On its website, Dark Storm Industries, LLC, refers to itself as a gun company located “Behind Enemy Lines.” Those lines are the borders of New York State. Dark Storm manufactures firearms and operates a shooting range and retail establishment on Long Island.
New York’s political leaders have become increasingly anti-Second Amendment, and thus have made life much harder for businesses in the shooting sports. So difficult, in fact, that Dark Storm is “crossing” those enemy lines and moving its manufacturing to the much-more-gun-friendly Titusville, Fla., located along that state’s storied Space Coast.
“The combination of economics and a friendlier political environment made the decision to build our new headquarters and manufacturing plant in Florida an easy one,” said Edward Newman, Dark Storm’s co-owner. “We are excited to join a growing number of gun manufacturers on the Space Coast and look forward to our new facility allowing us to both increase our production capacity as well as develop new and exciting products.”
Dark Storm Industries, or DSI, was founded in 2012 to sell firearm parts and accessories online. Then came 2013 and the passage of the New York SAFE Act, which outlawed standard-capacity magazines. The SAFE Act also broadened the definition of an “assault weapon,” banned new ones from being sold in the state and required residents to register their “assault weapons” with the New York State Police.
DSI reacted by making its DS-15 rifles, which are AR-style rifles designed to be legal under the SAFE Act. The company also opened a retail store and, eventually, a shooting range.
So why move now? Continued and accelerating anti-Second Amendment politics in the state, and the related economics of trying to do business in New York, have made staying impossible.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, New York’s now-former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) used the crisis to deem gun makers and firearms retailers as “non-essential,” despite the fact that the Department of Homeland Security specifically included as “essential” in its COVID-19 guidance those “supporting the operation of firearm, or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors and shooting ranges.” Hundreds of operations were closed, including DSI, costing these shooting-sports companies millions of dollars in lost revenue.
The decision to shut down the firearm industry in New York as a “response” to the national pandemic stands as an obvious reflection of Cuomo’s anti-Second Amendment bias. Less obvious, though potentially more damaging were (and are) the frequently unofficial but very real problems anti-gun politics create for gun-industry businesses.
“Fear of repercussions from the New York State Department of Financial Services have led many banks and insurers to refuse to provide new, or to terminate existing, services to firearms businesses in New York,” said Kevin Elder, DSI’s communications manager. “Plus, New York also recently passed a bill which would override the protections against frivolous lawsuits afforded by the [federal] Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). We expect to see more limitations from insurers as a result.”
Elder also said, “Already, most insurers who are active in the firearms dealer and manufacturer markets are placing limitations on litigation costs into their policies. This means a lawsuit by a municipality, which could easily outspend a small company, could effectively push them into bankruptcy. Preventing things like this is exactly the reason the PLCAA was passed in the first place.”
DSI is far from alone. In the last two decades, dozens of other companies in the shooting-sports industry have either moved or are in the process of moving to states that don’t treat them as enemies.
Just as individual Americans are free to move when local conditions are not conducive to their freedom, American companies can also pull up stakes and head for friendlier political and cultural climates. And states that can offer a better chance at success are lobbying for these companies to move into their borders.
“I call it the ‘we’re outta here’ list,” said Larry Keane, executive vice president and chief counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the shooting sports industry’s trade organization. Keane said economic development organizations from across the nation hold numerous meetings with shooting-industry companies interested in a better location—better both economically and culturally.
“These companies are tired of the continual attacks on the Second Amendment coming from their own state and municipal leaders,” Keane said. “Many of them are very concerned about what might come next. Depending on the state, you have companies making products their own employees can’t purchase because various laws hostile to the Second Amendment have made these products [like “high-capacity” magazines] illegal. At the same time, these states and cities are happy to rake in the taxes from these businesses and benefit economically from the employee paychecks.”
California, for example, has been increasingly hostile to the Second Amendment from a political point of view for decades; the state has enacted ever-more-complicated restrictions on firearms and firearms ownership, usually in the name of “public safety,” but almost always these laws only affect law-abiding gun owners. This has helped cost the Golden State one of the iconic brands in gun manufacturing: Weatherby.
Roy Weatherby started his own company, Weatherby, in 1945 in South Gate, Calif. A dedicated rifle shooter and a handloader, Roy had some out-of-the-box ideas about developing magnum rifle loads and rifles designed to handle those loads. Weatherby became a name brand for hunters in the market for more powerful, higher-end rifles and cartridges.
Roy passed on his namesake company to his son, Ed, in 1983, and Ed continued the Weatherby California tradition, though the company moved north, out of the Los Angeles area, and eventually settled in Paso Robles, in the middle of California wine country. In 2017, Ed retired and turned over the company to his son, Adam.
Gun companies fleeing anti-Second Amendment environments is just one part of an ongoing struggle for freedomSoon after he became president of Weatherby, Adam announced that the gun maker was moving the entirety of its operations to Sheridan, Wyo.
