America's oldest gun manufacturer, Remington, has agreed to replace millions of triggers in its most popular product—the Model 700 rifle. The company has been riddled for years with claims the gun can fire without the trigger being pulled, often with deadly results.
A 2010 CNBC documentary, "Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation," explored allegations that for decades the company covered up a design defect, which Remington continues to deny. But now, under a nationwide settlement filed Friday in a federal court in Missouri, the company is agreeing to replace the triggers in about 7.85 million rifles.
While insisting its action is not a recall of the iconic gun, Remington says in a statement that it is agreeing to make the changes "to avoid the uncertainties and expense of protracted litigation."
The settlement involves a class action suit brought in 2013 by Ian Pollard of Concordia, Missouri, who claimed his Remington 700 rifle fired on multiple occasions without the trigger being pulled. The agreement also settles a similar class action case in Washington state.The Pollard suit accused Remington and its owners of negligence, breach of warranty, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and fraudulent concealment—some of it involving the company's formal response to the 2010 CNBC documentary.
At least two dozen deaths and more than 100 serious injuries have been linked to inadvertent discharges of Remington 700 series rifles.
In court filings, Remington denied the allegations, calling them "inaccurate, misleading, (and) taken out of context." And last year, a judge dismissed several of the claims, including negligence and fraudulent concealment. But by this July, the parties announced they were working out details of a "nationwide class settlement" involving the controversial gun.
Under the settlement, which still must be approved by a judge, Remington has agreed to retrofit the rifles in question at no cost to the owner. Many users had new trigger mechanisms installed on their own, and Remington will reimburse them as part of the settlement. For guns that cannot be retrofitted, the company plans to offer vouchers for Remington products.
The settlement covers more than a dozen models, specifically the Model 700, Seven, Sportsman 78, 673, 710, 715, 770, 600, 660, XP-100, 721, 722 and 725.
Remington's 700 series, which began with the Model 721 shortly after World War II, has been wildly popular not only with hunters and target shooters, but also with law enforcement and the U.S. military. The gun is prized for its accuracy and smooth operation, thanks to a unique trigger mechanism patented in the 1940s by Remington engineer Merle "Mike" Walker.
But the CNBC investigation revealed that even before the gun went on the market, Walker himself had discovered a potential problem with the trigger he designed. In a 1946 memo, he warned of a "theoretical unsafe condition" involving the gun's safety—the mechanism that's supposed to keep the rifle from firing accidentally.
Subsequent memos during the testing process noted guns could be made to fire simply by switching off the safety or operating the bolt. "This situation can be very dangerous from a safety and functional point of view," said a 1947 inspection report.
While Walker contended the issue had to do with the manufacturing process and not his design, critics including firearms experts and plaintiffs' attorneys have argued that the same aspects of the design that allow the gun to fire so smoothly also make it possible for internal parts of the trigger to become misaligned, rendering the gun unsafe. Specifically, they cite a tiny part called a "trigger connector," which they say can become clogged with rust or debris. Under the settlement, Remington plans to replace the triggers with "connectorless" mechanisms—a similar fix to one Walker himself proposed in 1948.
Walker died in 2013 at age 101. But he told CNBC in 2010 that he believed Remington's rejection of his proposal back then "had something to do with cost." A 1948 internal analysis obtained by CNBC estimated the cost of the change to be 5 ½ cents per gun.
Remington has always maintained the guns are safe, and that the documents obtained by CNBC are merely evidence of the company's attention to quality. The company claimed every accident was the result of user error.