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Remington, the oldest U.S. gunmaker, files for bankruptcy amid declining sales

Remington Outdoor, one of America's largest and oldest firearms manufacturers, filed for bankruptcy on March 25. (Video: Reuters)

Remington Outdoor Company, the oldest firearms manufacturer in the United States, filed for bankruptcy protection Sunday, after months of declining gun sales and amid renewed protests against gun violence.

The company had seen a year’s worth of slumping sales and could not meet requirements from its lenders, Remington chief financial officer Stephen Jackson said in documents filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, Reuters reported.

The filing was not entirely a surprise. The company had announced on Feb. 12 that it had reached a deal with creditors to write off about $700 million of its $950 million debt load. Though it was on its way to Chapter 11, Remington’s executives predicted the gunmaker would persist “now and long into the future.”

“We have an outstanding collection of brands and products, the unqualified support of a vibrant community across the industry, and a deep and powerful culture,” Remington CEO Anthony Acitelli said at the time. “We will emerge from this process … to compete more aggressively and to seize future growth opportunities.”

However, two days later, a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 students and staff members. The shooting — already one of several to take place at a school in 2018 — reignited the debate over gun violence and galvanized a new generation of activists, including many teenagers from Parkland.

Remington’s bankruptcy filing came just one day after hundreds of thousands of people gathered to protest gun violence at the March for Our Lives in Washington, as well as at hundreds of “sibling marches” across the country.

In the bankruptcy, Cerberus Capital Management, a private-equity firm that acquired Remington in 2007, will lose its ownership of the company. Meanwhile, Remington’s creditors will exchange their debt holdings for equity, according to Reuters.

The news service said it was unclear whether any creditors had changed their minds about the debt-restructuring deal after the Parkland shooting.

President Trump suggested some gun proposals that aren't exactly in step with the NRA, but he has repeated some of their statements - sometimes word for word. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Remington’s woes reflect a sharp change in the gun industry over the past year. Firearm purchases soared during the run-up to the 2016 election: Hillary Clinton was favored to win, and an array of gun-rights advocates warned of a looming Second Amendment crackdown. Earlier that year, President Barack Obama had stoked similar fears by proposing to expand federal background checks.

That hoariest of right-wing boogeymen — a new Democratic administration hellbent on taking everyone’s guns — had returned. One Las Vegas gun store even advertised a “pre-Hillary” sale. “Don’t wait!” it cautioned. “Prices will skyrocket after Crooked Hillary gets in.” Between December 2015 and December 2016, the FBI reported record numbers of background checks.

Donald Trump’s upset win over Clinton seemed to help reverse all that. Fears of a crackdown have tapered off under President Trump, who called himself a “true friend” of the National Rifle Association.

Gun sales have declined, too. Reuters reported that Remington’s sales crashed in 2017, leaving it with a $28 million operating loss. Credit ratings agencies attributed the decline in part to “receding fears that guns will become more heavily regulated.” FBI firearm background checks also reflected the dip. In 2017, the FBI conducted about 25.2 million firearm background checks, down from 27.5 million in 2016. The dip is significant, but the figure remains much higher than in previous years. In 2009, for example, the year Obama was sworn in, there were 14 million FBI firearm background checks.

Special Reports: Guns in America

Though Trump briefly hinted that he might take a stricter stance on gun rights after the Parkland tragedy — even chiding senators for being “afraid of the NRA” — the president toned down his push for more aggressive gun control after meeting privately with NRA officials. Trump has since doubled down on a proposal to help arm schoolteachers.

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning on the Remington bankruptcy.

It’s unclear how the Parkland shooting will affect long-term gun sales, for Remington or any other manufacturer. The tragedy appeared to be a tipping point for several major companies, who vowed to restrict gun sales in a variety of ways: Walmart said it would raise the minimum age to buy a firearm or ammunition from 18 to 21 and remove products resembling assault-style rifles, like airsoft guns and toys, from its inventory.

Dick’s Sporting Goods said it would stop selling assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, and limit all gun sales to people 21 and older. Delta Air Lines ended a travel discount for NRA members — which prompted a backlash by gun owners, and Georgia lawmakers to revoke tax breaks for the Atlanta-based airline.

A gunmaker once tried to reform itself. The NRA nearly destroyed it.

Remington’s reputation has also flagged in recent years. The company fell under intense criticism after the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which gunman Adam Lanza used a Remington Bushmaster AR-15 rifle to massacre children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A lawsuit seeking to hold Remington partially liable is pending before the Connecticut Supreme Court. Remington also settled a class-action lawsuit over alleged defects in some of its rifles, CNN Money reported.

While gun sales have fallen precipitously in total since Trump was elected, they appear to have ticked up among select groups. Many gun-store owners and gun clubs say they’ve seen a recent surge in black and LGBT clients who fear racial and gender-based violence could swell during Trump’s presidency, as The Washington Post and NBC News have reported. So far, their business has not been enough to make up for the industry’s woes.

But it’s not all gloom and doom for Remington or the firearms business, in general. Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, told Bloomberg News that the company’s problems stemmed from normal “seesaws” in the industry.

“I suspect that if the Democrats make a resurgence this November,” Feldman said, “gun company stocks will come roaring back with them.”

Read more:

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