Business pressures play important part in gun debate

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

One of the ironies connected to the debate over assault-style weapons is the inverse relationship between politics and the firearm business.

Things were booming for them with the election of Barack Obama and gun-control fears, and sales dropped off with the election of Donald Trump.

The association of AR-15-type semiautomatic weapons with mass shootings is putting pressure on manufacturers and investors, and things aren’t looking good for the gun industry.

Remington, whose product line goes back to the flintlock, filed for bankruptcy reorganization Sunday, turning control over to its creditors and staying in business with a $100 million line of credit. Some 3,500 jobs are at stake.

Background checks, supported by both sides of the gun control issue, dropped faster in 2017 than any years since the FBI began keeping track in 1998.

Remington was sued by families of Sandy Hook victims because one of its Bushmaster AR-15s was used in the shooting, but the suit was dismissed because of broad immunity granted to the gun industry. The case was appealed to the Connecticut Supreme court.

Remington owner Cerberus Capital Management tried to sell the company a week after the Parkland, Fla., shooting, but no one was interested, and other manufacturers have similar troubles.

Colt Holdings Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2015, and Sturm, Ruger & Co. stock prices are down 18 percent this year.

BlackRock, a major stakeholder in Ruger, American Outdoor Brands and Vista Outdoor Brands, announced after the Florida shootings that it wanted to speak with Ruger, Remington and Colt about their responses to the mass shootings. BlackRock is also creating investment funds excluding gun makers and retailers.

Gun manufacturers also struggle with a narrower, more volatile market. A study by Harvard and Northeastern University found that while the number of privately owned guns in American grew by more than 70 million between 1994 and 2015 — to about 265 million — half of those guns are owned by only 3 percent of the population.

Public protests and legislative debates get the most attention when it comes to gun control in the United States, but the future of private firearm ownership in America is just as likely to be determined on Wall Street and in the courts.

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