Petzal: CNBC’s Remington 700 Trigger Coverage A Clean Miss

Editor's Note: In light of the recent controversial CNBC program that deemed Remington Model 700 rifles unsafe, we asked Rifles Editor and Gun Nut blogger David E. Petzal to view the broadcast and offer his thoughts in this extended post. Petzal, a 54-year shooter, NRA Certified Rifle Instructor, former Army Drill Sergeant, and one the country's foremost gun authorities, had this to say:

On October 20, CNBC ran a program entitled "Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation." Claimed to be the result of 10 months' of investigation by CNBC, it was narrated by a Senior Correspondent named Scott Cohn. The focus of the program was the trigger designed in the late 1940s for the Remington 721 (the predecessor to the 700) by Remington engineer Mike Walker. According to CNBC, the trigger was known to be defective almost from its inception; its design allegedly allows the rifle to be fired without the trigger being pulled. This has resulted, the program claimed, in thousands of complaints caused by accidental firings, as well as injuries and deaths.

Those are the bare bones. As I expected, "Remington Under Fire" was a hatchet job. The verdict is guilty from the get-go. No one from Remington would come on the program, nor would anyone from Cerberus, Remington's parent company. This is not because they have something to hide, but because they know that if they appear on a program like this they will be made to look like liars or fools or both. If you'd like an example, consult any of the "documentaries" made by the lovely and talented Michael Moore.

Scott Cohn's program exhibits an unsubtle mix of ignorance of the subject as well as serious journalistic deficiencies. First is the attitude toward guns as a whole. There were references to "safe" guns. Memo to Mr. Cohn: There is no such thing as a safe gun. Guns are inherently dangerous, and unless you handle them with care the results can be tragic. Everyone shown on the program who was killed or wounded by a 700 suffered because either they themselves or someone else pointed a 700 at them.

This is poignantly illustrated by the death of Gus Barber, a Montana boy who was shot by his mother Barbara in 2000. Mrs. Barber was unloading a 700 whose muzzle was pointed at a horse trailer. On the far side of the trailer was her son. The rifle went off; the bullet passed through the trailer; Gus Barber died. This was a terrible tragedy, and I am very sorry for the unbearable pain the Barbers suffered.

Rich Barber, Gus' father, believes his son was killed because the rifle went off accidentally. In fact, Gus Barber died because a rifle was pointed at him. If the rifle had been pointed in a safe direction, all the Barbers would have gotten was a bad scare.

This kind of tragedy can happen to anyone, with any gun, if he or she ignores the prime directive of safe gun handling, put best by Jeff Cooper:

"Do not cover with the muzzle of a gun anything you do not wish to destroy."

The CNBC program has a scene showing a Portland, Maine police sniper setting off a 700 by simply tapping the bolt. Incredibly, Mr. Cohn asks no questions at all about the rifle. Any journalist with even a modicum of gun knowledge would have dragged the department's armorer on camera and asked this one simple question:

"Have you modified the trigger on this rifle?"

There is an interview with a West Coast range officer who states that 700s fire accidentally with such frequency that these incidents are called "Remington moments." This is yet another example of more journalistic ignorance. If the rifles are so unreliable, why did Cohn not ask the gentlemen why they are allowed on the range?

In the course of the entire program, only one shooter is allowed camera time to say what a great gun the 700 is. One. There are 5 million Model 700s out there. Surely more than one person must like them. Could he possibly have found two people to say nice things?

It is mentioned that Remington has just been awarded a contract to build 3,000 more Model 700 sniper rifles, but that the Marines have had problems with accidental firing. I guess it was too much trouble to have someone explain that the 700 has been in continual service as a sniper rifle for more than 40 years, and that is has served with distinction under some of the most adverse conditions imaginable. Otherwise, why would the U.S. Government be buying 3,000 more? Are the Marines and the Army crazy?

Here's what I can tell you about the Model 700 with the original, Walker-designed trigger (the new 700 trigger, the X-mark Pro, is a different design).

• I got my first 700, actually a Model 725, in .222, in 1960. There has never been a time since then when I have not owned at least one 700. I've never had an accidental firing with any of them, nor have I seen one, and we are talking hundreds of rifles and tens of thousands of rounds over 50 years.

• I've seen one 700 that should not have been handled. It was an ADL in 6mm that was made in the late 1960s. Its owner allowed a shooter who supposedly knew how to do so, to work on the trigger. He botched the job.

•And there we come to the crux of the matter. If the original 700 trigger has a fault, it is that it can be fooled with by anyone who has a small screwdriver. The adjustments are delicate, and if you don't know how (or know enough) to keep sufficient engagement between the sear and the trigger connector, the rifle can slam fire, or fire when it's dropped, or fire when the safety is flipped off. The same thing happens when you set the trigger pull lower than 3 pounds; it is not designed to function below that level, and there are some fools who love to take it down to 2 or 2 ½.

Right now I have an old 700 with a Walker trigger that has had over 5,000 rounds put through it with never a problem. But give me 5 minutes and a jeweler's screwdriver and I can make it dangerous.

Enough. I eagerly await Mr. Cohn's next program. I'm hoping it will be on why the public has so little confidence in news reporting.

Editor's Note: For Remington's response to CNBC, please visit www.remington700.tv