Remington Under Fire

Under Oath: Inventor of controversial Remington trigger speaks

Why did Mike Walker leave Remington?
Why did Mike Walker leave Remington?
Walker on Remington 700 fire control
Walker on Remington 700 fire control
Remington defended existing 700 model
Remington defended existing 700 model
Remington document destruction?
Remington document destruction?

"You realize, of course, you guys are going to get me in trouble with Remington," said retired engineer Mike Walker.

He had just told CNBC about the trigger he designed for the gun maker in the 1940s, and how he had proposed a safer design that the company rejected because of the cost. The interview became a centerpiece of the 2010 documentary "Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation," about allegations of a deadly design defect in the popular Model 700 rifle.

It turned out that Walker had only an inkling of what was in store for him.

Newly unsealed evidence shows that soon after the CNBC program aired, Walker found himself speaking with another video crew in his home—this one hired by Remington, which was preparing an official video response to the documentary. Walker does not appear in the video ultimately released by Remington, and a newly unsealed outtake from the program may help explain why

The producer is heard telling a Remington executive that Walker "(spent) more than half the time talking bad about Remington."

A couple months later, Walker was in front of yet another camera — this time under oath. He was questioned over two days in January 2011 by attorneys for Remington and for alleged victims who were suing the company. The questioning was limited to two hours per day because Walker, then 98 years old, was on oxygen.

Video of the deposition, never seen publicly until now, provides new details about Walker's clashes with Remington management over quality. The testimony portrays a once-prominent engineer within the company who became increasingly marginalized until he finally took early retirement in 1975 at age 63.

Quality Control

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Rich Barber and his family in an undated photo. (L-R) Son Gus, wife Barbara, and daughter Chanda.
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In the sworn testimony, Walker recalled multiple conflicts with Remington's process engineers, who were responsible for turning his designs into manufactured products.

"The process engineers were eliminating the recommendations that I had made," Walker says.

"And they were recommendations that you were making that you thought would make the rifle safe?" asks plaintiff attorney Timothy Monsees.

"Yes," Walker replies.

Chief among his concerns, Walker says, was a change in the type of metal used in some of the firing mechanism's internal parts. He says his design had called for certain parts to be made from wrought metal, which is shaped by machine tools. Instead, the process engineers had switched to molded or "powdered" metal, which he considered less durable.

"Did you think that presented a possible safety problem?" Monsees asks.

"A possible safety problem from wear, yes," Walker responds.

But under cross-examination, a Remington defense attorney, Dale Wills, shows Walker x-rays of multiple triggers involved in accidents. Not one shows the wear Walker had been concerned about, and Walker acknowledges each one appears to be a "good rifle." But he says he still disagrees with the use of powdered metal, and says he complained about it to "everyone."

Documents Destroyed?

Walker also testifies that in his later years with the company, he repeatedly locked horns with his supervisor, Samuel Alvis. The confrontations apparently came to a head in early 1973, when Alvis announced in a memo that he was changing the policy about destroying older documents when it came to Walker's department. .

"In several cases; i.e. M. H. Walker, I have indicated a shorter period of retention," the memo reads.

"Were they getting rid of records where you had made objections to things?" Monsees asks.

"I had objections to eliminating test results," Walker responds.

"Are those among the records that this says they were destroying early?"

"Yes, they were."

Walker left the company two years later. It is not clear whether the document destruction was ever carried out. Alvis died in 2004.

Cost Concerns

Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation
Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation

Also in the deposition, Walker testifies about the alternative design he had proposed before his trigger went on the market in 1948.

Just as he had told CNBC months earlier, Walker told attorneys that his proposed change would have locked the trigger in place while the gun's safety was on — a feature that Walker said would have made the mechanism less likely to fail. But Remington rejected the idea.

"Did anybody advise you as to whether there were any cost considerations as to why your trigger blocking design was not included in the final production?" Monsees asks.

"I don't think anyone ever actually said that," Walker replies. "But it was inferred."

A 1948 Remington memo obtained by CNBC said that Walker's proposal was "the best design," however "its disadvantages lay in the high expenditure required to make the conversion." The projected cost: 5.5 cents per gun.

Walker would continue to argue for a change even after leaving the company, pleading in a 1982 letter to his former employer, "Please don't bring out a new bolt action without a foolproof safety." In the deposition, Walker testified that he was referring to the same type of trigger-blocking mechanism he had proposed in 1948. But the company again refused to make the change.

Even so, Walker defends his original design during the deposition, saying the trigger was — and is — safe. Just as in the CNBC program, Walker says his complaints had to do with the manufacturing process, not the design.

Information Overload

The deposition also suggests Walker was increasingly bombarded with what he calls "conflicting information" as the debate about his trigger grew.

On the one hand, Walker testifies, he had been in regular contact for several years with Rich Barber, the Montana man searching for answers about the death of his son in an accident involving a Remington 700. Walker acknowledged that Barber had been feeding him information.

But soon after the 2010 CNBC program, Walker said he also began hearing from Remington representatives, who apparently downplayed the number of incidents involving the rifle.

By the time of the deposition, Walker had concluded he had been "misled" by Barber about the prevalence of accidents. Walker alleges Barber "had a will to try to blame something else rather than his wife for shooting their son."

Barber denies misleading Walker, telling CNBC the only information he ever gave Walker was quoted directly from Remington's own documents.

Walker also testified in the deposition that he never personally saw a rifle with a bad safety, and said he has come to believe that defects are so rare, "there's not enough bad safeties to stick in your eye."

But Walker testified he was unaware of a Remington analysis in 1979 — after he had left the company — which concluded that roughly 20,000 guns that were in the hands of customers at the time could be "tricked" into firing.

Walker died at age 101, almost exactly two years after the deposition. But plaintiffs' attorneys said during the deposition that they planned to use his testimony in future Remington lawsuits.

That means Mike Walker's recollections about the trigger he designed could live on for years.