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Illinois, arming America

Discussion in 'Legal' started by GoRon, Oct 16, 2005.

  1. GoRon

    GoRon Participating Member

    Dec 25, 2002
    west burbs of Chicago
    Well, actually the article is about the difficulties Springfield Armory, Rock River Arms, Armalite and Les Baer have being gun manufacturers in Illinois.


    Life in 'Gun Valley'

    Sunday, October 9, 2005


    of the Journal Star
    Four Illinois firearm manufacturers are locked in a tug-of-war with the state as ever-increasing gun legislation comes in from Springfield, but the competing companies have successfully operated within 15 miles of each other for years in an area dubbed "the Gun Valley."

    In a nondescript building on Main Street in the Henry County town of Geneseo is the nerve center of one of the nation's largest, oldest and most recognized names in the shooting business.

    Springfield Armory Inc. has its headquarters in the 50,000-square-foot building, but from the outside, there's no hint that thousands of handguns and rifles are being produced behind the secure walls.

    Unlike most businesses along the strip advertising to passers-by with eye-catching signs, Springfield keeps a low profile because its product line is unlike most businesses.

    Once through the security doors, the inner workings look like most corporations. People in cubicles answer phones and field questions from customers and buzz back and forth between copiers and fax machines.

    The walls are decorated with poster-sized covers of national gun magazines the company has been featured in over the years. Just past this room, however, is the heart of the company that employs nearly 200 people.

    The first stop on a rarely-granted tour is the custom gun shop where 3,000 handguns each year are hand fitted and assembled for professional competitive shooters, FBI agents and collectors. The labor-intensive process is separate from the rest of the handgun production and includes hand-filing thousands of little checkers into the pistol grip.

    These custom guns will set a buyer back between $2,500 and $3,000 each.

    Many aspects of production are closely guarded secrets and are off- limits, especially areas where guns are being built to fulfill U.S. government contracts. Even the total number of guns made here each year is kept close to the vest.

    "We've got competition that would just love to know," said Springfield's marketing manager, Bill Dermody.

    The two most recognizable and popular firearms produced here are the Springfield 1911 .45-caliber handgun and the M1A rifle. Variations and upgrades have been made to the models over the years, but their history is closely tied with the history and success of Springfield.

    George Washington ordered the creation of Springfield Armory in 1777 to house Revolutionary War ammunition and weaponry, and in 1794 the armory began making muskets for the country, according to Dennis Reese, who now owns the company with his brother, Tom.

    The U.S. government closed the Springfield, Mass., armory in 1968 for financial reasons and in 1974 Dennis and Tom's father, Robert, acquired the Springfield Armory name, relocated to Geneseo and began producing firearms.

    The brothers purchased the company from their father in the 1980s and have carried on in the same tradition ever since.

    "From there we knew we were on to something," Dennis Reese said.

    For the two brothers, Geneseo is home and has been since they were children.

    "It's where we grew up," Dennis Reese said. "We like Geneseo."

    But being a gun maker in Illinois and having faced anti-gun legislation that nearly banned manufacturing outright has created a strained association and mistrust of the state.

    The unusual relationship between the state and the businesses usually revolves around two points.

    One: Legislators opposed to firearms work to limit gun use or production in the state. Two: Banning firearm manufacturers would result in hundreds of lost jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue for the state.

    So 'round and 'round they go, locked in a conflict that has staunch supporters on both sides and no foreseeable solution in the near future.

    Springfield and other gun manufacturers within the 15-mile radius Dennis Reese calls "the Gun Valley" continually get offers to relocate to other states, yet they choose to stay because of their history and employees.

    "We get a letter from Wyoming every other week," he said.

    When House Bill 2414 threatened to force gun makers out of the state last May by making it illegal to manufacture firearms, Springfield and the other companies went into action.

    In a letter to state legislators, Springfield said it paid $723,768 in local, state and federal taxes, $4,503,931 in excise taxes and $5,383,951 in payroll in 2004.

    Springfield also said the state's sporting industry generates $642 million in salary and $89 million annually in taxes.

    The bill, sponsored by Rep. Edward J. Acevedo, D-Chicago, now waits in committee and the gun manufacturers are waiting to respond to the state's next move.

    License and registration, please

    Manufacturers undergo a rigorous licensing process, inspections, regulations from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and must obtain various permits to stay in business.

    "It's almost a full-time job," said Les Baer, owner of Les Baer Custom in Hillsdale.

    His shop near the Henry County-Rock Island County line makes custom-designed handguns and rifles that are all hand-made and hand-fitted.

    The former machinist has been in the gun business since the 1970s and says it gets tougher all the time.

    "Every time you turn around you're being more regulated and more regulated. It's not getting any easier, either," he said.

