BUTTE, Mont. (CN) – A mother claims in court that Remington Arms Co. defamed her by blaming her for her son’s death, though Remington has received more than 3,200 complaints that the rifle model that killed her 9-year-old boy fires without its trigger being pulled.
Richard and Barbara Barber sued Remington Arms, its successor Sporting Goods Properties, and their alter ego, E.I. DuPont de Nemours, in Federal Court.
The Barbers claim that Remington knew its trigger system was unsafe as long ago as 1948, but refused to replace it because to do so would have cost it an extra 5½ cents per rifle.
Barbara Barber says she was unloading her Model 700 Remington bolt-action rifle after a day of elk hunting on Oct. 23, 2000. “In order to unload the rifle it was necessary to release the safety,” the complaint states. “When she released the safety, the rifle suddenly and unexpectedly discharged, even though Barbara did not touch the trigger on the rifle. The bullet from the rifle passed through their horse trailer and struck [her son] Gus in the left hand and lower left abdomen.”
Gus died in a hospital emergency room.
“According to Remington’s own internal records, the design of rifles manufactured before February 2, 1982 forces the gun handler to arm the rifle by pushing the safety to the off position before the rifle can be unloaded, and it is foreseeable that all rifles containing the Walker fire control can spontaneously discharge without a trigger pull even when they are properly adjusted and properly maintained,” the complaint states.
The Barbers say the Walker fire control system caused the shot that killed their son. They reached a settlement with Remington in 2002.
Richard Barber has since appeared on many television documentaries and has been interviewed by dozens of newspapers about the Walker fire control, and educates gun owners about the defective design, according to the complaint.
In 2001, he began attending a series of meetings with Remington attorneys and company CEO Tommy Millner to try to get them to replace the system. Partly as a result of this, Remington introducing a new fire-control system, the “X-Mark Pro,” in December 2006, according to the complaint.
But in 2010, CNBC broadcast “Remington Under Fire,” which revealed that the company is “still maintaining publicly that the Walker fire control was safe and reliable, and that it was still manufacturing bolt action rifles with the Walker fire control,” the Barbers say in their complaint.
“From Remington’s response to the CNBC exposé, Richard also learned that defendants were claiming that the Model 700 held by Barbara on the day Gus was killed could not have fired unless Barbara pulled the trigger, or unless it was improperly modified or improperly maintained, because defendants claimed no one had ever duplicated it.”
The Barbers add: “Defendants have since 2010 publicly blamed Richard and Barbara for the death of their son Gus by making a claim that defendants know is false; to wit: that they have never duplicated a firing without a trigger pull unless the fire control was modified or not properly maintained. Further, defendants falsely stated in their responses to the CNBC news coverage that the Barber rifle discharged because it was poorly maintained, modified in multiple ways, was heavily rusted, had the trigger adjustment screws, safety lever and the fire control mechanism adjusted or removed and reinstalled, had a number of abnormal conditions and that the Barber rifle fired only when the trigger was pulled exactly as it was designed to do.
“Remington’s statements that it has never been able to duplicate an unintended discharge without a trigger pull with rifles that were properly maintained and not modified is false and fraudulent because defendants’ own records prove these claims are false.”
The Barbers claim the system has been causing Remington rifles to fire without a trigger pull at an average rate of five unintended firings per week for the past 13 years. They claim that figure is based on reported incidents, and according to internal documents, Remington has been aware of the problematic trigger system since at least 1947.
Despite that knowledge, the company, which carries the title of oldest gun manufacturer in the U.S., has continued to manufacture a variety of rifles containing the trigger system, including sniper rifles for the military, selling approximately 5 million Remington Model 700 rifles with the Walker fire control since 1962, the complaint states.
The Barbers claim Remington has faced at least 140 other lawsuits involving Remington rifles with the Walker fire control system, and that “Between 1992 and 2004, defendants have acknowledged receiving 3,273 customer complaint of Remington rifles with Walker fire controls firing without a trigger pull.”
The problem has been so persistent, the complaint states, that Remington uses acronyms to identify causes of inadvertent firing.
“Remington’s records show that the most common malfunction is what Remington has termed as an ‘FSR,’ which refers to a fire-on-safety release,” the complaint states.
The Barbers claim that “in August 1948, Remington engineers had not only designed, but further tested several trigger block designs that forced engagement of the sear and trigger and ultimately recommended the use of a trigger block after Remington received customer complaints involving rifles firing on safety release. However, the records also indicate that Remington decided not to replace the Walker fire control with the alternative safer trigger block design because this design would have cost an additional 5.5 cents per rifle in 1948.”
The Barbers seek punitive damages for defamation, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and consumer law violations.
They are represented by Richard Ramler, of Belgrad, Mont., and Jon Robinson, with f Bolen, Robinson & Ellis, of Decatur, Ill.