He thought that it was an umbrella at first. John Seymour thought it was an umbrella, but when the gun pointed at him, the bullet struck his wrist and back, he believed he would die in his barbershop. The gunman opened fire on John Seymour, hitting him in the back and wrist. He then fell to the ground. Two of the victims were also killed. After killing two customers, the gunman then went to a local oil-change shop, and hiding in an abandoned restaurant where he died later in a shootout.
Seymour still thinks about shooting nearly ten years later. “To this day, anything goes, Bang bang!You jump and I run. I don’t know what to expect. I had a guy die on top of me at my barbershop,” says Seymour, 76, who is known locally as John the barber. “We never thought we’d be a mass-murder part of the country.”
But like just about everyone else in Ilion, N.Y, a small town in New York’s Herkimer County about 80 miles northwest of Albany, Seymour has a soft spot for Remington Arms, the gun manufacturer that has been located here since Eliphalet Remington started making firearms in 1816. Remington’s imposing redbrick factory looms over Main Street. As the factory produces orders, you will hear the steel clinking as you walk around Downtown, passing the multi-family houses, vape shops and Remington Federal Credit Union.
John Seymour at his barbershop, where he was almost killed in a mass shooting a little over a decade ago.
Jason Koxvold, TIME
People here don’t talk about how Remington’s AR-15—made in Ilion—was used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting less than 200 miles away, or that the company filed for bankruptcy twice between 2018 and 2020, because of financial engineering by the private equity firm that bought the company in 2007. They also don’t talk about how the company regularly threatens to leave New York and move somewhere cheaper, or periodically lays off hundreds of workers, leaving some in limbo for months or years. What they do talk about is Remington’s proud history of making arms for America when the country needed them the most, like during World Wars I and II—when workers had to carpool to the factory because the parking lot couldn’t fit everyone’s cars—and the affinity they have for a company that employed most of their fathers, and their father’s fathers.
“They help the little village of Ilion and its 7,500 people,” says Seymour, who when he isn’t plying his trade as a barber moonlights as a wedding and event singer. His father worked at Remington for 43 years, beginning in 1932, and Seymour’s brother and brother-in-law also worked there. “They pay taxes on that building, and we give them a little break on everything.”
Remington on the other side has not been kind to Ilion over the years. Remington had been threatening Ilion for decades to relocate to South Carolina, which has more friendly gun laws and lower labor costs. In 2014, Remington moved two lines of manufacturing from Alabama to Alabama, as the state provided nearly $70 million in tax credits and free factory space. This failed and the Alabama factory was shut down. Some of the equipment was moved to Ilion. When the Remington Outdoor Company filed for bankruptcy in 2020, it owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to local suppliers and utility providers, including the local shoe store, the hardware store, and Ilion’s treasurer, police department, water commission, and the roughly 609 workers it had abruptly laid off without the health care benefits or severance pay promised in their contract.
Remington Arms is a manufacturer of guns, and has been since 1816.
Jason Koxvold, TIME
Remington Arms Factory workers arrive to work.
Jason Koxvold, TIME
Many Ilion residents are loyal to Remington despite these difficult circumstances. “I would say that we bleed green—Remington green,” says Frank “Rusty” Brown, who has worked at the factory since 1995 and was one of the workers who protested outside the factory in 40-degree weather in October 2020, after Remington filed for bankruptcy and fired all its Ilion manufacturing workers. “This is our living; it’s how our parents made a living. I’m dedicated to the place.”
Remington’s Ilion and Tennessee properties, as well as its long-gun, shotgun, and pistols businesses, were bought out of bankruptcy in 2020 by a company called the Roundhill Group LLC, which now operates Remington through a holding company called RemArms. Roundhill appears to have been created solely to purchase Remington’s assets from its bankruptcy proceedings; Richmond Italia, a paintball entrepreneur who is one of Roundhill’s two partners, said in court filings that he was approached by Ken D’Arcy, a professional race-car driver and manufacturing executive who was appointed CEO of Remington in 2019. D’Arcy suggested that Italia buy Remington’s firearms assets. The two men were acquainted because both had been CEOs. They also sat on boards of GI Sportz (a paintball business that declared bankruptcy shortly after Roundhill bought Remington).
In November 2021, D’Arcy, who is still CEO of Remington, announced that RemArms was moving to LaGrange, Ga.
