Tue, Dec 25, 2012 - Page 9 News List

The town that made weapons for a massacre

Ilion is home to Remington Arms, which made the Bushmaster rifle used in the Newtown massacre. It now finds itself at the center of the US gun control debate

By Ed Helmore  /  The Guardian, ILION, New York

In private, Remington managers advanced an argument common to US gun owners: Events such as Newtown or the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, earlier this year, however tragic, are primarily a failure of mental health care.

At least half of the perpetrators in 100 rampages studied by the New York Times were found to have signs of serious mental health issues, and it was reported last week that Adam Lanza’s mother was in the process of having him committed when he embarked on the Newtown rampage.


On Friday, National Rifle Association (NRA) chief executive Wayne LaPierre offered the lobbying group’s own prescription to tackle the problem of school shootings: The nation’s schools should be placed under a “cordon of protection” by armed officers.

LaPierre also criticized violent video games and spoke of the need to deal more effectively with the mentally ill. Gun-free school zones identified by signs. he said, “tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to effect maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”

LaPierre’s point of view is in step with some opinion in Ilion, where the media, with its power to grant instant notoriety, is viewed as an unwitting component in the decision-making of mentally ill teens to vent their anger through a public atrocity.

After an era when gun laws were more likely to be relaxed than strengthened — Michigan passed a law to allow concealed weapons in public schools and daycare centers — it remains moot whether Obama’s call for action can acquire enough political support. Despite signs of conversion from NRA-backed senators Joe Manchin and Mark Warner, legislation will have to reach further than previous efforts to control “modern sporting rifles” — military-style semi-automatics.

Gun enthusiasts point out that the Bushmaster weapon used by Adam Lanza in Newtown was legal even under a decade-long assault-rifle ban that was allowed to expire in 2004.

“It’s a horrible tragedy, but he stole it from his mother, killed her, and then went to the school and shot the children,” Crossways says. “That’s not the gun or the company’s fault.”

Still, the availability of assault-style weapons, with their ready customization and add-ons, plays straight into male fantasies of firepower. Comparing an ordinary rifle with a semi-automatic Bushmaster is like comparing tobacco with “cigarettes laced with addictive additives,” Crossways says.

However, at Remington there is a sense that its heritage as a riflemaker (with a single government contract for sniper rifles) may have been squandered under pressure from Cerberus and The Freedom Group (which acquired the loss-making firm in 2007) to win market share and lucrative military contracts for the AR-15 from Colt, the primary supplier of the Eugene Stoner-designed weapon to the US Army.

Cerberus’s Freedom Group is on track to record US$900 million in sales this year. Potential buyers include Heckler & Koch of Germany or Forjas Taurus of Brazil. Overall, more than 200,000 assault-style guns were sold last year, making it one of the best years ever for the recession-busting gun.

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