When No One Pulls the Trigger, the Gun Is to Blame

Daniel Karmann / AP Images

In a fatal shooting in their Mississippi home, Roger Stringer lost his two sons: younger son Justin to a gunshot to the head, and older son Zac to prison. Zac was found guilty of manslaughter, and although the rifle had fired, he said he knew he hadn’t touched the trigger.

A few years later, Roger came to believe that the rifle from the incident — the Remington Model 700 — was at fault. After some digging into the manufacturer, he learned that the model that killed Justin had in fact been recalled for firing off spontaneously on its own. At The Trace, Casey Parks tells the story of a father seeking justice, and his mission to warn gun owners of the defective rifle.

The New Jersey State Police sent their rifles back in October 2011, alleging that the guns “slam fired” when the officers loaded cartridges. Other people told Remington their Model 700s had shot holes in their walls and sliced through their TVs, all without a pulled trigger. One owner said his rifle went off five times in a row. After he put it in the freezer, it stopped firing. “Happened twice in December,” one customer noted. “Happened three times in a day,” another said. In a 2012 entry, an employee in Remington’s product services department wrote, “Owner wanted refund because he is scared of the gun.”

Most of those incidents never made the news. But in 2010, more than a year before Justin died, CNBC produced an investigation showing that Remington had known since the 1940s that the old trigger — the one that killed the boy in Montana — could fire if someone pushed the safety to the off position. The trigger’s designer, the CNBC report alleged, had proposed a fix that would have cost five-and-a-half cents per gun. The company decided against it.

At Zac’s trial, no one mentioned the CNBC documentary or the dozens of lawsuits pending against Remington. The state’s firearms expert testified that she had hit the Remington with a rubber mallet and dropped it from three feet. Neither test made the rifle fire.

Roger was the last witness to appear for the state. He told himself he was testifying because Justin couldn’t. Roger didn’t understand why Zac might have killed his brother. The boys got along as well as siblings ever do; they argued sometimes, but never violently. Once, Roger had pushed them to fistfight in the yard, but Zac refused to hit his brother in the face. The best Roger could figure was that taking Zac off his ADHD medication had caused him to snap. The alternative — the idea that Zac’s rifle had fired on its own — just didn’t make sense.

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