By: Michael Virtanen
New York state has spent nearly $6 million over the past three years on subsidies for a two-century-old upstate factory that makes firearms including semiautomatic rifles used by the military and police and like those used in the recent mass killings in Connecticut and Webster, N.Y.
Though several elected leaders in this tough-on-guns state want tighter restrictions on those military-style weapons, none say it's time to stop supporting Remington Arms Co. and risk the nearly 1,000 jobs it provides in the central New York community of Ilion. The gunmaker has plenty of defenders, particularly those who support the continued manufacture of weapons used by the military or police.
In 2010, Empire State Development, the agency that works with private companies to attract and retain jobs, announced $2.5 million in grants and subsidies to help Remington bring its Marlin lever-action gun production from Connecticut to Ilion and add 100 jobs. That followed two grants in 2009 worth $3 million for renovations and machinery.
"It was never the desire of the state of New York to subsidize the development of the sort of tactical weapons that ended up being used in Connecticut and now, I understand, in upstate New York as well," said Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Long Island Democrat. "By tactical weapons, I'm talking about a rifle such as the Bushmaster."
In early 2011, Bushmaster Firearms moved manufacturing operations from Windham, Maine, to Ilion, where Remington now makes Bushmaster guns. No state money was used in that transfer, which brought more than 40 jobs.
Police said Bushmaster military-style rifles were used to kill 20 elementary school children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., and to kill two volunteer firefighters and seriously wound two others Monday when they responded to a blaze in Webster, N.Y.
Police have not said where the guns used in the shootings were manufactured. It's possible they were made in Maine before operations moved to New York; Remington also has one other production plant in Hickory, Ky., according to the company's website.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said he has consistently said that he believes it's appropriate for lawmakers to support production of semiautomatic assault-style weapons for military and law enforcement use, but that the guns don't belong in the hands of civilians. Schumer, who has helped Remington secure Army contracts including an $8.9 million award in 2011 to produce 1,212 M24 sniper rifles, joined the company at last year's event announcing the move of Bushmaster to Ilion.
Remington has been in central New York since 1816 when, legend has it, Eliphalet Remington II made a flintlock gun on his father's forge, entered a shooting contest with it and finished second. He began to receive orders for rifles and barrels from other contestants. The company, headquartered in Madison, N.C., is part of the Freedom Group that owns several gun manufacturers, including Bushmaster. It also makes guns for the military, police and sportsmen. The company did not reply to requests for comment.
"I think it's wrong to blame the gun manufacturer," said state Sen. James Seward, an Oneonta Republican who has the factory in his district. He said the state must address the criminal justice and mental health systems to keep disturbed and dangerous people from getting guns.
"I still support the company," he said.
Since the Newtown shootings, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said better gun control should be addressed first with federal legislation, noting New York already has some of the toughest gun laws and many of the guns used in crimes come from out of state. He added that the state ban on so-called assault weapons has "significant loopholes," including allowing large-capacity magazines made before 1994.
"Much of the law's on the cosmetics of the gun, the design of the gun, rather than the actual capacity of it, so there's no question but that the law needs to be improved, in my mind," he said.
New York law generally prohibits possession of an assault weapon or large-capacity magazine, felonies punishable by up to 7 years in prison. An assault weapon is defined as a semiautomatic rifle that can use a detachable magazine and has at least two of these other characteristics: folding stock, pistol grip, bayonet mount, flash suppressor or grenade launcher.
Police said the Bushmaster that William Spengler used to kill two firefighters in an ambush Monday morning was equipped with a flash suppressor, which makes it harder for a potential target to see the flash of light emitted from the end of the rifle barrel when a round is fired. Many of the Bushmaster rifles advertised also have pistol grips.
"I think much more has to be done on assault weapons, quote unquote, starting with the point: How do you define an assault weapon?" Cuomo said. He promised his gun proposal in his State of the State Address on Jan. 9.
Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said subsidies to Remington were awarded under the previous administration and that are no pending requests for future aid.
Assemblyman Marc Butler, a Republican who represents Ilion, said that Remington makes guns that are legal and that the company and the community are getting "a bad rap" following the tragedies, he said.
"I find that totally unacceptable," said Butler, who helped get the state funding for Remington.
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