BREAKING: CNBC Alleges Remington Knew of M700 Trigger Defect In 1989

Remington_3d-R-670x447

The Remington 700, a favorite of US hunters and sportsmen for decades, is once again gripped in the jaws of a scandal surrounding its trigger mechanism. CNBC recently released a detailed article outlining several recently disclosed company documents, allegedly hidden for decades by protective court orders. Segments of their article are reproduced below:

Secret documents from inside the nation’s oldest gun manufacturer show corporate attorneys heavily involved in multiple attempts by Remington engineers to develop a safer rifle. The apparent fear: changing the design would be seen as an admission of guilt.

The documents, obtained exclusively by CNBC, come to light as the company and plaintiffs’ attorneys seek final court approval of a landmark class-action settlement in which Remington has agreed to replace the triggers in as many as 7.5 million guns. A hearing had been scheduled for Monday, but within hours after this report was first published, the judge postponed it indefinitely.

U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith cited a “quite low” initial response to the settlement offer. As of mid-August, only 2,327 claims had been filed since the tentative agreement was first publicized in May. The judge ordered both sides to come up with a better plan to notify the public.

“The Court cannot conceive that an owner of an allegedly defective firearm would not seek the remedy being provided,” Smith wrote.

But even now, the company insists the Model 700 — the most popular bolt-action rifle in the world — is safe.

The documents, including hundreds of thousands of pages of internal notes and memos as well as hours of video, shed new light on Remington’s efforts to manage the problem — and the fallout.

Among the revelations:

  • Remington has been able to duplicate the alleged problem, both in its own tests and in research by an independent laboratory the company commissioned.
  • Remington rejected multiple alternative designs for the trigger, at least in part because attorneys worried that a design change might be seen as an admission of guilt in the product liability suits they were battling.
  • Remington has deftly — and legally — used court secrecy provisions to limit the spread of information about the alleged defect. But on multiple occasions, courts have sanctioned the company — including at least one contempt citation—for withholding key evidence.

In addition, the company said, “Both Remington and experts hired by plaintiff attorneys have conducted testing on guns returned from the field which were alleged to have fired without a trigger pull, and neither has ever been able to duplicate such an event on guns which had been properly maintained and which had not been altered after sale.”

But the newly revealed documents tell a different story.

“Inadvertent firings may be an infrequent, random phenomena caused by debris,” concludes a 1995 scientific study — which Remington commissioned — conducted by H.P. White Laboratory, an independent, Maryland-based ballistics testing firm.

Researchers were evaluating a proposed modification of the Model 700 firing mechanism, and comparing it to the existing design. One of the tests involved blowing sand and dust into the mechanism to simulate conditions in the field.

The researchers say the guns performed normally during the test, so the debris had no effect on safety during the firing sequence. But as the guns were being cleaned following that test, two of them — one with the modification and one without — inadvertently fired, according to the report. But researchers could not get the malfunction to happen again, which they concluded was because the firing itself, and recycling the bolt, cleared the debris. It is exactly the theory that plaintiffs’ experts have alleged for years, and might explain Remington’s claim that it has been unable to duplicate the problem on guns that have been returned.

A finding by an independent ballistics laboratory that Remington Model 700 rifles can inadvertently fire at random might be of interest to plaintiffs in other cases, not to mention the millions of people who own the guns. But the study was hidden from the public until now.

It surfaced briefly in a 2005 lawsuit against Remington by a Texas man, Trevor Williams, who was severely injured when a friend’s Model 710 rifle went off during a hunting trip. A jury found in favor of Remington, but the company nonetheless agreed to pay Williams $1.4 million under a settlement agreement. By taking the deal, however, Williams and his attorneys agreed to keep all of the documents Remington had produced secret — including the lab report — under a protective order both sides agreed to early in the case.

The release of these documents comes in the wake of two recalls of the Remington 700 rifle by Remington, which in total include virtually every rifle of that model ever made. To understand how the Remington trigger could be flawed, we must understand how it works. The trigger was invented by one Merle “Mike” Walker, a Remington engineer who later became a key player in the Remington trigger controversy. His trigger is shown by the patent drawings below:

US2514981-1

The Walker trigger design. Image source: patents.google.com

 

Walker’s trigger uses a principle called “sear override”, where the sear, which holds back and releases the striker, sits atop (or “overrides”) a pivoting trigger unit. As the trigger is pulled to the rear, it engages a surface on the sear to a smaller and smaller degree, until finally it has moved out of the way completely, allowing the sear to drop, freeing the striker and allowing the weapon to fire. As the bolt is drawn to the rear, a spring pushing against the trigger holds it in the rearmost position, forcing the sear up and catching the striker. If the safety is engaged, it rotates a piece under the sear, propping it up and preventing the gun from firing.

