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Then there are the largest publicly traded makers of guns and ammo, American Outdoor Brands (formerly Smith & Wesson) and Sturm Ruger. They have reported combined revenue of around $6.2 billion since the massacre. Sales volatility, however, has caused their shares to underperform, with American Outdoor’s rising 39 percent and Sturm Ruger’s remaining flat. Fold in privately held Remington’s $4.3 billion of sales since Adam Lanza used one of its semiautomatic rifles to kill the schoolchildren, and the three accounted for $10.6 billion in sales.
But in capitalism, when money flows with abandon, bad decisions tend to be made. That partly explains why Colt Defense filed for bankruptcy two years ago. Remington’s accounts illustrate a similar dynamic. The company was assembled through a series of takeovers, including Bushmaster in 2006, by the private equity firm Cerberus, which once called it Freedom Group. After it bought Remington Arms in 2007, Cerberus had aspirations for an initial public stock offering two years later.
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After Sandy Hook, however, the investment group led by Stephen Feinberg came under heavy pressure from many of the limited partners in its funds, such as the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, to exit the civilian arms trade altogether. Some threatened not to back future Cerberus fund-raising rounds. Without a willing buyer for Remington, and no chance of an I.P.O., the company larded up on debt and effectively bought itself out from the investors.
At the time, when gun sales were booming, that might have looked sensible. Not so much today. In the first nine months of 2017, as the potential for any sort of gun-safety regulation has receded under a Trump presidency, and notwithstanding the horrific mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Tex., Remington’s sales plunged 27 percent, resulting in a $28 million operating loss. That’s before paying $46 million to lenders.
At the end of October, Remington claimed assets of $953 million against liabilities of $1.3 billion, including $948 million of debt. Some $552 million of that is a first-lien term loan maturing in April 2019. An additional $220 million of notes are due in 2020. Just before Thanksgiving, Standard & Poor’s slashed Remington’s corporate credit rating to CCC-minus, a notch away from default.
For the Sandy Hook parents aiming to find an opening in the blanket liability accorded gunmakers by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005, Remington’s difficulties are inconsequential. Their hope is that Connecticut’s highest court will allow them to proceed with a case charging that Remington negligently and willfully entrusted the public with a military-style rifle that was never meant for civilians. That would create a precedent for holding Big Gun accountable for the costs that its products inflict on society.
Seeing Remington file for Chapter 11 protection from creditors in the coming year would merely be the first step in that arduous quest.