“There were many reasons we relocated to the state of Wyoming. At the top of the list were fewer regulations, lower taxes, incredible access to outdoor shooting and hunting opportunities and, of course, the state’s commitment to standing behind the Second Amendment,” said Adam Weatherby. “Since moving in 2018, we have become a better business in so many ways. And it is comforting to know that the state has our company’s back on different issues that we may face. The recent passing of House Bill 236, The Firearm Industry Nondiscrimination (FIND) Act, is just one of the examples of how the state of Wyoming is incredibly welcoming toward companies like Weatherby.”
“From the top down, hunting and the right to bear arms have been part of the Wyoming culture,” Weatherby continued. “As a result, we have been able to recruit and train an incredible work force in Wyoming who are passionate about our products and the lifestyle it represents. The local access to hunting opportunities combined with a sense of freedom experienced throughout the state make it an incredible place to operate our headquarters.”
According to media reports, a Sheridan economic development organization also received a $12.5 million dollar grant to construct a building for Weatherby, and the company received other financial and tax inducements to assist with relocating to Sheridan. This help was given to Weatherby because they brought jobs and a payroll of approximately $5 million annually. These employees, of course, pay taxes, just as Weatherby does.
In Florida, DSI is expected to create 50 new jobs with an average annual salary of $50,000 and a capital investment of approximately $3.2 million. The facility is expected to create an additional 20 indirect jobs and 17 induced jobs. The combined net new annual wages from all jobs are estimated to be more than $ 4.4 million with a contribution to GDP greater than $9.6 million and a 10-year economic impact exceeding $95 million.
In another example, Troy Industries is one of America’s largest suppliers of small-arms accessories and upgrades, supplying the U.S. military and law enforcement, as well as civilian shooters. Many firearms manufacturers, including Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co., incorporate Troy’s components into their products.
In May 2021, Troy announced it was moving from the company’s original location in West Springfield, Mass., to Clarksville, Tenn. In a press release regarding the move, company founder Steve Troy said, “While Troy has enjoyed a very successful period of growth in Massachusetts, the changing climate for firearms manufacturers in the state determined the need for our relocation to Tennessee to ensure the continued success of the company.”
John Harris, a Nashville-based attorney who specializes in firearms-industry clients said, “If a shooting sports or gun maker relocates to rural Tennessee, they will get less-expensive labor than the East Coast, a good distribution system and help from one of our economic development organizations. And employees who like guns and are hunters.”
Troy Industries scored all those positives in its planned move. Tennessee recently approved NRA-backed constitutional carry. Tennessee also has a “Castle Doctrine” law on the books, guaranteeing citizens the right to defend themselves in their homes. Also, Tennessee doesn’t have something Massachusetts does: legislation introduced to stop manufacturers in Massachusetts from making AR-15 platform rifles.
When the heavy hand of government in a particular state falls on a disfavored manufacturing sector with restrictive regulations or outright bans on the sale of their legal products, many of those companies move.
No doubt, Mr. Troy’s reference to that “changing climate” in Massachusetts referred to, at least in part, a bill recently filed by some Massachusetts lawmakers with a title one might describe as either misleading, to be kind, or an outright lie: “House Docket No. 4192: A Bill to Stop Mass Shootings.” The bill appeared in April 2021 and was created to ban the manufacture of so-called “assault weapons” within Massachusetts, unless those firearms were being made only for law enforcement or the military.
Plus, the bill would also ban the manufacture of any “large-capacity feeding device” for the aforementioned “assault weapons.” This would include the 30-round magazines made and sold by Troy Industries.
Massachusetts wasn’t exactly a pro-Second Amendment state before House Docket No. 4192 was introduced; for instance, Massachusetts first implemented a state ban on “assault weapons” in 1998, and in 2004 made the ban permanent.
If the bill introduced this year was made law, given that they are located in Massachusetts, both Savage Arms and Smith & Wesson would be prohibited from producing many popular semi-automatic rifles both companies currently manufacture, except for those made to be sold to approved government entities. By itself, Smith & Wesson “employs thousands and contributes to over $4.5 million in state and federal taxes for a $2.4 billion economic impact,” according to the NSSF.
Not surprisingly, anti-Second Amendment groups hailed the bill.
“This is not a partisan issue, not an effort to put anyone out of business,” said Stop Handgun Violence co-founder John Rosenthal. “This is simply an effort to be consistent. If it’s illegal to own and sell assault weapons in Massachusetts, why is it OK for Massachusetts companies to make them, ship them elsewhere to cause mayhem across the country?”
Well, as both Savage and Smith & Wesson do make AR-platform rifles, the bill would, in fact, put some of their manufacturing “out of business.” At press time, House Docket No. 4192 appeared to be stalled; however, the fact that it was being considered at all sends a strong and very negative message to the shooting-sports industry.
Gun-industry companies fleeing anti-Second Amendment environments is just one part of an ongoing struggle for freedom, but they still must deal with federal laws. This is why the PLCAA was passed in 2005 to shield gun makers from frivolous lawsuits, and to help preserve our Second Amendment freedoms. As President Joe Biden (D) has made clear, he will try to repeal the PLCAA and continue other such attacks on our basic civil rights at the federal level. In the end, it will take more than pro-Second Amendment states to help secure our freedoms as Americans.