The Chairman of Public Justice, Arthur Bryant, warns that, with hunting season starting, owners of defective Remington rifles needs to stop using them or get them fixed; class action stalled on appeal. See the articles below (and earlier updates) for specifics on models and retrofitting the rifles.
- An agreement to replace millions of allegedly defective triggers is on hold pending an appeal.
- The company says the guns are safe, but lawsuits have linked them to at least two-dozen deaths.
- As hunting season begins, one victim’s father sees a sense of “impending doom” over more potential accidents.
Heather Ogg’s grief has turned to anger as she approaches the second anniversary of her teenage son’s shooting death. “It feels like, in a sense, that my son’s life didn’t matter,” she said.
Tanner Douglas, 16, was killed Dec. 3, 2015, while on a hunting trip with his father near Laredo, Texas. The father told police his rifle, a Remington Model 721, went off while he was unloading it, without touching the trigger.
Authorities ruled the death accidental. The state crime lab found the gun to be “unsafe.”
“The rifle fired each time the bolt was locked in the closed position with no pressure being applied to the trigger,” the report said.
What the family did not know at the time of Tanner’s death was that the gun was one of millions covered under a nationwide class-action settlement announced a year earlier, over allegations that Remington concealed a deadly design defect that allows the guns to fire without the trigger being pulled. CNBC first investigated those allegations in 2010.
The settlement, made public in December 2014, covers some 7.5 million guns, including the iconic Model 700 rifle. While still maintaining that the guns are safe, Remington agreed to replace the triggers, free of charge, in most of the guns. In older models, like the Model 721 that killed Tanner Douglas, the company agreed to provide a product voucher along with a gun safety DVD.
But nearly three years later, the vast majority of the guns have not been fixed, and it is unclear if they ever will be. This, as another hunting season is underway or about to begin in much of the country.
“We are stalled,” said Houston attorney Mark Lanier, who represents plaintiffs in the class-action case.
A federal judge gave final approval to the class-action settlement in March, but two Model 700 owners promptly appealed the ruling, saying the agreement did not do enough to properly notify the public, and accusing Remington of deliberately downplaying the risks in order to reduce its costs.
The Remington 700 trigger mechanism
In court filings, Remington has defended the settlement as “fair, reasonable, and adequate.” But with the appeal pending, the trigger replacement program is effectively on hold.
An attorney representing Remington, Dale Wills, said the company “generally does not comment on pending litigation.” He referred CNBC to the official settlement website, which says owners “will not be entitled to a retrofit until after the pending appeal is resolved.”
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Kansas City has agreed to hear oral arguments but has not yet set a date.
In the meantime, plaintiffs’ attorneys said the company is only retrofitting guns that the owner can prove fired without the trigger being pulled — a small fraction of the total. Separately, a recall of Model 700 and Model Seven rifles with a newer trigger mechanism — manufactured between 2006 and 2014 — is continuing, but attorneys would not say how many guns have been repaired.
Remington has consistently said the guns are safe and free of defects. The company blames all of the incidents — which number in the thousands, according to lawsuits and customer complaints — on user errors such as improper maintenance and failure to practice proper firearm safety. The lawsuits have linked the alleged defect to hundreds of serious injuries and at least two-dozen deaths.
For Heather Ogg, Remington’s stance adds insult to injury.
“That’s blood on their hands every time somebody gets killed, because they know there’s a defect with these guns and they’re not doing anything to let people know about it,” she said.
Ogg said attorneys have told her family it would be fruitless to take legal action against Remington, because of a Texas law requiring product liability cases to be brought within 15 years of the product’s sale. The gun in question had been in the family for generations, first owned by Tanner’s great-grandfather. The Model 721 first went on the market in 1948. However, it is common for guns to be treated as family heirlooms, and Ogg says Tanner’s father was meticulous about maintenance and safety.
“His dad was a very conscious person about these things,” she said. “If we’re going to take it hunting, it needs to be cleaned, and we need to make sure there’s nothing that’s going to jam it up or anything like that.”
Michael Douglas told police that the gun fired when he closed the bolt while unloading it. He said he had the muzzle pointed safely downward, toward the floorboards of his vehicle. But he said the shot ricocheted off another gun in the vehicle, striking Tanner, who was standing nearby, in the rib cage. A bullet fragment was recovered at the scene, according to the state crime lab report. No charges were filed.
“There was no question in my mind. I mean, his dad would never do anything to harm him intentionally,” Ogg said.
Only afterward, while planning the boy’s funeral, did the family begin learning about alleged issues surrounding Remington rifles and about the class-action settlement. As owners of one of the oldest models in question, the settlement would have entitled them to a product voucher worth only $10 plus the gun safety DVD. But Ogg says the mere possibility of a problem would have raised a red flag with the boy’s father.
“I know for a fact he would not have taken that gun hunting. He would not have used that gun unless it had been fixed because he was so ‘gun safety.’ If there was a problem with the gun, he would not have taken it out there risking someone’s life,” she said.
Spreading the word
With the class action settlement on hold, Remington critics are trying to alert the public about what they see as a life or death situation.
Richard Barber of Montana, whose own son was killed in a hunting accident in 2000, has launched a Facebook page featuring some of the Remington internal documents he uncovered in his long search for answers. Nonetheless, he says he feels a sense of “impending doom” as hunting season begins, knowing that other families are likely to suffer the same fate.
“As sure as the sun is going to come up tomorrow, people are going to be maimed or killed this year,” he said.
Barber initially worked as a paid consultant to the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the class-action case but says he resigned after it became clear that neither side was interested in getting the truth out. He eventually became an outspoken critic of the settlement, which he calls a “sham,” although he is not involved in the appeal.
Barber blames the legal system for the settlement being in limbo.
“The courts seem to be satisfied if money changes hands,” he said, rather than finding the truth and punishing the guilty.
Barber also blames plaintiffs’ attorneys, who stand to collect $12.5 million in fees once the settlement is finalized.
“The people who are thumping their chest about this settlement had a vested financial interest in this case,” he said.
One of those attorneys, Lanier, is urging hunters to pay heed regardless of the settlement.
“This is a safety hazard still, and all hunters should be aware,” he said. “I would not use a Remington 700 without having it retrofitted.”
On that point, Barber and Ogg agree.
“I hope that people will get their guns fixed,” Barber said. “If they don’t, then I have to say they deserve what they get.”
“It can happen to anybody in the blink of an eye,” Ogg said, “and it’s life altering. It takes five minutes to do research, and it could save your child’s life.”