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Red states take on blue states in Remington rifle settlement

  • A federal appeals court that is considering a class action settlement covering millions of allegedly defective Remington rifles has heard from state attorneys general urging it to approve the settlement.
  • Another group previously pushed for the court to reject it.
  • CNBC first reported in 2010 on allegations that, for decades, Remington covered up a design flaw that allows the guns to fire without the trigger being pulled.
  • The company has agreed to replace the trigger mechanisms in nearly all of the guns, free of charge.
Rich Barber has spent the last 15 years researching nearly every Remington 700 "firing incident" case and complaint and is now a sought-after expert on the guns.
Brandon Ancil | CNBC
Rich Barber has spent the last 15 years researching nearly every Remington 700 "firing incident" case and complaint and is now a sought-after expert on the guns.

A federal appeals court that is considering the landmark class action settlement covering millions of allegedly defective Remington rifles has now heard from a second group of state attorneys general — this one urging the court to approve the settlement.

Previously, a coalition of attorneys general from 13 states and the District of Columbia, led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, argued that the court should reject the settlement because they said it does not do enough to protect public safety.

But the new group, consisting of attorneys general from 11 predominantly southern and Midwestern states led by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, accuses the other states of a hidden agenda "to achieve other goals about firearms regulation in general."

The case involves some 7.5 million Remington firearms including the iconic Model 700 rifle, and a dozen other models with similar designs. In 2010, CNBC investigated allegations that for decades, Remington covered up a design flaw that allows the guns to fire without the trigger being pulled. Lawsuits have linked the alleged defect to dozens of deaths and hundreds of serious injuries.

Remington has steadfastly denied the allegations. The company maintains that the guns are safe, and blames all the incidents on user errors. But in 2014, the company agreed in a class action settlement to replace the triggers in millions of guns, in hopes of putting the matter to rest once and for all.

Putting the settlement into effect has been elusive, however. After a federal judge gave final approval to the trigger replacement program earlier this year, two Remington rifle owners appealed the ruling, accusing the company of deliberately downplaying the risks in order to reduce the number of claims. The Massachusetts coalition agreed in a friend-of-the-court brief in July, and now the Alabama group has filed its own brief taking the other side, and essentially pitting Red states against Blue states.

"Politics has made its way into our judicial system in what appears are states that perceive themselves to be pro-gun taking on states that they perceive to be anti-gun," said Richard Barber, a Montana gun owner who blames a Remington Model 700 for the death of his nine-year-old son in 2000. He calls the Alabama filing "shameful."

"Where does one state get off telling another state that its sole responsibility is not to protect the safety and welfare of its citizenry," Barber said.

Barber, who says he is "as pro-gun as anyone," settled a wrongful death suit against Remington for an undisclosed amount and has devoted the past 17 years to learning the truth about the company and his products. He said the class action settlement is "built on a lie" because it allows Remington to continue claiming that the guns are safe.

But the Alabama coalition argues that the class action case is not about safety. Rather, they say, the settlement is designed to compensate gun owners for the economic losses resulting from the purchase of an allegedly defective rifle. Under the settlement, they can still sue Remington for injuries and wrongful death.

"The settlement fairly resolves the only claims at issue — claims for economic damages — and leaves issues about firearms regulation, personal injury, and property damage for another day," the filing said.

Barber has been contacting the offices of the attorneys general behind the latest filing, and is recruiting families who have had similar incidents to do the same.

Regardless, the battle virtually assures that the issues surrounding Remington's bolt-action rifles will remain unresolved through this fall's hunting season. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Kansas City has agreed to hear oral arguments in the case, but the first available date is in mid-November. And it could be months after that before the court rules.