More Woes Emerge Over Remington Rifles
CNBC Senior Correspondent
Millions of Americans hunt, but it is fair to say none of them expect what happened to Justen Yerger of Monroe, Louisiana.
“My life changed forever that day,” he recalls in an interview broadcast on April 11 on Rock Center with Brian Williams.
Yerger was 19 years old, fresh out of high school; the star kicker on his football team, with dreams of playing in college. But all that was about to change.
Yerger had returned to his truck after dove hunting alone near his home. He says he leaned his shotgun — a Remington Sportsman 12 — against the wheel well, with the safety on. As he tossed his gear into the back, the gun fell over and went off.
He insists his hands were “nowhere near the trigger,” yet the gun fired anyway. His understanding had always been that a gun is not supposed to fire without the trigger being pulled.
“That’s what I’ve always known,” he says. “Especially when the safety is on.”
The next thing Yerger remembers was lying flat on his back on the ground. He'd been hit in his left leg and was bleeding badly.
“Seemed like every time my heart would beat, it looked like a water sprinkler.”
A couple driving by saw Yerger and stopped to help. They rushed him to the emergency room at a nearby hospital.
“I was hit in my left leg - probably about three inches above my knee.”
Yerger’s ordeal was just beginning.
He spent three months in the hospital. Ultimately, it would take 13 surgeries, 128 units of blood and hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills for him to walk again.
He does not believe anything he did that day was wrong.
“I leaned my gun up. Gun's on safety,” he recalls. “There's not a doubt in my mind that I did not do anything wrong that day.”
Yerger sued Remington and the case eventually settled out of court. The terms of the agreement are confidential.
Now 34 years old with a family of his own and still suffering the effects of his injury, Yerger says his story is a cautionary tale for other gun users.
“They need to know that it can happen to anybody, anywhere, any time. I'm proof of it.”
No government agency can order a manufacturer to recall a defective gun. In fact, Congress specifically barred the Consumer Product Safety Commission from regulating firearms and ammunition, in keeping with the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms. That means gun manufacturers police themselves.
But critics say Remington is shirking its responsibility when it comes to the firing mechanism used in some of the most popular long guns in America, including the shotgun owned by Justen Yerger.
Tom Butters, an engineer, marksman and a trained authority on firearms, has been paid as an expert in more than 100 claims involving reported malfunctions of Remington guns. He alleges Remington has been hiding a dangerous secret about the firing mechanism, which is known as the Common Fire Control or CFC. He says guns equipped with the CFC can go off without pulling the trigger, even with the safety on. And he claims the company has known about it for years.
“I would say it's been known to Remington ever since that first batch of guns went onto the market,” he told Rock Center.
That was in 1948, and since then, Remington has installed the CFC in some 20 million of its guns, and at least 20 different models. They include the 870 shotgun, which is widely used by law enforcement, the 742 semi-automatic rifle, and the Sportsman 12 that Justen Yerger owned.
The patented design of the CFC is unique to Remington.
The patented design of the CFC is unique to Remington. While the safety — the switch that's supposed to keep a gun from firing accidentally — locks the trigger in place, it doesn't block the internal parts from moving; specifically the hammer, the sear and the firing pin.
Butters says if those parts become disengaged, because of debris or even just bumping or dropping the gun, the result can be disastrous.
Butters and several other experts consulted by Rock Center say unlike some other gun makers that have changed their designs in response to similar issues, Remington has held firm.
Butters says Remington has done “virtually nothing” about the problem, and as a result, the owners of tens of millions of guns know nothing about it.
“And Remington does not want them to know about it,” Butters alleges, “because it will affect their market position.”
He claims Remington has essentially put profits over human lives.
“And I have made that allegation under oath on a number of occasions.”
Remington denies there is any problem with the CFC, and insists its guns are safe. The company declined Rock Center’s requests for an on-camera interview, instead providing a written statement. “The only defect rests with NBC’s inaccurate and biased reporting,” the statement says.
"(T)he fact remains that these guns are owned and used by tens of millions of waterfowl and upland hunters, competition shooters, law enforcement officers and military personnel—men and women who have relied on these firearms under the most extreme conditions over the last 60 years. These field, home and battlefield experienced users stand as a sophisticated and time-tested testament to the quality and reliability of these iconic firearms."
While the statement does not directly address the allegations of a design defect, Remington has confronted the issue head-on in numerous court cases. The company has consistently maintained its guns are safe, and that every incident can be attributed to modifications made by the user, poor maintenance, or careless handling.