Inside the Shadowy World of America’s 10 Biggest Gunmakers

Gunmakers_Beretta_630[1]They are all white, all middle-aged, and all men. A few live openly lavish lifestyles, but the majority fly under the radar. Rarely is there news about them in the mainstream media or even the trade press. Their obscurity would seem unremarkable if we were talking about the biggest manufacturers of auto accessories or heating systems. But these are America’s top gunmakers—leaders of the nation’s most controversial industry. They have kept their heads down and their fingerprints off regulations designed to protect their businesses—foremost a law that shields gun companies from liability for crimes committed with their products.

With this investigation, Mother Jones set out to break through the opacity surrounding the $8 billion firearms industry and the men who control it.

Many of these companies’ top executives have donned the jacket bestowed to members of the Golden Ring of Freedom, an exclusive club for $1 million-plus donors to the National Rifle Association. Several have been the focus of criminal investigations and lawsuits over everything from arms trafficking and fraud to armed robbery and racketeering.

As the debate over gun laws has grown louder, sales have soared. In the year following the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, the three largest gunmakers—Sturm Ruger, Remington Outdoor, and Smith & Wesson—netted more than $390 million in profits on record sales. Shares in publicly traded Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson jumped more than 70 percent that year, benefiting institutional investors such as Vanguard, Blackrock, and Fidelity. The hedge fund that owns Remington Outdoor—maker of the assault rifle used in Newtown—saw the annual return on its investment grow tenfold.

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