WILLOW CREEK – Richard Barber doesn’t believe in coincidence.
So when the news came last week that the landmark class action settlement requiring Remington to replace triggers on over 7 million of the company’s most popular rifles became official on the 18th anniversary of his son’s death, Barber was certain of one thing.
“It was an act of God,” he said.
Nine-year-old Gus Barber died on Oct. 23, 2000, after his mother’s Remington Model 700 rifle fired without her touching the trigger. The bullet struck Gus, who, unbeknownst to the family, had run to other side of a horse trailer.
Three days after the tragedy, someone from the sheriff’s office gave the family a 1994 Business Week article titled “Remington Faces a Misfiring Squad.” It detailed the case of Glenn Collins of Texas, whose Remington Model 700 accidentally discharged and wounded him in the foot, which had to be amputated.
Collins, 53, claimed the rifle fired without him touching the trigger. After a six-week trial, Remington was ordered to pay Collins $17 million, including $15 million in punitive damages.
“I think what the jury was telling Remington and all gun manufacturers is that if you have a defective or unsafe product, you’d better do something about it,” Collins said in the article.
Right after that, Barber remembers that other people started telling him their Remington rifles also had fired without them touching the triggers. He learned his son was one of three people shot with the Model 700 in Montana during that same hunting season. He contacted Wyoming officials and learned that three people there also had been shot with a Remington.
“I had discovered an alarming trend,” Barber said. “So I began an investigation to find the truth for myself.”
He vowed he wouldn’t stop until he found it.
“I promised Gus that it ends here and now,” he said. “That I would never be bought off and I would never quit until I effected change in your memory. That’s the exact promise I made to Gus.''
The quest consumed Barber for nearly two decades.
“I went case to case to case, state to state, recovering as many documents as I could,'' Barber said. He made contact with retired Remington engineers and people within the company sent him information "telling me I was right.''
"All of those factors kept me moving forward, never stopping,” he said.
Over the years, Barber gathered more than a million pages of internal company documents dating back to the 1940s. They showed engineers were concerned about “theoretical unsafe conditions” of the trigger before it even went on the market.
Barber spent countless hours organizing the documents chronologically and breaking them down by topic. The national nonprofit legal advocacy organization, Public Justice, published many of them at http://www.remingtondocuments.com/
“People can now sit in the comfort of their own homes and analyze the material like I did and draw their own conclusions,” Barber said. “I’ve leveled the playing field. Today I believe I have more answers than questions.”
But he paid a heavy toll.
“This promise I made — thinking I was doing the right thing to help other people and prevent more Gus Barbers — would really become a curse,” he said. “The things that I and my family had to endure. My family wasn’t necessarily a willing partner through all of this.
“I was home, but wasn’t there,” he said. “So my daughter lost a father, not only her brother … during her high school years. My wife did not necessarily have a husband at home with her. There is a steep price that was paid.”
He hopes that owners of Remington rifles will take note of the settlement and have their triggers replaced.
The settlement officially went into effect after critics of an original 2017 agreement declined to take their case to the Supreme Court by the Oct. 23 deadline. The agreement covers the popular Model 700 as well as Remington bolt-action rifle models Seven, Sportsman 78, 673, 710, 715, 770, 600, 660, 721, 722, 725 and the XP-100 bolt action pistol.
Owners have 18 months to file claims for a replacement of the triggers.
“It’s time now for the public to do their part because I’ve done everything that I can,'' Barber said.
In Montana, Remington rifle owners can have the new triggers put in at Capital Sports, 1092 Helena Ave, Helena, MT. 59601. People also can learn more about the settlement and process to replace the trigger by going to www.remingtonfirearmsclassactionsettlement.com or call a toll-free hotline at 1-800-876-5940.
Remington did not respond to a request for comment, instead referring the newspaper to the website.
Allison & Carey Gunworks Inc., in Portland, Oregon, is one of about 20 Remington Authorized Repair Centers listed on a map on the settlement website.
The company’s owner, Jeff Thompson, said they had not received the final go-ahead from Remington to start the retrofit program by mid-week. Gun owners interested in having a new trigger installed will need to get a service request number from Remington before the work can be completed.
While he has never had a Remington fire without the trigger being pulled, Thompson said he hopes that people will take advantage of the limited-time offer.
“If nothing else, it’s a really good trigger that we will be installing in their rifles,” he said. “It’s a whole new assembly. We go through all the steps and set the trigger correctly. It’s a good deal.”
And one that’s going to cost Remington a lot of money.
Thompson said the new trigger retails for about $110 and that doesn’t include labor or shipping costs.
Al Smith, executive director of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association in Helena, won’t hunt with anyone who owns one of the Remington rifles covered by the settlement unless the trigger has been switched out.
“When this first occurred, one of my hunting buddies had a Model 700,” Smith said. “We told him to get it fixed or don’t come with us. He got it fixed.
“Remington is still tip-toeing around the issue and saying their rifles are OK,” he said. “They are saying they’ll replace the trigger because they are such good guys, but that’s BS. Those triggers are defective. People have died.''
Barber, he said, was key to forcing the change.
“If it wasn’t for the dogged determination of Richard Barber, who decided to turn tragedy into a situation where people can be helped, this would not have happened,” Smith said.
With a new home in Willow Creek, four grandchildren — all boys — and the settlement completed, Barber said he feels like his life is finally moving forward again.
“People told me early on that nothing I would do could ever have an effect on this issue,” he said. “I think at the end of the day as I sit here and reflect on it, I think the message is that people will always tell other humans that one person can’t make a difference in the world. I beg to differ. I believe that one person can make a difference in the world if you are willing to pay the price.
“This should inspire others,” he said. “We hear today with all that’s going on that this country is too far gone. I don’t believe that. I believe that if people invested themselves in issues that are important to them, they’ll find time and talents that they don’t even know they have yet.”
In the end, though, nothing will replace the son that he’s lost.
“I’m the last one,” he said. “When I die, my name, my family’s name dies with me,” he said. “That deeply disturbs me.''
But, he said, he "had to live up to that promise.''
“People can say what they want about me, but my word is gold. If I give my word and my promise, I will stay the course no matter how hard.
“Eighteen years to the day that he was killed, that promise I made to him is fulfilled,” Barber said. “I’m excited for the future for the first time in I don’t know how long because I know I lived up that promise. There’s no more that I have to do.”