Problems can occur because the trigger does not at any point positively engage the sear, it merely blocks it. This means that if the rifle is jostled sufficiently violently, or prevented from returning to the rearward position by grit, the gun may fire. The action of the safety also means that a condition can exist where the safety is the only mechanical element blocking the sear and preventing the gun from firing, which could potentially cause the type of malfunction Barbara Barber experienced in 2000 which led to the death of her son, Gus. In that incident, Barbara claims she disengaged the safety on her Remington 700, which lay in the bed of her truck, causing it to fire. In my estimation, this is possible if the rifle was equipped with the Walker trigger shown above, and the trigger unit was for some reason held in the “fire” position.

Given that this is a heated issue, I feel I should offer my personal thoughts. I do not like sear override triggers for the above safety reasons, but firearms are mechanical devices and therefore are subject to failure; this is the reason for the Second Rule of Gun Safety, and it’s also why that is the most important rule. Having said that, tragedies happen, including terrible and unexpected ones like the Barber incident. It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback from the comfort of my writing chair, but the short of it is that Barbara pointed her firearm in a direction she thought was safe, but wasn’t. I cannot question her judgment of what was or was not safe, as I was not there. Neither, I think, can anyone else who wasn’t there. Likewise, my citing the Second Rule is also not intended to absolve Remington of all responsibility, any more than it is intended to demonize Mrs. Barber. The company chose to use a trigger design that provides an inexpensive solution to the problem of making an accurate and repeatable trigger, but at some cost to safety. It should be pointed out that neither is Remington the only company using this kind of trigger, there are many different rifles on the market with sear override triggers.

Stay safe, folks.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


Advertisement

  • Isn’t this old news? Like 4 or more years ago this came out?

    • M.M.D.C.

      It was posted yesterday. There was a similar accusation from 2010, though.

      • That’s right… The fist Hit Piece Remington was all about “All those triggers that failed were modified or neglected maintenance”.

        • FightFireJay

          This is a big deal because there is now physical proof that Remington knewe the triggers could/would fail.

          Then waited 17 years to correct it!

      • John Shore

        It isn’t a ‘hit piece’ if it’s the truth. This article just presents the documented proof that Remington knew the defect existed, and did nothing about it while denying that it existed.

    • Kivaari

      Yep. Old news. It’s been shown quite a few times on cable TV. I’ve seen people “tuning” the triggers. One thing I did while owning gun stores, is I refused to do trigger jobs. I advised customers to buy a quality after-market trigger, and not play with the factory trigger. A gunsmith I worked with was notorious for making trigger pulls super light. His ceiling had extra ventilation, Not using a snap cap, but live ammo, was his trademark.

      • John Shore

        You may have seen the old ‘Remington Under Fire’ film from 2010; That was about the guns allegedly being defective. THIS is about Remington knowing of the defect, documenting that knowledge, and keep it secret by using the power of the courts to do so. This is a whole different ball-game, now.

        • Kivaari

          From memory the reconstruction showed her firing into an open door to a trailer.

  • tazman66gt

    Seems like yet another hit piece from MSM. Just like the fuel tanks on old GM pickups. Also, I love the “secret documents” BS, come on!

    • noamsaying

      I am really sure that the MSM made up the documents pulled from Remington’s files concerning the defect (sarc). I have one of these guns, and it is going in pronto.

      • tazman66gt

        I’m sure they did. Isn’t anyone else amazed how if MSM wants to write a BS story all they have to say is “secret documents or unnamed source”. Come on, where in life does anyone get to do that and get by with it.

        • Regardless, the problems with sear override triggers are well-characterized.

    • John Shore

      No, I wish that it was, but this is real. The released documents (they were ‘secret’ only because Remington obtained court orders to keep them secret) show that Remington WAS able to reproduce the defect at the factory, the Walker triggers DO allow the gun to fire without a trigger pull when the safety is released or the bolt opened, and that people have died as a result, if they weren’t just maimed for life.
      Read the linked CNBC article, look a the documents, and decide for yourself.

  • that Guy

    Interesting this is reported right after Remington sues the us govt, colt and fn.

  • Carl Kahlson

    If they are comfortable making and selling crap firearms, it is a short hop to making and selling dangerous firearms.

    Quality control is a matter of principles and values primarily. When you have private equity people in control who do not possess the relevant values or principles, you are going to suffer. The brand has effectively been liquidated.

  • Edeco

    Rem has a knack for embarrassing themselves this decade. Still smacks of witch-hunt to me.

