In the world of firearms, the Remington Model 700 is an undisputed heavyweight. Cops love it. Hunters have bought 4 million of them. Rich Barber liked it so much, he bought two.
"I laid my money down. I thought I'd bought a real quality product," said Rich Barber.
Only now, it's become his obsession. Three months ago Barber's only son, Gus, bled to death from a Model 700 wound. Gus' mother said the 28-year-old gun fired when she flipped the safety off.
"The gun went off. My finger was nowhere near the trigger," recalled Barbara Barber.
And so say 14 other Montanans who responded to news of Gus' death. The same thing with the same rifle happened to them, they said.
Rich Barber wanted to complain about the rifle to someone in government. But he was quick to discover that thanks to a strong lobby, firearms are one of the few products in America which have no government design and safety standards.
But there is a very long paper trail on the model gun that killed Gus Barber. The documents surfaced in lawsuits filed by Missouri attorney Rich Miller, who has been dogging complaints against Remington for 16 years.
"At last count we had over 1,500 customer complaints of similar malfunctions," stated Miller.
Miller has settled dozens of lawsuits against Remington; each time making essentially the same allegation: that the weapon's fire control system and two-piece trigger connector can be tricked into firing when the safety is engaged.
"'Guns don't fire unless you pull the trigger,' is the assumption everyone begins with. This gun kills people," contests Miller.
And he's not alone in thinking so. Jack Belk is past president of the American Custom Gunmaker's Guild.
In a written statement to CBS News, Remington said it had looked at the rifle that shot Gus Barber and found "the inside of the rifle to be heavily rusted, and the trigger engagement screw, safety lever and fire control mechanism all had been either adjusted or removed and reinstalled after the rifle left the factory." A spokesman added, however, that "Remington is not asserting this is what caused the discharge" and declined to answer additional questions.
They specifically had no comment on this 1979 internal memo which was an exhibit in one of Miller's lawsuits. According to it, as early as then the company had privately determined that 1 percent of the 2 million early Model 700s could be "tricked" into firing. But, Remington concluded "That would mean the recall would have to gather 2 million guns just to find the 20,000 that are susceptible to this condition."
And that decision, say some experts, would be a huge financial hit.
When confronted with the statement that a lot of people are going to think that Rich Barber is just another gun nut, just another person out to get the guns, Rich replied, "That's the furtherest thing from the truth because I don't plan on giving mine up anytime in the future. This is not an anti-gun issue. This is a gun safety issue. End of conversation."
And just the start of one family's tragedy.
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