Governments in nine states have awarded at least $49 million in subsidies in the past five years to gun and ammunition makers whose products are under scrutiny after last month’s school shooting in Connecticut.
Almost 85 percent of those tax breaks or grants have gone to two companies: Olin Corp., the Clayton, Mo.-based maker of Winchester-brand bullets and shotgun shells, and a unit of Freedom Group Inc., the Madison, N.C.-based company that produces the rifle used in the Dec. 14 killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
The subsidies from state and local governments are attracting attention after high-profile mass murders last year, which also included a July shooting at a suburban Denver movie theater that killed 12. Lawmakers and gun-control advocates are pressing to stop aid for weapons manufacturing, saying it does little to create new jobs and isn’t worth the social costs.
“Sometimes our moral compass gets spinning and we don’t care who we give incentives to or what the unintended consequences are,” said Kentucky Rep. Jim Wayne, 64, a Democrat whose state approved $4.8 million in tax breaks in the past five years for closely held Freedom Group’s Remington Arms Co. unit. “We have to be very serious about whether we want to attract these kinds of jobs into our state that actually further a culture of violence.”
Governments in Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire and New York approved the subsidies to attract jobs from other states or to keep companies from moving, according to public records. The incentives were aimed at protecting or attracting more than 2,800 jobs, and for companies to train 500 workers. Lawmakers said they hoped more jobs would follow.
The subsidies aren’t unique to the weapons industry, as governments around the country routinely offer aid for jobs.
“Incentives help businesses expand and grow and stay healthy,” said Joe Holmes, director of marketing for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, which has approved tax credits for Remington’s ammunition plant near Little Rock.
Lawmakers are taking another look at the subsidies as gunmakers and their advocates, including the National Rifle Association, prepare to battle state and federal proposals to restrict sales of some products.