    Baer said once a year the ATF goes through his company's sales records. Also, in order to sell any of his guns outside the country, he has to be licensed with Defense Trade Controls in Washington, D.C., a division of the State Department that regulates the sale of weapons to other countries.

    The export process begins by filing an application for each sale. It then takes between four and six weeks to find out if the application is approved. If not, the application is denied but no specific reason is ever given, he said. A denial could result from the other country refusing the sale or a mistake on the application.

    The process then begins again.

    He also pays a fee to be registered with Defense Trade and says he needs about 40 licenses and permits from different agencies to stay in business.

    Baer says because his guns are all custom-made and unique, he's found a market in countries like Germany and Thailand.

    "Our market is a good market for export," he said. "Those are some of our best customers."

    But now the hardest part of his job isn't building the 130 handguns and 40 rifles each month, it's keeping up with the requirements.

    "It's tough. That's all I've got to say. It's a tough deal," Baer says.

    There are currently seven firearm manufacturers in the state, and they all have to conform to the same rules, according to Frank Briganti, representative for the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Connecticut.

    The four gun makers located in Gun Valley produced 127,897 handguns, rifles and shotguns in 2003, according to an ATF Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report from the same year.

    After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Baer said, the restrictions and rules became even more stringent.

    "Since 9-11 it's gotten worse," he says. "The regulations I think for export got much stricter."

    The thought of leaving Illinois and moving to a state that would welcome him with open arms has crossed his mind several times, but he has decided to stay put.

    "It came close a couple of times," Baer said. "We would if we have to, but that's an expensive deal, too."

    The fight to bear arms

    Just down the street from Springfield is ArmaLite Inc., a nationally recognized manufacturer of military style rifles, including the controversial .50-caliber rifle that has recently come into the crosshairs of anti-gun legislators across the country.

    ArmaLite owner Mark Westrom fought against HB 2414 in the state Capitol along with other manufacturers and knows firsthand the hardships of being an Illinois gun maker.

    "Anybody with a lick of sense doesn't get into the firearms business," said Westrom, who has owned the business for 11 years and employs more than 75 people.

    "We are one of the most closely controlled industries in the country," said the former lieutenant colonel of the Ordnance Corps in the Army Reserves. "It gets even worse when you talk about export."

    But there's one issue that concerns these companies more than any other. It has die-hard supporters on both sides and usually sparks heated debate whenever it's discussed.

    That issue is gun control.

    The heart of this debate for some isn't how much these companies should be regulated, but if their product should be legal at all, and that concerns Westrom.

    "We've got people in this country who believe the police will take care of you and individual defense is archaic," Westrom said. "Frankly, some of them want to put manufacturers out of business."

    Westrom says individual ownership of firearms deters criminals from burglarizing homes because they don't know which contains a gun, but Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, disagrees.

    "It's an absurd argument," Cullerton said. "It's illogical. (Burglars) are not trying to break into the house to find people there."

    Chicago has an ordinance that bans the ownership of firearms in the city. Cullerton said people can choose where they live, but Westrom says crime can happen anywhere.

    "You've got people (in Chicago) whose sole defense is the lock on their door," Westrom said. "I don't trust the locks on my doors. I would have a hard time subjecting myself to that."

    According to the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, there were 1,231 gun-related deaths in the state in 2002. The council says of those, 728 were homicides and 466 were suicides.

    Figures like that and crimes he has seen near Chicago reinforce Cullerton's beliefs.

    "I'm a strong gun control advocate," Westrom said.

    By the same token, crimes of any kind are all the more reason Westrom supports individual firearm ownership.

    "It's a different feeling having to depend on the inertia of the society to protect me," Westrom said.

    Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, says he prefers more firearm safety measures rather than creating new gun laws.

    "I am a staunch supporter of gun safety measures," Harmon said. "It's absurd to me we have a more rigorous licensing scheme for licensing cars and drivers than we do for weapons."

    Harmon believes a big part of the gun control debate stems from a lack of understanding from both sides and wishes a middle ground could be reached.

    "The gun issue is especially complicated in Illinois because there are two distinct and almost irreconcilable viewpoints," Harmon said. "For better or worse, there's a healthy dose of skepticism on both sides."

    Harmon says people who grew up in urban areas have only seen guns in a negative light, whereas suburban residents are more familiar with guns through hunting and sport shooting.

    "The only guns we see (in Chicago) are in the hands of police or criminals," he said. "Guns in our neighborhood almost always mean trouble. I wish (gun owners) could understand just how problematic guns are in our part of the world."

    Laws and legislation vs. barrels and bullets

    The expiration of the decade-long Assault Weapons Ban in 2004 brought a few changes to the way these manufacturers do business.

    In 1994, the ban outlawed at the national level high capacity magazines, flash suppressors, collapsible stocks and other features deemed dangerous by the ban's supporters. The ban was allowed to expire through a sunset clause that required renewal after 10 years, allowing ArmaLite to again produce rifles with the features.

