propose a supplemental notice plan. Doc. #112. Over the course of six months, the parties negotiated, tested, and ultimately proposed their supplemental notice plan. Doc. #127. The Court approved the proposed supplemental notice plan (Doc. #140), and it was administered in September and October 2016.[14]The supplemental notice plan utilized four avenues to reach class members.

         First, the parties ran a targeted social media campaign, which consisted of advertisements on Facebook. The targeted social media campaign, when fully executed, ran for four weeks, reached more than four million individuals, and the advertisements were clicked more than 375, 000 times. Doc. #180, at 33.

         Second, the parties implemented a national radio campaign. Sixty second advertisements ran over the course of four weeks during peak morning and evening drive times, and targeted key states/regions, key demographics of potential class members, hunting and fishing programs, and programs with a strong sportsmen audience. Doc. #180, at 33. Additionally, the advertisements were streamed on iHeartRadio, a digital streaming service. Id. More than 29, 000 radio spots ran on more than 3, 500 radio stations, covering 98% of the United States market and generating more than 55, 000, 000 gross impressions. Id.; Doc. #178, at 5.

         Third, Remington compiled physical mailing addresses and email addresses from various sources, including customers who signed up for email notifications on the company's website, individuals who signed up for email notifications at trade shows, warranty registrations for all firearms, individuals who had firearms repaired by Remington, and individuals who contacted Remington's customer service number. Doc. #180, at 34; Doc. #180-10, at 3-4. The compilation was over-inclusive in that it included, for example, physical and email addresses for individuals who registered warranties for other firearms or had repairs performed on other firearms. Doc. #142, at 21-22; Doc. #180, at 34; Doc. #180-10, at 3-4. Ultimately, notices about the proposed settlement were sent to more than one million email addresses, and postcards were mailed to more than 93, 000 physical addresses. If an email bounced back, a postcard was mailed to the individual if a physical address could be located. Doc. #180, at 34; Doc. #180-10, at 5. If a postcard was returned, a new postcard was mailed if a new mailing address could be located. Doc. #180, at 34; Doc. #180-10, at 5.

         Finally, Remington disseminated an informational poster in PDF format. Doc. #180, at 34. The poster was emailed to Remington's twelve wholesale accounts and seven retail accounts, and those accounts were instructed to send the posters to 5, 000 independent retailers and 6, 000 retail stores for display. Id. at 34-36.

         As a result of this four-pronged supplemental notice campaign, the claims rate increased to 19, 425 claims (as of January 13, 2017) and 22, 000 (as of February 13, 2017). Doc. #180, at 35; Doc. #220, at 23. The settlement website has been visited more than 500, 000 times. Doc. #220, at 23.

         The notices both in the initial notice plan and the supplemental notice plan clearly and concisely stated in easily understood language what the nature of this action was, what the claims were, the definitions of the classes conditionally certified, and the binding effect of a judgment. The notices set forth the deadlines for exclusions and objections, and the manner in which those exclusions and objections must be submitted. No objections to these particular requirements were lodged. Accordingly, the Court finds that Rules 23(c)(2)(B)(i) through (vi) have been satisfied.[15]

         2. Best Notice Practicable

         The more complicated question, which is raised by Objectors, is whether, under Rule 23(c)(2)(B), the notice provided was best notice “practicable under the circumstances, including individual notice to all members who can be identified through reasonable effort.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(c)(2)(B). The objections to the notice can be broken down into the following categories: (a) identification of class members; (b) method of notice; (c) reach of and response to notice; and (d) content of notice.

         (a) Identification of Class Members

         Objectors Frost and Denney, who adopted the opinions contained in the letter previously submitted by Hilsee, argue the parties did not use reasonable efforts to identify class members who are easily identifiable. Doc. #150, at 16, 20-21, 26-27. However, Remington, unlike other manufacturers, does not sell to the public or directly to individuals. Doc. #220, at 34. Remington does not possess a customer list with contact information. Remington's communications with firearm owners are limited to those individuals who submit warranty cards, those who have a firearm repaired by Remington or an authorized Remington repair facility, those who sign up to receive email notifications from Remington, and those who have communicated with Remington's customer service line. Doc. #180, at 34; Doc. #180-10, at 3-4. Other than firearms indicated on warranty cards or on repair documents, Remington does not know what firearm is owned by the individual. Consequently, Remington does not possess a compilation of names and contact information for owners of Remington firearms.[16]Much of the information Remington has is warranty registration (some decades old), which could be outdated given that individuals move and change email addresses. Remington obtains email addresses from individuals who contact it through its website, at trade shows, for repairs, or through its customer service department. Remington routinely communicates with these individuals via email. Doc. #220, at 35.

         Objectors argue the parties should have obtained the National Rifle Association's (“NRA”) mailing list or should have partnered with the NRA to send notice of the settlement to NRA members. Doc. #150, at 27. The parties attempted to obtain the NRA's mailing list or membership list, but the NRA would not provide the addresses to Remington because Remington is not an NRA Affinity Partner. Doc. #220, at 103. Additionally, it is doubtful a membership or mailing list from the NRA would identify what firearms the recipients possessed. Thus, obtaining such a list would not allow the parties to identify potential class members.[17]

         Objectors Frost and Denney, as well as amici curiae, also maintain the parties should have obtained state hunting license records. Doc. #150, at 27; Doc. #196, at 25; Doc. #220, at 72-73. But Objectors do not set forth if these records are attainable, the mechanisms the parties must utilize to obtain the records, the costs associated with obtaining these records, and whether the parties would be required to file suit in every state to attain these records. Objectors' argument also calls into question whether an individual could prevent the dissemination of his or her license information. And even if the parties could obtain these records, in all likelihood, the records would not identify the firearm utilized by the licensee, which is the key ...

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