It said it owes its two largest creditors — munitions company St. Marks Powder and Eco-Bat Indiana, a lead producer and recycler — $3.5 million combined. It also lists the states of Alabama, Arkansas and Missouri, and the city of Huntsville, Ala., as creditors with undetermined claims after taking development incentives in each jurisdiction.
“They’re in financial straits. They’ve got one foot in the grave and one foot on a banana peel,” said Richard Barber, a conservator of Remington internal records. His son was killed in 2000 by a malfunctioning Remington rifle, and he’s spent the past 20 years gathering millions of pages of company documents on its product designs and finances.
The Huntsville, Ala.-based manufacturer is trying to find a buyer after negotiations with the Navajo Nation unraveled last week over financing questions. The Nation had been prepared to spend more than $300 million to complete the sale, intent on moving manufacturing to its territory in parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Navajo lawmakers had also made a run at the company in 2018, during its last bankruptcy filing. Former Navajo Nation council speaker LoRenzo Bates said the Nation had been prepared to pay as much as $525 million back then.
Remington was founded in 1816 in Ilion, N.Y., by an amateur gunsmith and marksman whose peers were so enamored with his handiwork that they commissioned their own rifles. The company was sold to DuPont in 1933, which held it until 1993, when it sold to a group of high-level executives. Remington has changed hands two more times since then.
JP Morgan Chase and Franklin Advisors took ownership of the company in exchange for $775 million in debt during its 2018 bankruptcy, but according to court documents, neither firm is among Remington’s 40 largest debtors.
The bankruptcy filing comes as U.S. gun purchases are skyrocketing in the face of pandemic-fueled uncertainty and widespread civil unrest. From March to June, sales jumped 30 percent, or an additional 3 million firearms compared with the year-ago period, according to a Brookings Institution review of federal background check data.
Nearly half of those additional sales occurred in June, after several days of protests sparked by George Floyd’s killing in police custody. Researchers wrote the spike differed from previous gun-buying binges because it was not driven by fear of pending restrictions but rather by anxiety and unease over the ongoing crises.
But Remington, best known for shotguns and hunting rifles, did not benefit as directly from the increased demand. When firearms purchases surge because of social and political anxiety, consumers tend to gravitate toward handguns and semiautomatic rifles.
Guns are notoriously hard to innovate and meant to last generations, meaning there’s little need for owners to replace them. “You can only change the configuration so many times before you’re just offering embellishments,” said Greg Danas, a leading firearms and ballistics expert. “At some point, the gun of 1970 can do the same thing as the firearm of 2020.”
Remington’s long guns and shotguns have also been a source of liability that has dogged the company for decades. Its 700 series bolt-action rifles and certain models of shotguns were found to have design defects that caused them to sometimes fire without a trigger pull. That’s led to dozens of product liability lawsuits, many of which the company settled.
Remington also fell under intense criticism after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The shooter used a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle to kill 20 children and six adults. The victims’ families sued Remington, claiming the rifle should not have been marketed for civilian use.
Remington argued that it is immune from lawsuits over the commission of crimes involving its products. The Supreme Court disagreed in 2019, and the case is expected to go to trial next year in Connecticut Superior Court.