    While it was illegal to produce new firearms with those features under the ban, pre-ban weapons were exempt from the law and saw a spike in sales before the ban was enacted.

    "The Assault Weapons Ban didn't accomplish anything," Westrom said. "We can see the effect of that law was cosmetic, and we have statistics for it."

    Westrom said he is aware of only one ArmaLite firearm ever being used in a crime.

    Many states, cities and counties have adopted their own laws similar to the federal ban since the expiration.

    Numerous pieces of gun legislation have been signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich recently but critics say laws already on the books should be enforced instead of creating new ones.

    Blagojevich signed a bill last July requiring firearm sellers at gun shows to perform a background check on potential gun purchasers, closing what he called "the gun show loophole," that allowed criminals to buy guns.

    He also supported a bill that would have required state police to report the name and address of those who try to get a Firearm Owner's Identification Card to the local law enforcement agency where the person lives. That bill failed in the Senate.

    New laws have the potential to change the way manufacturers do business, including Rock River Arms in Colona, the fourth member of Gun Valley.

    Rock River was started in 1996 by brothers Mark and Chuck Larson. The brothers now operate the business out of a 12,000 square-foot building and produce a full line of custom rifles, handguns, parts and accessories sold through dealers across the country. The company has contracts with the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency.

    "If it wasn't for the political people up around Chicago, this state would be fine," Baer said, and some politicians agree with him.

    "The problem with crime is the person holding the gun, not the gun itself," said Sen. Todd Sieben, R-Geneseo.

    Sieben said he has seen the "Chicago package of gun control bills" come before the Legislature in the past and says the bills are too far-reaching and affect too many people.

    "They're too broadly drawn, and they're too all-encompassing."

    Sieben has worked closely with Springfield Armory and has alerted the manufacturer to controversial bills.

    "(Springfield provides) good paying jobs and many of these people are very skilled at what they do," Sieben said. "They're not making Saturday night specials in these factories."

    Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, also cites the revenue stream and jobs the manufacturers bring to the area as major positives.

    "The gun industry actually provides a lot of jobs," Moffitt said. "I think it's good to remember that these gun makers bring jobs and are good for our economy."

    Over the years, Moffitt has also seen Chicago-based legislation that had the potential to change the lives of gun owners in the rest of Illinois.

    Earlier this year Congress voted to shield firearm manufacturers from lawsuits brought by victims of gun crimes. The bill passed 65-31 and protects manufacturers from massive suits that have the potential to bankrupt businesses similar to lawsuits filed against the tobacco industry.

    A suit brought by the city of Chicago requested $433 million for health care costs and emergency expenses related to gun violence, but the case was dismissed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2004.

    But the give and take in the Legislature has wins and losses on both sides.

    Blagojevich vetoed three bills in August that would have required Illinois State Police to get rid of background check information 90 days after a check is performed, eliminated a waiting period for gun owners trading one firearm for another and one that would have overridden local gun transportation laws.

    "The law-abiding citizen has the right to defend themselves," Moffitt said. "A person that has an FOID card is a law-abiding citizen, and we shouldn't be trying to take their guns away."

    Each manufacturer has one eye fixed on the Capitol and the other on his neighbor, trying to stay ahead of the competition and on top of the latest gun laws. Working to strike a balance between the two has nearly become a task as big as the production itself, but despite the circumstances each company faces, they have all decided to stay and fight for their place in the valley.

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  2. oneshooter

    oneshooter Participating Member

    Nov 21, 2004
    TEXAS, by God
    All I can say is that Texas would welcome ya'll.:D

    Livin in Texas
  3. fourays2

    fourays2 Member

    Jun 22, 2005
    Phoenix, AZ
    they should re-locate to AZ in the "Uzi" triangle:D
  4. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Senior Elder

    Dec 24, 2002
    I wonder if the folks at these companies know that all that tax money they are sending to the government in Springfield (the city, not the company) is often being used against them. If Chicago ever gets its way, they won't be able to sell their products to the people that live where they make them.:banghead:
  5. beerslurpy

    beerslurpy member

    Nov 8, 2004
    Spring Hill, Florida
    Florida already has many wonderful gun companies operating here. We also dont have income tax, and the cost of real estate is relatively low. Opening a business in Florida will reduce your direct costs of doing business and reduce the indirect costs associated with keeping tabs on a hostile legislature. Florida is thoroughly pro-gun.
  6. O.F.Fascist

    O.F.Fascist Member

    Oct 24, 2003
    Corpus Christi, Tx, United States of America
    Thats a big +1
  7. lysander

    lysander Active Member

    Mar 23, 2005
    Some of us (those who live in Illinois) need these companies to stay here. Armalite, SA, RRA and Les Baer are, on some levels, a stronghold against even more severe control measures in this state.
  8. Standing Wolf

    Standing Wolf Member in memoriam

    Dec 24, 2002
    Idahohoho, the jolliest state
    If I owned any of those companies, I'd relocate to the United States.
  9. As would I. Oklahoma was attempting to get gun manufacturers to relocate there.

