Monday, March 10, 2014
By John Christie, Naomi Schalit, Theresa Sullivan Barger and Nathaniel Herz
© Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting
Taxpayers across the country are subsidizing the manufacturers of assault rifles used in multiple mass killings, including the massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. last month.
Barbara Richardson: “I feel horrified at the power of the gun industry over our political system, that it could exert such influence.”
Photo by Theresa Sullivan Barger
Mary Hamula: “I think with everything that happened in Newtown, I think the culture around guns is going to change. If something positive comes out of it, that’s all we can ask for.”
Photo by Theresa Sullivan Barger
A Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting examination of tax records shows that five companies that make semi-automatic rifles have received more than $19 million in tax breaks, most within with the past five years.
“I feel horrified at the power of the gun industry over our political system, that it could exert such influence,” said Newtown resident Barbara Richardson, who lives between the homes of one of the 6-year-old victims and the shooter.
Saying she respects hunters who are ethical and good neighbors, she “absolutely [does] not” support taxpayer subsidies to help manufacture assault rifles: “They’re weapons of mass destruction.”
Any new jobs due to tax subsidies are “not worth it,” said Richardson, a nurse whose first patient ever was a 19-year-old accidentally shot by his 13-year-old brother with their father’s gun.
The states providing the subsidies since 2003: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Oklahoma.
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.
One of the tax breaks that went to a Smith & Wesson plant in Maine was based on a program initiated by then-Gov. Angus King, now the senator-elect from that state.
King, in an email to the center, said, “Various tax incentive programs have been enacted over the years in Maine and virtually every other state to encourage and support job creation, particularly in the manufacturing sector. No one suggested at the time these programs were created—or since, as far as I know—that the government should decide which particular businesses within broad categories would be more or less desirable.”
Yet many economists have thrown cold water on the idea that these programs create any net new jobs.
Kim Rueben, an economist with the Tax Policy Center in Washington, said, in most cases there is no increase in the numbers of jobs; instead, she said, such programs encourage businesses to move to the state with the best subsidies.
Sen.-elect King pointed out that the Maine Smith & Wesson plant doesn’t make semi-automatic rifles (it does make semi-automatic handguns).
But Rueben, the economist, countered that any savings, such as tax reductions, “go to the bottom line” of a publically-held company such as Smith & Wesson, regardless of the origin of the subsidy.
The vast majority of the subsidies went to two of the largest and most recognized arms makers in the country’s history: Remington, which got $11.9 million from four states, and Smith & Wesson, which got more than $6.7 million from two states.
How many assault-style rifles the two manufacturers make is unknown because they do not break out statistics for assault rifles from other rifles, according to a declaration in a 2009 civil case by a research coordinator for the National Rifle Association.
However, Mark Overstreet characterized Remington’s and Smith & Wesson’s assault rifle production as “prolific.” Overstreet testified that the dozen manufacturers that did break out their numbers had made 1.6 million assault rifles between 1986 and 2007.
The other assault rifle makers that got state tax subsidies were Sturm, Ruger; Kel-TecCNC Industries; and Bushmaster, which police say was the make used in the Newtown shootings.
The types of subsidies include tax credits, grants, rebates, reimbursements for training and property tax abatements.
“I think it would be disturbing to people to know that they are essentially subsidizing the manufacture of these guns,” said Cathie Whittenburg, the Maine-based spokesperson of States United to Prevent Gun Violence, a national non-profit organization. “It’s certainly not something I want to be doing.”
(Continued on page 2)