The Remington 700 trigger mechanism
Brandon Ancil | CNBC
With gun sales surging during the coronavirus crisis, owners of one of the world’s most popular rifles are facing new questions about whether their guns are safe.
And the pandemic is creating complications in the manufacturer’s offer to repair the guns under a landmark class-action settlement, with the deadline to file claims just weeks away.
Since 2010, CNBC has been investigating allegations of a design defect in Remington’s iconic Model 700 rifle that is said to allow the gun to fire without the trigger being pulled. Lawsuits have linked the alleged defect to dozens of deaths and hundreds of serious injuries from accidental discharges in the decades since the design went on the market.
Madison, North Carolina-based Remington has consistently maintained that the guns are safe and free of defects. But in late 2014, the company agreed in a class-action settlement to replace the firing mechanisms on millions of firearms, including the Model 700 and a dozen other guns with similar designs, free of charge.
Under the settlement, guns with the original Model 700 trigger mechanism — a design that dates to 1948 — would be retrofitted with a newer design known as the XMark Pro. In addition, the company agreed to recall thousands of newer guns, replacing their existing XMark Pro triggers to correct what Remington acknowledged was a manufacturing defect involving “excess bonding agent” that could cause triggers to malfunction. The company did not admit wrongdoing and said it was agreeing to the settlement “to avoid the uncertainties and expense of protracted litigation.”
Customers have until April 23 to file a claim. That date appears to remain firm even though several of the 21 Remington authorized repair centers listed in the settlement and contacted by CNBC are either closed, operating with shortened hours or are not accepting repair orders due to COVID-19. Gun shops that were still doing the repairs estimated waiting times ranging from two hours to weeks.
It is unclear how many owners have taken advantage of the offer since a federal judge gave it preliminary approval in 2015. As of February 2017 — the last time claims data was reported to the court — only about 22,000 claims had been filed of the 7.5 million guns covered by the settlement. Attorneys for Remington did not respond to multiple emails seeking comments for this story. A representative of Angeion Group, the Philadelphia firm appointed by the court to administer the settlement, also didn’t respond to CNBC queries.
‘Lucky I didn’t blow his liver out’
For some of those who did file claims, however, the repairs apparently did not solve the problem. CNBC has uncovered multiple instances in which owners complained that guns that were repaired under the settlement continued to malfunction.
“It cost me an elk,” said William Cook of Columbus, Montana, whose Model 700 was first repaired at a Remington authorized repair center in the summer of 2015, according to company records.
Cook said when he took the repaired gun on a hunting trip later that year, the gun fired when he switched off the safety, with his hand away from the trigger. More important than losing his prey, Cook said he endangered a hunting partner.
“I’m lucky I didn’t blow his liver out,” he said in an interview.
CNBC has reviewed nearly a dozen Remington product service reports documenting similar complaints.
“I am now afraid to use this gun because of the safety issue involved,” one customer wrote, saying his rifle fired when he closed the bolt after putting a round in the chamber.
Another customer noted that his gun malfunctioned only after the repairs were done.
“I never had any problem before the trigger was replaced,” he wrote.
It is not clear how widespread such issues are among the thousands of customers who have had their guns repaired.
A lead attorney for plaintiffs in the class-action case, Mark Lanier of Houston, said he had seen no reports about the new triggers malfunctioning and did not have any information about how many repairs had been completed or whether any changes in the trigger replacement program were being considered.
“Boy, these are things I just don’t know. Sorry!” he said in an email.
Lanier is part of a consortium of plaintiffs’ attorneys who collected $12.5 million in fees for their work in the case.
‘Could not duplicate concern’
In each of the product service reports reviewed by CNBC in which owners claimed their guns malfunctioned after they were repaired, Remington confirmed that the guns had not been altered by the customers. But the reports also noted that Remington was unable to duplicate the reported malfunction. The company offered to make amends anyway by replacing the trigger — or the entire gun — at no charge. Not everyone was interested.
According to the report on Cook, whom the report described as “very upset,” he returned the gun to the repair center, which sent it to Remington’s repair facility in Ilion, New York.
“Could not duplicate concern,” the report from Ilion facility noted.
Nonetheless, the company agreed to replace the trigger assembly at no charge, but Cook decided he did not want to take any chances.
“I traded it to a local gun dealer,” he said.
Richard Barber, a Montana man who helped forge the class action settlement — but has since disavowed it — is hoping others do not follow Cook’s lead. Barber, whose 9-year-old son was killed in a hunting accident involving a Model 700 in 2000, is urging Remington owners to either have their triggers replaced with an aftermarket model or have their guns destroyed.
“Putting it away or selling it to someone else isn’t the answer,” he said. “Because then you’re just passing the problem on to someone else. The cycle of injury and death still exists.”
Rich Barber has done extensive research on Remington 700 firing incidents and is a sought-after expert on the guns.
Brandon Ancil | CNBC
Barber, who along with his family settled a wrongful death claim against Remington in 2002 for an undisclosed amount, went on to amass a huge trove of internal documents as he pushed the company for answers about the Model 700’s design. He briefly served as a paid consultant to plaintiffs’ attorneys in the class-action case, but he says he resigned after it became clear the company would still be allowed to claim the guns are safe.
“I’m left with very little faith in our court, any court, because I think it’s become the justice-for-profit system,” Barber said in an interview. “Our courts don’t care about finding the truth and punishing the guilty anymore. They’re just satisfied that money changes hands and wealth is redistributed.”
The class-action settlement covers only economic losses resulting from the alleged defect, such as the diminished value of a malfunctioning gun. Other claims alleging damages such as wrongful injury or death can still be filed after the April 23 deadline.
In addition to the Model 700 rifle, the settlement covers Remington bolt-action rifle models Seven, Sportsman 78, 673, 710, 715, 770, 600, 660, 721, 722, 725, and the XP-100 bolt action pistol.
Remington, which bills itself as America’s oldest gunmaker, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2018, citing declining sales. The company emerged from bankruptcy within two months, under the control of its lenders. The class-action settlement was unaffected by the reorganization.