    Indiana would welcome them too. I wish the companies in Illinois and S&W in Massachusetts would all leave those states.

    Come to Indy, I'd love to go to work for one of them.
  10. Thin Black Line

    Thin Black Line Senior Member

    Sep 4, 2005
    Amerikan Twilight Zone
    I think DSA also manufactures in ILL.
  11. Matthew748

    Matthew748 Active Member

    Mar 26, 2005
    I know they have roots in the community, but these manufacturers should really consider jumping ship to a friendlier state. If the wrong piece of legislation gets passed they could be in a world of hurt. I immigrated to Indiana and have not looked back once.
  12. Lupinus

    Lupinus Senior Member

    Oct 6, 2005
    Upstate SC
    They (and the industry) would be much better served in a gun friendly state IMO. It may not be cheap to move. But its better if they plan to do it, then it would be for them to be legaly forced out.

    Heck, if employe's mean that much offer then an insentive to move lol.

    Though, the srpingfield armory of Montana just sound's off lol.

    Still be better then no springfield. Plus, I think it would lower price's. Less legal hoop's to jump through means less administrative cost's. Less cost's mean yo ucan keep the profit margin (even maybe more then now) while being able to reduce price's. And gun's with a lower price are always a good thing
  13. stevelyn

    stevelyn Senior Member

    Mar 9, 2003
    Fairbanksan in Aleutian Hell
    If I were the owner of any of these companies, I wouldn't hesitate to relocate to a friendlier state taking my tax dollars (and jobs) with me.
    By staying put they are only rewarding our enemies who are constantly trying to inflict injury on them.
  14. BB62

    BB62 Member

    Apr 25, 2004
    The Republicans in IL ought to introduce a bill that removes sovereign immunity from those cities who refuse to let their serfs (OH, I mean citizens) exercise their God-given right to effective self defense.
  15. Zundfolge

    Zundfolge Elder

    Dec 24, 2002
    Colorado Springs
    I can't imagine that most gun manufacturers in anti-gun states have shooters working for them ... I'm a gun nut and I'd love to work for a gun manufacturer, but I'm not going to move to a restrictive part of the country to do it.

    Springfield, Kahr, Bushmaster, and all the other gun manufacturers in occupied territory need to move to places like Texas, Colorado, Arizona etc. so some of us gun nuts can actually work for them (hell, I'm sure we'd be just as loyal as the people they have now ... and many of them would be willing to relocate to free America as well).

    Sure I understand the whole "Stay and Fight" mentality ... but gun companies are not multi billion dollar companies that can afford to fight ... leave the fighting up to us, you guys just make the guns (I can't help but think a Springfield 1911 would be cheaper if it wasn't made in a state where the company has to spend a big chunk of its overhead fighting the state.gov).

    Honestly I could see gun companies in droves moving to the Colorado Springs area ... aside from the friendlier government its also a nice place to live with lots to do that would attract gun makers and their employees.
  16. Werewolf

    Werewolf Senior Member

    Sep 12, 2003
    A statement like that implies that the interested states would probably help pay for the cost of the move.

    I know that OK setup a gunsmithing vocational program in hopes of attracting firearms manufacturers - it hasn't born fruit yet.

    Makes no sense to me at all why a firearms manufacturing company would put up with the BS illinois forces them to endure when it seems many states would welcome their presence with open arms.
  17. Kingcreek

    Kingcreek Senior Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    at the center of my own little universe
    remember that Illinois is a state with alot of political polarity. Chicago/ cook county in a tug-of-war with the rest of the state. Geneseo is 2.5 hours from Chicago and right down the road from me. I know quite a few folks from all those companies including some of the management and they are good people, shooters, and pro2A.
    They do a good job and they do it here. Are you advocating the progun community write-off Illinois?
    I am glad they are here.
  18. Mulliga

    Mulliga Senior Member

    Jan 13, 2004
    Gainesville, Florida
    Isn't Bushmaster in Maine? I thought the gun laws were decent there.
  19. GoRon

    GoRon Participating Member

    Dec 25, 2002
    west burbs of Chicago
    Wait a second here, you guys can't have them, they're ours!:D

    Take a look at that box of Winchester ammo, yep, Illinois.

    Us gun guys/gals are working hard at catching up with the rest of you. We will join the free United States some day.
  20. Lupinus

    Lupinus Senior Member

    Oct 6, 2005
    Upstate SC
    Really? Where's that I'd like to buy a house and move there.

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