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New York a leading provider of subsidies to assault weapons makers

Eight states have lured assault weapons makers with $19 million tax breaks and other aid — including New York, which ranks No. 2 in the nation.

Bullets by Remington Arms, whose New York State plant has received $5.5 million in state subsidies. Photo: Stephen Nesbit/Flickr

Update, January 3: Following our story, State Sen. Liz Krueger has written a letter to the Empire State Development Corporation demanding an end to state subsidies for gun makers

Taxpayers in New York and across the country are subsidizing the manufacturers of assault rifles used in multiple mass killings, including the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last month and the Christmas Eve shootings of firefighters in Webster, NY.

A Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting examination of public records shows that five companies that make semi-automatic rifles have received more than $19 million in tax breaks and other subsidies, most within with the past five years.

New York is one of eight states known to be providing financial support to the semiautomatic weapon industry, making it second only to Massachusetts in the size of its aid. Other states that have provided the subsidies in the last decade are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire and Oklahoma.

Remington Arms has received some $5.5 million in New York subsidies and grants since 2007. The aid came as Remington, founded two centuries ago in upstate Ilion, in Herkimer County, became part of the Freedom Group, a division of Cerberus Capital. (Following the Newtown shootings, Cerberus has announced that it will sell the Freedom Group.)

The Empire State Development Corporation targeted $4.5 million in state and federal subsidies to relocate 200 jobs to Ilion from Freedom Group manufacturing plants in Massachusetts and Connecticut. In total, Remington, received $11.9 million from four states. Smith & Wesson, which ranked second, received $6.7 million from Maine and Massachusetts.

The Maine Center’s findings are based on a comparison of the known makes of semi-automatic rifles with state records and the Subsidy Tracker database compiled by the Washington-based organization Good Jobs First. The database is not comprehensive but provides the most detailed national picture available.

In all, New York accounts for 25 percent of the known state aid to the assault weapons industry.

Since 1982, assailants have committed at least 62 mass murders using firearms in the country, across 30 states. Assault weapons were involved in more than half of those shootings.

Asked to comment on its state subsidies, Remington Arms responded by emailing an economic impact report on the industry produced by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade association based in Newtown, CT. It tallied 4,129 jobs in the arms and ammunition industry in New York State, with $480 million in economic output last year, and a total of 99,000 jobs nationally.

The Ilion plant’s product line includes semiautomatic rifles — weapons that New York bans for sale in the state. Remington has reportedly pressured New York officials against further strengthening the state’s gun laws, threatening to leave the state if a bill requiring microstamping of bullets became law. Gun control advocates and police say microstamping — printing minuscule identifying markers on casings — would help solve gun crimes.

Jackie Hilly, executive director of the gun-control advocacy group New Yorkers Against Gun Violence (NYAGV), takes issue with the state providing financial aid to a company that has obstructed progress on gun safety.

“I do have a problem with people who are taking money from the state … and then flatly refusing to serve some sort of public good,” she said. “That’s public money that’s being used, and I think there should be some kind of public good that comes out of it.”

Officials point out that such tax breaks are generally given to a range of businesses, not only to gun manufacturers, in the belief by state legislators and governors that they will attract industry or create or retain jobs.

“Economic subsidies are allocated based on the number of jobs created and private investment generated by a project,” said Jason Conwall, spokesman for Empire State Development Corporation.

Kim Rueben, an economist with the Tax Policy Center in Washington, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and Urban Institute, said that in most cases subsidies result in no increase in the numbers of jobs. Instead, she said, such programs encourage businesses to move to the state with the best aid packages.

Any savings, such as tax reductions, she added, “go to the bottom line” of a publicly held company such as Smith & Wesson.

Empire State Development Corporation and New York State Senator Patrick Gallivan, who chairs the Senate’s Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business Committee, did not respond to a request for comment.

This story was updated Thursday, Jan. 3, with a response from Empire State Development Corp.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Hallowell, Maine. Email: mainecenter@gmail.com.