Money flowing to gun control groups as manufacturers struggle

The teen authorities say killed several people at a Florida high school excelled in an air-rifle marksmanship program supported by a grant from the National Rifle Association Foundation.
Seth Perlman/Associated Press/File
The teen authorities say killed several people at a Florida high school excelled in an air-rifle marksmanship program supported by a grant from the National Rifle Association Foundation.

PARKLAND, Fla. — Groups advocating stricter gun laws said they are organizing Americans who want to channel anger into political action after the deadly Florida school shooting.

Everytown for Gun Safety, led by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, said Friday it had received $800,000 in unsolicited donations since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The group called it a precursor to fund-raising for the midterm elections in 2018, which it hopes will turn the tide in gun politics.


John Feinblatt, president of the Everytown group, says ‘‘it’s time to elect leaders who will finally act to save lives from gun violence.’’

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The group’s action plan includes: pledging to vote according to candidates’ positions on gun safety, letting leaders know that money they have taken from the National Rifle Association will cost them voter support, getting candidates to state their positions on the record, and running for office to become a champion for sensible gun laws.

Shannon Watts, who founded the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said ‘‘many of our lawmakers have failed us, but that’s why we have elections.’’

Nikolas Cruz, the teenager who authorities say killed 17 people at the Florida high school excelled in an air-rifle marksmanship program supported by a grant from the NRA. It was part of a multimillion dollar effort by the progun group to support youth shooting clubs.

Cruz was wearing a shirt with the logo of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program when he was arrested Wednesday. Former cadets said Cruz was on the varsity marksmanship team, which competed against other area schools.


The cadets used air rifles specifically made for target shooting. The JROTC program at Cruz’s school received $10,827 in noncash assistance from the NRA’s foundation while he was there.

The NRA declined to comment. The foundation gave nearly $2.2 million to schools in 2016.

Firearms companies have been facing declining sales, falling stock prices, and tremendous debt since Republicans seized power in Washington in the 2016 election, Bloomberg News reported.

On Monday, Remington Outdoor Co., a 200-year-old firearms manufacturer, announced that it is planning to file for bankruptcy because of declining sales.

Gunmaker American Outdoor Brands Corp., formerly known as Smith & Wesson, has seen its stock plummet by almost half, compared with 2017.


The company, based in Springfield, Mass., made the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle that was used in the Parkland school attack, police said.

The same type of rifle was used in mass shootings in Newtown, Conn.; San Bernardino, Calif.; and Las Vegas.

With Republicans in control of the White House and Congress, the chance of new federal firearms regulations are slim, even in the wake of Wednesday’s massacre.

When Barack Obama was president or Democrats controlled Congress, gun sales would generally rise after a mass shooting for fear of more restrictive laws. The gun lobby fueled these worries despite a lack of significant legislative effort by the Obama administration.

Now, gun industry executives say the fear of new gun laws has receded, Bloomberg reported. And so have sales, hurting both retailers and manufactures.

In December, James Debney, chief executive officer of American Outdoor, said ‘‘fear-based’’ buying of firearms had stopped.

According to data collected by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a barometer for firearms sales, January 2018 was the slowest in gun purchases since 2012.

Even on Thursday, after Massachusetts gunmaker’s stocks rose in premarket trading, the shares headed back down by afternoon.

After gun stores and manufacturers, the next victim of the industry’s political success could be distributors.

Because most distributors are privately owned, earnings data is hard to come by. Still, company debt can offer a glimpse into their financial health. The declining performance of a $140 million loan to distributor United Sporting Cos., for example, suggests there may be a problem.

United is a private equity-owned holding company whose subsidiaries include Ellett Brothers and Jerry’s Sports Center, two gun distributors who work with over 30,000 independent retailers across all 50 states (Sturm Ruger & Co. says 15 percent of its sales are to the two subsidiaries).

They distribute hunting and shooting sports products, including handguns, ammunition, silencers, and holsters. Jerry’s was named ‘‘distributor of the year’’ by Marlin Firearms, a company owned by Remington.

A $140 million loan extended to United fell to less than half of its face value last year, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings by the loan’s holder, the business development company Prospect Capital Corp.

Since Prospect makes loans to private companies but has issued shares to the public, it’s required to disclose its financial figures, even when the companies on the hook for the loan are not.

In Prospect’s annual report for 2017, the company said a fair value of its loan to United was almost $47 million-around 33 percent of its face value. That was down from 94 percent in its report for the quarter ended March 31, 2017.