  • Brocus

    by now it’s prudent to just stay away from anything with a remington rollmark

    • Precious Roy

      I’d buy an older 870 but I’d be scared of anything else.

      • John Shore

        Be a little scared of those, too. Just remember that they aren’t drop safe, and you should be fine.

        • Precious Roy

          I don’t consider any loaded weapon drop safe as a precaution. I don’t want to be the first to find out anything new or discover any hidden flaw. Enough people I trust swear by their older Rem 12ga and I’ve seen enough people use them without issue. I’m a Mossberg guy myself. I almost picked up a new 870 a year ago but discovered all the problems running certain types of ammo.
          I never heard anything but fanboy love for all things Remington until I started reading firearms blogs and forums and discovered all the issues with longterm design flaws and manufacturing problems. That freaked me out a bit. Matches up perfectly with only a few thousand responses to the settlement. Most people have no clue their rifles have this problem.

          • John Shore

            Right you are, sir. A great many guns are not ‘drop safe,’ mostly long guns and older semi-autos, along with single-action old-style revolvers.
            You’re right that most people have no clue that their beloved rifle has a possible problem; Remington hasn’t exactly done an exemplary job getting the word out. Further, a man who has owned a rifle for years without any incidents isn’t likely to believe that his gun has the capability of being defective one day and fine for the rest of its life; However, the Walker design contains just that sort of defect, with the ‘connector’ being free-floating from the trigger so it may not always go back underneath the sear, and the possibility of a ‘gap’ forming between connector and trigger in which debris can collect.
            There is also another element, that being ‘Defective by Gunsmith.’ If someone doesn’t understand sear/trigger overlap, overtravel, or trigger-return strength, the trigger can be set up to fire virtually every single time the safety is released or the bolt handle lifted. That may be the cause of one of the ‘defects’ shown in the CNBC ‘Remington Under Fire’ expose where the Police rifles fire on bolt lift; That particular ‘defect’ may not be the fault of the rifle’s trigger.
            However, if the Remington factory has documented that new guns right off the factory floor, adjusted to factory specs, are capable of firing on safety release without a trigger pull (and an independent lab has found the same thing), that pretty much seals the deal.

          • Precious Roy

            The idea of my weapon firing on safety or bolt manipulation gives me the willies. Put that up there with friendly fire on the tragedy meter.
            Imagine being stuck with one of those if the anti-2nd folks win out.

    • Yimmy

      I’d have to agree. They’ve been a complete mess is shoddy workmanship materials used and finish. I still have an old 1100 from the late 70s. I dumped my 7600 and 597. I wouldn’t dream of spending another dime on their current guns.

    • Kivaari

      If made in the last 15 years I’d agree. The last M700 I bought was a Police Special. It was simply crude. While visiting gun stores I’ve looked at a few of the new made rifles. JUNK. Remington raises the price and cheapens the materials and finish.
      Like Precious Roy, I’d agree with the older M870s being pretty good. Due to serious injuries I got while on the job, I couldn’t take the recoil anymore. I sold my last two M870s-14″ NFA guns to a local PD.

  • Jwedel1231

    I just want to know what other companies make an overriding trigger.

    • John Shore

      Most of them, in fact. Nearly all modern civilian bolt-action rifles have an override trigger.

  • John

    1989 huh? I’ll bet that most of the people who profited from ignoring the problem are either retired or have enough money not to care anymore.

    Remember, here in the U.S….crime pays.

  • Don Ward

    Why do you hate Remington, Nathaniel?

    *Laughs maniacally*

  • Zachary marrs

    • Jwedel1231

      We’re done, shut it down. This comment section has been won.

  • Kivaari

    In one documentary the designer of the trigger said he could have avoided the mistake with a 5 cent part. Many of the negligent discharges with 700s result from “gunsmiths” doing work on the trigger at home. I’ve seen it. The one case where a Montana family was hunting, returned home and the mother went to unload her rifle, it went bang. She had it aimed low on a trailer, where unknown to her young son was walking by. Not mentioned in the documentary was the father was a cop. He wore a jacket with the symbols for One ASS-to-risk. It’s popular in SWAT teams. “1*”

    • Jwedel1231

      That situation is mentioned in the article. The author says “truck bed” instead of “trailer”.

  • Kyle

    Lawyers being lawyers dragging things out and making them worse.

  • John Shore

    Fellows, it’s about time. Thank you!

    Now that the scheduled hearing in Pollard v. Remington has been postponed indefinitely, more owners will find out just how badly Remington proposed to treat them, and how dangerous the problem with the Walker trigger IS.