The general rifle season for elk, deer, and antelope opened this past weekend. Hunting is a family tradition in Montana, a higher percentage of our population hunts than in any other state, and it is common to see hunting parties of two or three generations in the woods and on the prairies throughout Montana. Unfortunately, a Montana family may lose a loved one to a hunting accident.
It’s good to remind ourselves, and our hunting companions, to be extra careful with guns. Those of us who do own and use firearms, whether for hunting or sport shooting, need to make sure that we emphasize safe gun handling practices, for ourselves and those we are shooting with. We need to reinforce the safe handling of guns, remembering to treat each and every weapon as if it were loaded. We have come to place too much trust in the mechanical safeties on our guns, but that trust is misplaced.
Twelve years ago, here in Montana, on October 23rd, nine year Gus Barber lost his life when a hunting rifle that was being unloaded fired unexpectedly. Most of us who heard the news reports at the time were saddened to hear the reports, and it was especially so for parents confronted with the unimaginable pain of losing a child. For those of us who hunt, it was a sober reminder of the inherent dangers of firearms and the need to reinforce safe gun handling practices.
Unfortunately, the tragedy of the loss of nine year old Gus Barber’s life was caused, in part, by a defective product. While a Remington Model 700 rifle was being unloaded, the rifle’s safety was released, and the gun fired. The gun firing was an unexpected event for Gus’s family. A Remington Model 700 rifle accidentally discharging, however, was not unexpected, by Remington.
Over the years thousands of Remington Model 700 rifles have discharged unexpectedly, including many here in Montana. Faced with owner complaints and lawsuits, Remington, making a cost benefit analysis, chose not to recall the rifles. Remington chose instead to issue a statement to Remington rifle owners about proper gun handling. The statement did not alert Remington owners that there was a potential design problem with their rifles that required added attention to safety.
Remington knew it’s Model 700 rifles had problems. They even launched an internal program to develop a safer rifle. And they did develop a safer rifle, but chose not to market it.
We know all this about Remington Model 700 rifles because the victims of the tragedies that have resulted from Remington’s design defect have come to trial lawyers for help. Trial lawyers, and the victims’ concerned family members, like Gus’s dad, Rich Barber, have uncovered the internal documents showing Remington’s knowledge of this problem, and of their knowledge of safer alternatives. Recently, Rich and his legal team were able to convince a federal judge here in Montana to unseal even more Remington documents in a Butte case settled in 1995.
One of the legal aspects of the Remington story received little attention over the years – secrecy agreements in previous litigation prevented much information about the dangers of the rifles from being made public. With Rich’s hard work we have been able to pass legislation in Montana to ban these secrecy agreements. Rich’s purpose was clear and concise – he didn’t want another family to face the tragedy his had, simply because knowledge of a dangerous product was hidden from public view by a secrecy agreement.
While there has been no mandatory recall, Remington is offering to modify the defective mechanism for its models 700, 721, 722, 600, 660, XP-100 and 40-X. You can check the Safety Modification Program at remington.com under the news tab, and then safety link or call 800-243-9700 for the details of the program. There are still millions of defective rifles out there, and thousands here in Montana, please make sure one of them isn’t yours or one of your hunting buddy’s.
Gus Barber’s death prompted us years ago to make this yearly plea. We do it because every year we hear from a listener who has had a defective Remington repaired. But, every year we also hear of another hunter injured or killed by a Remington that unexpectedly fired.
Safe gun handling practices are not enough, these rifles are defective – PLEASE, check your guns, tell your family and friends, and just get these Remington rifles fixed. Please don’t wait until another Montana family’s fall hunting tradition turns into yet another preventable tragedy – please do it this season.
CNBC prepared an hour long story on defective Remington rifles Remington Under Fire, it can be accessed at http://www.cnbc.com/id/39554936/
Federal Court Unseals Remington Rifle Court Documents (September 5, 2012) http://publicjustice.net/content/federal-court-unseals-remington-rifle-court-documents
The link to Remingtons’s Safety Modification program is:
From this page:
The unloading process for most bolt-action firearms with a bolt-lock mechanism cannot begin unless the manual safety is placed in the “F” or “Off or Fire” position. If you participate in the program your firearm will be modified to eliminate the bolt-lock feature and you will be able to unload your firearm while the safety is kept in the “S” or ” On Safe” position. The operation of your firearm will not otherwise be affected.
If you have a bolt-action rifle with a bolt-lock mechanism, and you do not wish to have the lock removed, you must be sure to follow this IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTICE: Be sure the rifle is pointing in a safe direction anytime you move the manual safety to the “F” or “Off or Fire” position. As soon as you have lifted the bolt, immediately put the manual safety back in the “S” or “On Safe” position and then continue the unloading process.
Al Smith writes on behalf of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association