Patented in 1950, the mechanism is in some five million guns, primarily Remington's 700 Series—the world's most popular bolt-action rifle. Remington maintains the mechanism is safe, and that the accidents are the result of user error, improper maintenance, or modification by the customer.
(Read More: Inside Remington Rifle's Controversial Trigger)
In a 2010 interview with CNBC, Walker called his firing mechanism a "perfect trigger," prized by shooters for its accuracy and smooth operation. But he acknowledged that as early as 1946—with the gun still in the testing stage—he wrote a memo describing a "theoretical unsafe condition," which could render the gun's safety mechanism inoperable.
In the 2010 interview, Walker attributed the problem to "bad parts." But critics—including experts hired by plaintiffs' attorneys—blame a so-called "trigger connector," integral to Walker'sdesign, that is supposed to smooth the trigger's operation. They say the connector can become misaligned, allowing the gun to fire without pulling the trigger even when the safety is on. Remington disputed the theory, claiming its experts have never been able to duplicate the alleged defect on guns returned from the field.
Nonetheless, Mike Walker himself drew up plans to change his own design. In 1948, documents show, Walker proposed a modification that would lock the mechanism's internal parts in place while the safety is on, preventing the gun from firing. But Remington declined to implement the change.
"It had something to do with cost," Walker told CNBC in 2010.