In October 2010, CNBC broadcasted a report titled “Remington Under Fire” as a segment in their nightly news program. The segment alleged that the Remington 700 bolt-action rifle has a defective fire control group. Senior Correspondent Scott Cohn reported that Remington 700s could fire immediately when the bolt is closed, or discharge with the safety catch on. A series of videos by Remington responded to the allegations in the report, and debunked some of the claims CNBC made. Scott Cohn still won a Gerald Loeb Award, the highest honor in business journalism, for the “Remington Under Fire” story.
Cohn returned this year with a fresh attack on Remington. This time working for Rock Center with Brian Williams, his new report attacks the Remington 870 on the same grounds as “Remington Under Fire.” Although not officially titled, an ominous “Under Fire” crosshair logo appears behind Brian Williams as he gravely warns the viewing audience that no federal agency has enough power to force a gun company to recall defective products. “The industry polices itself…keep that in mind as you watch our next story…,” he declares.
The report begins with a hunter named Justin Yerger, whose Remington Sportsman 12 supposedly discharged when it fell over. If you’re not familiar with the Sportsman 12, that’s OK—Remington only made this budget model for two years, from 1984 to 1986. In the CNBC report, Yerger claims that his Sportsman 12 just went off all by itself, with the safety on. CNBC then interviews Tom Butters, gunsmith and paid expert witness for plaintiffs who sue gun companies. Butters claims that Remington’s common fire control group, a trigger assembly introduced in 1948, has a design flaw that Remington is hiding. The program continues on, telling stories of accidents in which Remington shotguns and rifles using the common fire control group “just go off” with the safety on and without pulling the trigger. The final story involves John Casey, a man imprisoned for 2nd degree murder in the death of his wife. Casey appealed his 20-year sentence because the court would not allow him to introduce evidence about the common fire control group. This evidence could potentially support his claim that his Remington 742 rifle discharged without the trigger being pulled. The appeals court denied Casey’s appeal. The segment ends with a few words between Brian Williams and Scott Cohn. Williams notes that Remington created a website to respond to CNBC’s story and predicts that gun advocates will claim CNBC has an anti-gun agenda. Cohn responds, “If we were doing a story about allegedly defective baby carriages, would we be anti-baby carriage?”
Remington’s website vigorously defends their product line and the common fire control group. Posting a series of well-produced videos giving additional information, Remington is attempting to go point-by-point and debunk Rock Center’s allegations. One video centers on the Justin Yerger case. Yerger’s story about how his gun “just went off” changed after he hired a trial attorney. Neither version of his story matches up with the forensic evidence recorded by the police investigation that followed. Tom Butters and Remington tested Yerger’s gun and found it to be working properly. The tests were unable to duplicate the malfunction described by Mr. Yerger in his lawsuit. Tom Butters, the expert gunsmith Rock Center relied on, has testified in hundreds of tort cases against nearly every major firearms manufacturer in the country as a paid expert witness. He and another gunsmith, Jack Belk, have invented a patented safety system called the Belk-Butters Intercept Safety device, which they have unsuccessfully tried to sell to Remington and others. They built the BBIS device at the request of the trial lawyers who funded it. Belk admitted during a deposition that he would be unlikely to testify against any gun manufacturer that purchased their BBIS device.
Brian Williams claims at the end of the segment that CNBC is not anti-gun. He hints that it would be reasonable for a government agency such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission to regulate the firearms industry as a method of quality control. This would keep unscrupulous gun companies from selling defective products. Taking him at his word, the story is an effort to raise the standard of care, as the lawyers would say. When a lawyer wants to hold a car manufacturer responsible for not putting anti-lock brakes on their cars, they can defend that everyone else uses old style standard brakes as well—if nearly everyone else truly uses those brakes. Once enough manufacturers switch to anti-lock brakes, the defense to lawsuits breaks down and the car manufacturer must pay for not meeting the standard of care required by the rest of the industry. What Rock Center is saying, according to their own explanation, is that manufactuturers should raise the standard of care until most of them use a trigger system like the BBIS device designed by Butters and Belk. Then trial lawyers can sue the gun companies who don’t follow the new standard of care. The government can punish them for not following industry wide safety standards.
However, the industry will not normally raise the standard of care unless their customers demand it. This is why it is necessary to sell fear and doubt to Remington’s customers. CNBC wants customers to walk into gun stores and refuse to buy Remington 870s until that trigger problem they saw on the TV is fixed. This will hurt Remington’s sales until they change their design, eventually changing the standard of care. From the point of view that CNBC is anti-gun, they are hoping that millions of wives who viewed graphic images of mangled legs and faces on the nightly news tonight will nag their husbands to get those scary guns out of the house tomorrow. The lesson of the broadcast is “you cannot trust these things; they will kill you for no reason at all if you possess them.”
An important question remains. Why now? The most recent incident discussed in the CNBC report occurred in 1998, nearly fifteen years ago. The Remington 870 and its common fire control group have been in continuous production since 1948. The ten millionth 870 shotgun was produced in 2003 and the common fire control group fits several models of Remington rifle as well. Rock Center claims in their report that over 20 million firearms have been built using this fire control group. They claim to have found 125 incidents involving the fire control groups during their ten-month investigation into Remington’s deep dark secret. Let’s say the common fire control group was defective on all 125 incidents, out of twenty million guns using it. That means CNBC found evidence that .000625 percent of the Remington firearms in question have this problem. Why this story now? Is it because a presidential election looms? Is it because Scott Cohn wants another award for attacking an evil gun company? Is it because the annual NRA convention was scheduled for the same week as the report aired?
Watch them both and then comment. Who do you believe? Would you buy a Remington product using the common fire control group after seeing both sides?
Trackback from your site.