Officials from Ilion tried to offer RemArms incentives to remain, including a discount of 50% on their property taxes. But Remington was not interested in the negotiations. Some people began to see a Remington-free town. Brown and others were more skeptical. After all, RemArms had started calling workers like him who’d been laid off in 2020 back to the factory in April 2021 to restart manufacturing, and the company is now negotiating with the United Mine Workers of America, the union representing workers when Remington filed for bankruptcy, to ink a new contract for Ilion.
Roundhill Group didn’t respond to emails and calls seeking comments on this story.
“Remington has been going to move elsewhere since my parents worked there,” says Brown, whose wife, two daughters, and son-in-law still work at the plant. “You hear it so many times over the years, you become numb to it.”
Frank “Rusty” Brown has worked at the Remington Arms factory since 1995.
Jason Koxvold, TIME
Remington’s hot-and-cold relationship with Ilion is not a rare case among American gunmakers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that guns companies face increasing regulation and changing attitudes towards firearms, and it is reasonable to believe they are in danger. But today more than ever, gun manufacturers like Remington (now RemArms), Smith & Wesson, and Colt are pulling the strings, convincing elected officials they have to choose between gun-control laws and manufacturing jobs. States of the South, West and Midwest offer gun-owners millions of incentives and relax gun control laws. They are showing their support for gun culture while gunmakers make $3 billion. Profits for gunmakers have been strong for the last decade, with both Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger & Co., the country’s two biggest gunmakers, surpassing $100 million in profit every year. That’s putting pressure on states like New York to loosen recently passed gun-control laws, to convince manufacturers to stay—even though often those manufacturers are just adding new locations in other states and not actually leaving their original homes.
The gunmakers’ leverage makes sense in a country where manufacturing is still seen as the backbone of the country, even though jobs in the sector make up less than 10% of U.S. employment, down from one-quarter of employment half a century ago. Politicians and voters on the right and left often romanticize factory jobs that make products marketed as all-American, such as trucks, tractors, and guns, particularly if they’re set to remain on American soil. (In the case of guns, many buyers don’t want something manufactured in a foreign country where safety standards are perceived to be lower).
As America has become more polarized, gun manufacturers have been able to orchestrate complicated political theater, threatening to move factories—and jobs—when gun-control legislation is passed in certain states. States and local economic development boards are offering them millions in incentives to show their gun-friendly credentials. Despite evidence that giving incentives to factories isn’t a cost-effective way to create jobs, and often they actually lose money—as in the case of electronics maker Foxconn’s deal in Wisconsin—states know that attracting manufacturers is popular with voters.
Remington is an expert at this particular game. Remington announced in 1995 that the company would be moving its headquarters from North Carolina. The state provided $150,000 for the move. The state did not receive any manufacturing jobs. After Remington was purchased by Cerberus Capital Management in 2007, rumors arose that some manufacturing jobs would be relocated overseas. The State of New York then gave Remington $3million to expand the Ilion plant and $2.5 million in 2010, to create 100 new jobs.
Just three years later, in 2013, New York passed sweeping gun-control legislation the SAFE Act, which banned some assault-style weapons, began requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales, and prohibited people who’d committed certain offenses from possessing guns. Ilion politicians used the law’s passage to criticize state Democrats for driving Remington away, and indeed, Remington soon announced that it was being courted by five other states. Six elected officials from the Ilion area pledged assistance should Remington build a new manufacturing plant in the area, warning in a public letter that “the clock is ticking on an inevitable exit by Remington from the state.”
In 2014, Remington announced it was moving two production lines to Huntsville, Ala., a decision the company’s CEO George Kollitides blamed on New York gun laws, citing “Alabama’s rich tradition of defending freedom,” as a “major deciding factor” in the move. At the time, a company spokesperson said the move was “a strategic business decision” to consolidate plants. But while the announcement provided a platform for conservatives to lambast New York’s gun laws, the Ilion plant continued to operate with around 1,300 employees. Alabama’s jobs were sourced from Remington plants located in more conservative states, such as North Carolina, Montana and Utah. Alabama’s play for Remington did not look so smart by 2020, when Remington filed for bankruptcy and owed $12.5 million to Huntsville, because it had not met the hiring numbers it had agreed to in its $70 million incentive deal with the city.
