The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin, a financial columnist for the old Gray Lady, has noticed that the nation’s oldest gun maker is about to emerge from bankruptcy. Remington executed a pre-packaged filing in March and is about to emerge from the process, free of both hundreds of millions of dollars of debt and the disastrous “management” of its private equity masters at Cerberus Capital.
As part of the deal to clear most to the company’s debt, Cerberus is writing off its ownership stake in favor of Remington’s creditors who will take over all of the equity in the company. But Franklin Templeton Investments, JPMorgan and the rest don’t really want to be in the gun business. Unlike Cerberus, they’re likely smart enough to know that they have no earthly idea how to run one of the country’s largest firearms and ammunition manufacturers.
So while the bankruptcy creditors committee is no doubt shopping Big Green and the other companies that comprise Remington Outdoor as I type, The Times’ Sorkin has a better idea: make Remington into every hoplpophobic media guy’s idea of the perfect firearms company.
After some initial columnar onanism spent fantasizing about Michael Bloomberg simply writing a check for Remington and shutting it down, Sorkin figures the better move would be for the investment banks to hang onto the company, and instead turn it into an example for the firearms industry.
What if the big banks that have provided financing to Remington during its bankruptcy were to back — and partner with — one or more of the big private equity firms in an effort to transform the company into the most advanced and responsible gun manufacturer in the country?
Pure genius. And what would that look like?
A reimagined Remington with a new management and mandate could develop smart-gun technology. It could back fingerprint technology meant to prevent anyone who is not the gun’s owner from shooting it, a measure that could greatly reduce suicides and the potential for guns to be stolen. It could add an identity stamp to ammunition fired from any of its guns. It could also establish and standardize responsible sales policies for retailers to sell its firearms.
Why didn’t we think of that? Who needs to invest in modern, efficient manufacturing operations and popular new products when you can instead sink tens of millions into R&D developing a technology that virtually no gun owners want to buy? And pay no attention to the fact that gun buyers object to mandates like the New Jersey poison pill law that’s blocked serious gun industry efforts into biometric technology for a decade. That’s a detail to be worked around.
What gun owner wouldn’t want to buy a Remington 870 that requires a fingerprint match before it will fire when you hear that bump in the night? How could anyone argue with an R1 1911 that will work for its owner and no one else? Think of the law enforcement market out there that’s just clamoring for a duty gun that can’t be grabbed by a bad guy and used against an officer. The possibilities are endless.
Or…here’s another idea…the creditors could sell the company after all, but not to just another gun company. They could go out and find the right buyer. A forward-thinking company. Surely these civic-minded investment banks could offer a socially conscious, well-intended buyer a good deal.
What would happen, for instance, if a consortium were to come together so that the banks offered the buyer a below-market loan, giving a socially responsible investor the advantage of a lower cost of capital? What would happen if one of the big retail chains like Walmart and Dick’s — both of which have already established that they only want to sell guns in a responsible way — were to guarantee distribution, sales and marketing support?
Perfect. Gun buyers (21 and older, of course) would no doubt be lining up outside every Dick’s Sporting Goods across the land to buy the latest responsible firearms Ed Stack had commanded the gun company he owns to produce.
Or maybe the big banks could hang onto Remington themselves after all. Think of the socially responsible possibilities!
Yet the opportunity for Bank of America — which said it had “more than $11.3 billion in assets with a clearly defined environmental, social and governance approach” as of the end of 2016 — could be a perfect candidate to take a piece of Remington. Other banks, like JPMorgan Chase, which also owns a stake in Remington as a result of previous financing, says it is trying to reduce its relationship with gun makers. It, too, has been a big proponent of impact investing.
Hold on, though. Is it possible that the CEOs of these financial giants — not to mention Walmart and Dick’s — don’t really see a good return in trying to create a “responsible” gun manufacturer that sells its products to America’s gun buyers as the “socially conscious” alternative in the marketplace? Could it be that there’s no money to be made in smart guns?
Have no fear. Sorkin, drawing on his vast reservoir of industry insight and firearms marketing experience, assures us . . .
Make no mistake: There is absolutely a market for a gun company focused on safety technology. A poll conducted by Johns Hopkins University researchers and published online by the American Journal of Public Health showed 59 percent of Americans were willing to buy a smart gun.
Well then. Let’s do this. With that kind of demand — Sorkin guarantees there’s a market out there — Remington’s creditors should be fighting off potential buyers with a stick. Count us among those who can’t wait to see how a move like this would shake out.