Documents Reveal Remington Wrestled with Potential Gun Safety Problems for Decades
But by 1994, the cost to fix the rifle had risen substantially, according to the memo. No longer 5 ½ cents per gun; the memo put the cost of a recall at nearly $22.7 million. The “call back” quietly died.
Remington came closest to launching a recall in 2002, as part of a settlement with the family of Gus Barber, the nine-year-old Montana boy killed when his mother’s Remington 700 went off.
Twenty years earlier, in 1982, Remington had done away with the feature that required the user to switch off the safety in order to unload the gun—a common source of inadvertent discharges, including the one that killed Gus Barber. But Remington had not publicized the change, so customers like Barbara Barber were unaware that an alternative mechanism was available.
Under the settlement, Remington agreed to launch a “safety modification program”—the company stopped short of calling it a recall—allowing owners of pre-1982 Remingtons to have their rifles modified, for a $20 fee, so the gun could be unloaded with the safety on.
“The Barber family knows it has our deepest sympathy,” Remington said in its press release.
The company would not actually change the firing mechanism until 2007, and even then, it did not institute a recall of the Walker trigger models it had been selling for nearly 60 years.
Remington calls the new trigger system the X-Mark Pro. Plaintiffs’ experts who have examined it say the system includes the blocking mechanism originally proposed by Mike Walker in 1948. The X-Mark Pro also does away with the controversial trigger connector. A source close to Remington confirms the trigger connector was removed because it had become the focus of so many lawsuits.
But because Remington still contends the old Walker trigger is safe, it continues to use it in rifles including the current version of the Remington 770, as well as earlier 700 series models still sold by retailers worldwide.
The older trigger is also used in the military version of the Remington 700, the primary sniper rifle for the Armed Forces. Indeed, the Army recently awarded Remington a new contract worth up to $28 million for as many as 3,600 rifles, and Remington says in its statement that its military contracts “specifically require the ‘Walker’ trigger mechanism.”
That is not entirely true, however. The contract only requires a trigger that cannot be adjusted by the operator. Remington’s X-Mark Pro can be adjusted by turning an external screw, meaning it does not meet the contract’s specifications. The Walker trigger does not have such a feature.
Documents obtained by CNBC under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that some of the problems in the civilian version of the Remington 700 have also been encountered in the military. The U.S. Marine Corps furnished reports from the elite sniper training school at Camp Lejeune, NC in 2003, where officials found multiple rifles to be “deficient.” According to one report, some rifles were “slam firing”—firing without a trigger pull—“once every 20 rounds.”
“This has become a safety issue for the school,” the report notes.
Nonetheless, Remington says in its statement, “The Model 700 is the firearm of choice for elite shooters from America’s military and law enforcement communities.”
And, the statement continues, “The men and women who build, own and shoot the Remington Model 700 take great pride in a product that, over the last half century, has set the bar for safety, reliability and performance.”
Since 2007, Remington has been owned by the private equity firm Cerberus. Beginning in 2006, Cerberus began buying a number of gun manufacturers, to create a new company called Freedom Group. In October 2009, Freedom Group filed for an initial public offering, to create a standalone company built around Remington.
In its prospectusfiled with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Freedom Group acknowledges that as of August 31, 2009, it faced 16 individual bodily injury cases or claims involving Remington firearms—though it did not specify how many of those cases involve the 700—and that because of the nature of product liability cases “our resources may not be adequate to cover” the claims.
Cerberus—and Freedom Group—declined to speak to CNBC about the Remington 700, citing an SEC-mandated “quiet period” ahead of the public stock offering. But the company has not yet announced when the IPO will occur.