When it declared that it would move its headquarters from Atlanta to LaGrange, 2021, it seemed like the company was following the same strategy. “The decision to locate in Georgia is very simple: the state of Georgia is not only a business-friendly state; it’s a firearms-friendly state,” RemArms CEO Ken D’Arcy said at the time. RemArms received $6 million from Georgia and promised to construct a research and development centre in LaGrange worth $100 million. T. Scott Malone is the president of LaGrange’s Development Authority. RemArms recently began producing its first gun in a temporary space of 80,000 square feet.
You can see Remington Arms’ redbrick factory throughout the town.
Jason Koxvold, TIME
The “Remington Room”, located in the library.
Jason Koxvold, TIME
RemArms specifically said that RemArms moved because of a New York law in 2021, which would override blanket immunity granted to gunmakers by federal law and makes it simpler to sue gun companies for civil damages. “Unfortunately, if a law like that is passed in New York State, we would have to reconsider our options for the future and our plans to expand our New York operations,” Italia, the managing partner for Roundhill Group said in an email to Utica’s Times Telegram It will be effective July 20, 2121. The law covers all New York gunmakers, and RemArms would be included wherever they have plants.
However, despite all the attention, the company informed New York stakeholders it has no plans for closing the Ilion facility. “Nobody’s moving to Georgia—in fact, they’re adding employees here,” says John Piseck, CEO of the Herkimer County Industrial Development Agency, a public-benefit corporation that can offer tax breaks to local businesses. Jamie Rudwall (president of United Mine Workers of America) says RemArms has hired back almost all of Remington’s 609 employees who were laid off in its 2020 bankruptcy filings. Rudwall says that 300 workers have returned to RemArms, while the remaining work force has either found new employment or been retrained.
The business is good. Because gun sales are soaring in the U.S., and manufacturers need to expand operations to keep up with demand, gunmakers can combine business decisions with lobbying, announcing that they’re opening a new factory in Georgia or North Carolina to meet demand while complaining about gun-control laws elsewhere. The number of background checks performed by retail outlets for the sale or purchase of firearms in 2020 was 21 million, an increase of 62% from 2019 and nearly twice the amount as 2010 according to data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The figures don’t include background checks for other purposes, like concealed carry permits.
Brown and other workers find the push-and-pull more annoying than it is a danger to their lives. Brown—whose wife, two daughters, and soon-to-be son-in-law work at the Ilion plant—says the company should know by now that it won’t find workers anywhere as skilled, dedicated, or patient with the company as those in Ilion.
“It’s always, ‘We’re going to move to where there’s cheaper labor. We’re going to move to where there’s this law or that law.’ After so many years, you become immune to it,” Brown says. “And then to see them fail miserably in Alabama, it’s like, ‘I told you so.’ ”
To this day, both Georgia and New York officials are still pulling for RemArms to bring some more good news to their communities, even though RemArms’ future looks a little shaky. Tax collectors in Alabama are already trying to foreclose on some of Roundhill’s recently purchased assets because they weren’t removed from the state in a timely fashion, according to bankruptcy documents.
The gun economy
Brown grew up in upstate New York and there were many manufacturing jobs, but Remington was where he wanted. “It was so hard to get in there, because it was the greatest job ever,” he says. Both his parents had worked there, so he knew: health care didn’t cost anything; he got a pension and a good wage; and he didn’t have to bother with college. By the time he was laid off in 2020, he was making $26.87 an hour—more if he worked nights or overtime.
Brown is among thousands of Americans in the Northeast that make their living making firearms. Gun Valley in Connecticut and western Massachusetts has been home to gunmakers since George Washington’s late 18th century establishment of an armory in Springfield Mass. in order to prevent weapons being stolen by the British Navy.
In 1986, 47% of guns manufactured in the U.S. were made in Connecticut, 24% in Massachusetts, and 12% in New York, according to Jürgen Brauer, the chief economist with nonpartisan research group Small Arms Analytics, who analyzed historical data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). In recent years, however, Gun Valley has been targeted by states from the West and South, in an effort to lure workers to their regions after the Great Recession. The pitch was that guns companies should be relocated to locations where gun enthusiasts are.
In 2004, the federal assault weapons ban was repealed. States tried to adopt laws that would loosen or make gun ownership more permissive. This signalled where gunmakers were welcome. Some states have even begun to identify official state guns in addition to their state fish and flowers. “We’re all here to show our support for the Second Amendment to our neighbors and communities,” Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts said earlier this year, onstage with five other governors at the trade show of the National Sports Shooting Foundation (NSSF), which now spends more on lobbying than the National Rifle Association. (Nearly 10,000 guns were produced in Nebraska in 2020. That’s less than 1% percent of guns made in the U.S.
