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Dependent On Arms Plant, N.Y. Town Braces For Gun Laws' Impact

When New York state passed a wave of new gun-control laws on Jan. 15, it outlawed a type of assault rifle made just over an hour's drive from the state capital.

In Ilion, N.Y., it's not hard to be across the street — or at least around the corner — from the Remington Arms factory. Remington makes several types of rifles, including the style used in the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting. In response to that tragedy, New York banned that gun, the Bushmaster AR-15, from being sold in the state.

The laws were pushed through the Legislature quickly, and there's a feeling in Ilion that no one bothered to ask Remington — or the town — their opinion.

Everyone 'Would Be In Trouble'

This town of 8,000 people along the Erie Canal was built around the complex of brick buildings, which began turning out rifles almost 200 years ago. The factory even has its own museum, which draws charter buses full of visitors.

A block away, it's lunchtime at Sorrento Pizzeria. A few of the 1,200 Remington workers trickle in and out. Owner Ignazio Magro used to have that schedule. He came to upstate New York from Italy in 1973. He couldn't speak English, and got a job at the plant. He was laid off a decade later, but used his saved wages to open the restaurant.

"Everybody around this area, if it wasn't for Remington Arms, would be in trouble," he says. "Everybody, lunchtime, 12 o'clock, they're coming over here to get a slice of pizza, whatever they needed."

Generations Of Workers

Those workers have been worried about their jobs with the recent push for new gun legislation. Frank "Rusty" Brown and a few dozen other Remington workers traveled to the Capitol last week to try and make their voices heard.

Workers from Remington Arms Company in Ilion, N.Y., talk with Assemblyman Marc Butler and Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney about gun legislation at the Capitol on Jan. 14 in Albany, N.Y.
Mike Groll / AP
Workers from Remington Arms Company in Ilion, N.Y., talk with Assemblyman Marc Butler and Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney about gun legislation at the Capitol on Jan. 14 in Albany, N.Y.

"I'm one of three generations of my family that worked there. My parents worked there, I work there, my daughter works there," he says. "We've been doing this for many years. We have good-paying union jobs at Remington. That company treats us well."

In the past, New York has treated Remington's owner well, too. Since 2009, New York's economic development agency has given the gun maker more than $5 million to move jobs to Ilion from factories in other states.

John Scarano, director of the county's Chamber of Commerce, is worried the state won't step up if Remington threatens to leave.

"Probably right now, nobody wants to touch it," he says.

He says Remington has always been good to the community.

"We're not only hurt by maybe the possibility of the loss of jobs, but we're hurt because our friend could be hurt, our friend being Remington Arms," Sarcano says.

Thinking Of The Kids

The company sponsors Little League, and children in Ilion go to Remington Elementary School.

David Palmer, whose grandkids attend the school, recognizes how important the gun industry is for this part of the state.

"This whole valley is run by arms. Most of your stores and everybody here, restaurants, everything, is contingent on that plant," he says.

But with young grandkids, he also wants to see some of Remington's products off the shelves.

"I don't believe in assault rifles. There's no need for it. No need for it in our department stores. ... I used to be a hunter, when I was younger. I can see having regular hunting rifles for people who like to hunt, but there's no need for assault rifles here," he says.

Could It Be Remedied?

Palmer worries there will be layoffs, but Brown, the Remington employee, says they haven't heard anything from Remington's owner. The company didn't return requests for an interview with NPR.

Ilion Deputy Mayor Beth Neale has been fielding calls and knocks on her door from residents concerned about the future.

She says Ilion is a community that bands together in tough times, like when a bus maker left last summer. But Remington leaving could be one blow it can't recover from.

"We're always fired up, we're always ready, you know, [if] anyone needs help. We always do that, and that's how you survive," she says. "I don't know if losing Remington would be something that easily remedied. I really don't."

Neale says Ilion and Remington have "a long tradition of tradition," and she hopes Remington will always be a part of that.

Copyright 2013 WRVO

Ryan Delaney works on the Innovation Trail project - covering technology, economic development, startups and other issues relating to New York's innovation economy.