PORTLAND – The Portland Police Department’s special reaction team has stopped using its Remington 700 sniper rifles, because one of them started firing unpredictably and a network news report said similar problems elsewhere have caused injuries and prompted lawsuits.

A program on CNBC last week highlighted several reports that Remington 700 rifles — a mainstay for the U.S. military, law enforcement and gun enthusiasts — had fired when the trigger had not been pulled.

The program’s findings were bolstered by a video taken at a Portland police training exercise. One of the rifles was shown firing when the trigger was not being pulled.

“I don’t want to run the risk of having an accidental discharge like this where it puts an officer’s or community member’s life in danger,” Police Chief James Craig said Wednesday.

Remington denies the allegations and, supported by gun rights advocates, criticizes the network’s reporting of the story.

“CNBC ignored facts and information provided by Remington and instead relied on allegations, misleading anecdotes, and false claims,” said a statement on the company’s website. “Over 5 million Model 700s have been safely and reliably used by millions of shooters, military personnel and law enforcement officers for almost fifty years. The Model 700 is the most popular bolt-action rifle in the world.”

Remington said that if standard safety rules are followed, such as always pointing the barrel of a gun so that a discharge would not injure anyone, the alleged injuries could not have happened.

One of the most serious cases in which an accidental discharge is alleged occurred in 2000 in Montana, where a woman said she was unloading her rifle with the barrel pointed at an empty horse trailer. The gun fired and the bullet pierced the van’s walls and hit her son on the other side, killing him.

It was one of two dozen deaths said to have resulted in part from faulty trigger mechanisms, the report said.

The woman has since sued the company, one of scores of similar suits nationwide, according to the TV report, which said Remington has paid out $20 million in settlements.

Columnists who criticized the CNBC program said the guns will not misfire if they are properly maintained and if the trigger mechanism is not adjusted.

However, Craig said his department’s Remington 700 that misfired had not been altered.

After the first incident, in 2008 during a training exercise at a firing range, the weapon was taken to an armorer. The armorer found nothing wrong with it and could not re-create the misfire, so the gun was put back in service.

During another special reaction team training session, the gun misfired again, and the officers captured video of it on a cell phone. The video, which CNBC obtained, shows an officer prone, the rifle barrel supported by a bipod. The officer removes his finger from the trigger, then reaches forward to touch the bolt. The rifle fires.

The sequence was repeated with the same results.

After the training episode, the gun was again taken out of service. Craig said the department contacted Remington and was told the weapon was not under warranty.

That was in 2009. Only later did Portland officials become aware of the controversy over the weapon.

Craig said his department will no longer use its five Remington 700s, and has grant money to buy a new weapons system, at a cost of $1,000 to $1,500.

“We have no evidence that there’s other weapons malfunctioning but we don’t want to run that risk,” he said.

For the time being, the department will use the officers’ standard issue M-16 with a scope, he said.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com