Jamie Rudwall, President of United Mine Workers of America.
Jason Koxvold, TIME
“There’s a trend of companies that have picked up and moved, and it’s really been accelerating as of late,“ says Mark Oliva, managing director of public affairs at the NSSF. The NSSF keeps a running list of gunmakers that it says have migrated from the Northeast to the South, including Kimber, Sturm Ruger & Co., and Beretta.
But the NSSF’s list is misleading. Although some gunmakers move factories from Connecticut to California, others choose to relocate their headquarters in Southern states and continue manufacturing there. This can provide lucrative incentives like tax breaks or free facilities. It generates headlines about the loss of manufacturing in liberal states, but spares gunmakers from having to move millions of equipment, hire and train new workers, as well as generating news coverage. Indeed, most of the companies on the NSSF’s list of “gun industry migration” still have manufacturing in the northeast.
It’s all in the details. According to Brauer’s analysis of ATF data, by 2020 just 1.42% of guns were made in Connecticut, and less than 1% in New York, while states like Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina accounted for 9%, 6%, and 5%, of firearm manufacturing, respectively. According to data, New Hampshire was the most popular state for gunmaking in 2020. However, those figures only show where guns are distributed, rather than manufactured, deceptively counting Smith & Wesson—the biggest producer of guns in 2020—as a Missouri company, even though its guns in 2020 were made in Massachusetts, not Missouri. After announcing its intention to move to Missouri in 2017, the company made national headlines. It received a 50% tax reduction over ten year. The company only relocated 20 jobs to Missouri from Massachusetts, where it was headquartered. The data shows that Massachusetts made 21% of all firearms in 2015 and just 0.49% in 2020—but that’s because Smith & Wesson established a distribution center in Missouri, not because it moved its manufacturing, Small Arms Analytics’ Brauer says.
And in October 2021, Smith & Wesson said it would be relocating its headquarters to Tennessee from Springfield, Mass., its home for 165 years, after a bill was introduced in the Massachusetts legislature that would have banned the manufacture of assault weapons for civilian use. This bill is dead. At the time, Smith & Wesson said it decided to move because “We are under attack.” What it did not make clear was that its manufacturing operations—accounting for about 1,000 jobs—would stay in Springfield, and that what it was moving to Tennessee was assembly and distribution of firearms.
Half of all the jobs that are being relocated to Tennessee are located in Missouri or Connecticut. The Missouri warehouse the company had received an incentive for just a few years before would be closed, Smith & Wesson said. According to Smith & Wesson, the company was awarded $9 million by the Tennessee state and made an agreement with the local economic growth agency which gives the firm a 60% tax cut for seven years. Its CEO, Mark Smith, thanked Tennessee’s governor and legislature for their “unwavering support of the 2nd Amendment and for creating a welcoming, business friendly environment.” Smith & Wesson did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
This is the playbook that gunmakers increasingly turn to. Kahr Arms, which said it was moving out of New York in 2013 because of “stricter gun control,” moved its headquarters to Pennsylvania, which also has relatively strict gun-control laws, and kept its manufacturing in Massachusetts. Colt threatened to leave Connecticut after it passed gun control laws in Connecticut in 2008. In 2013, Colt decided to stay and was granted a loan of $10 million from Connecticut. Colt made 158,501 guns in Connecticut 2020 and was recently bought by Czech company Česká zbrojovka Group (CZG), which itself received incentives in 2019, including 73 acres of free land by the state of Arkansas to build a gunmaking plant there. Little Rock (Ark.) Colt has been placed on hold by the company.
“Once situated in one state, it is exceedingly rare for a firearms manufacturer to move its entire operation to another state,” says Brauer. His research has found that gunmakers that say they’re leaving a Northeast state because of its gun-control policies usually keep a substantial presence there, and that they leave not because of the political climate but because they can find nonunionized, lower-paid workers in the South—and get millions of dollars in incentives.
Inside the Annunciaion School, a classroom.
Jason Koxvold, TIME
Cemetery in Ilion, N.Y.
Jason Koxvold, TIME
Olin Corp. was the owner of Winchester’s ammunition factory. In 2010 it moved 1,000 workers from Illinois to Mississippi, after striking back at a proposal by union workers. According to a Remington executive, the New York Times was informed. Times in 2019 that in Ilion, the union “had them by the balls,” one reason the company moved some operations to Alabama from New York.
Oliva, of the National Sports Shooting Foundation, says that moving operations is not a decision gunmakers take lightly, but that Smith & Wesson and other companies have to consider “the survival of a business” when states like Massachusetts talk of banning the manufacturing of some assault weapons to anyone but police and the military. The companies keep some manufacturing in the places where they were founded, out of loyalty to workers, he says, but “it is clear that many of these manufacturers are expanding to other states which are more friendly business environments and more friendly to gun rights.”
For RemArms worker Brown, one of the ironies of the company’s indicating it will move to a state friendlier to gun owners is that Ilion is a place where people love guns. Ilion citizens will show others their guns and tell strangers about their favourite hunting rifle. Ask them about gun-control legislation, and they’ll blame Democrats, or politicians in Albany, for punishing the law-abiding citizens who want to own guns to hunt or to protect themselves. In 2020, Herkimer County voted 2 to 1 for Donald Trump.
Even “barber John” Seymour—still widely recognized locally as a mass-shooting survivor—is skeptical about the effectiveness of gun-control laws. “It’s tough for me to see the stuff that goes on in places like Uvalde,” he says. “But that guy would have gotten a gun no matter what—he was on a mission.” He points to the difficulties of assessing someone’s mental health when deciding whether they should be allowed to purchase a gun. In Seymour’s own case, the man who shot him, Kurt Myers, was mostly known locally as a loner who kept to himself, but authorities never found a motive for why he’d shot six people.
It’s laws like New York’s SAFE Act that have most riled people in Ilion. “The climate changes when you say, ‘Big bad Remington is making this big mean gun in the middle of our state,’ ” says Rudwall, the union rep. “Look at the comments these politicians made: they demonize the tool, not the dude that did it.”
Remington’s threat to quit is often met with anger by locals who blame politicians for driving the gunmakers from their state. New York Republican Congresswoman Claudia Tenney has seized on that sentiment, campaigning to overturn the SAFE Act, lambasting former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for what she has called “failed economic and anti–Second Amendment policies in New York,” and using her positions on guns to shore up her connection with Donald Trump. At a fundraiser Trump held for Tenney in 2018, he warned attendees: “They want to end your Second Amendment and they’re putting a big move on it … Cuomo wants to end your Second Amendment more than anybody.” In 2020, when Remington filed for bankruptcy, Tenney said she’d contacted President Trump and would get the factory reopened, and that it would “eventually employ a workforce significantly larger than the plant’s previous head count.” (It’s unclear whether Trump intervened.) Tenney, who was elected in one of most difficult House races, won her re-election, with 109 votes.
Remington Arms informed New Yorkers that they have no plans to shut down the Ilion plant.
Jason Koxvold, TIME
Gunmakers’ threats to leave states in the Northeast have helped to stoke fear among some employees. Brown claims that his daughters, as well as other factory workers expressed concern about losing their jobs when renderings of LaGrange RemArms Headquarters began appearing online. Rudwall, a union representative, said that when the images were published, RemArms was still in negotiations over benefits and wages. People around the factory began to suggest that the union should accept whatever offer it had. The negotiations are ongoing.
“My daughter says, ‘Daddy, look at this brand-new facility, they’re not going to stay here,’ ” Brown says. “So when Jamie [Rudwall] comes back with a contract, whether they like it or not, they say, ‘Yes,’ because we want to keep working.”
Other jobs exist in Ilion. In this economy there is a wide range of jobs. They’re just not manufacturing jobs. The county’s largest employer is now Tractor Supply, which is a distribution center. Verizon is present in the region, while Amazon will open a new warehouse there.
But some of the laid-off Remington workers who missed their chance to go back to the factory say they’d go back if given the opportunity. Allen Harrington spent eight years at Remington in Ilion. Nearly all the workers in Ilion were laid off by Remington just months after it filed bankruptcy. Harrington was present on the factory floor when a supervisor arrived and told them that they needed to close everything. Then, everyone would be terminated and all benefits, including health, would cease. Harrington was eventually offered a $13 hour job in a warehouse. This is a far cry from his $25 per hour at Remington. He kicks himself for not going back to school after being laid off, but he felt too old—and he felt sure that the factory would re-open and he could work in manufacturing again. It’s hard to let go.
“I loved that job,” Harrington says. “I know it’s uncertain there, but I’d go back in a heartbeat.”
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