By Michael Hill
A woman jogs past the Remington Arms Company in Ilion, Herkimer County. Locals are defending Remington after New York lawmakers banned the sale of semiautomatic assault-style rifles like the Bushmaster weapon made here. MIKE GROLL/AP
ILION, N.Y. — Not everyone here works at the Remington factory, but everyone knows someone who does. The big brick complex looms above the rooftops . And Ilion can look more like a factory with a village than a village with a factory.
“Remington is Ilion. Ilion is Remington,” said Mayor John Stephens.
Little wonder that residents in this blue-collar stretch of the Mohawk Valley are defending Remington after New York lawmakers banned the sale of semiautomatic assault-style rifles like the Bushmaster weapon made here. The move came after the weapon was linked to gunmen in the Connecticut school shootings and in the Christmas Eve slayings of two firefighters in western New York.
“It’s the person that pulls the trigger. I don’t care what kind of gun it is,” Tom Bradle, a Remington employee, said as he walked back to the factory from lunch break on a chilly, gray day last week.
Remington has been intertwined with Ilion since shortly after Eliphalet Remington crafted a flintlock rifle on his father’s forge in 1816. Even the elementary school shares the company’s name. Company officials did not respond to calls seeking comment, but locals say the factory employs about 1,200 and also produces Bushmaster, Marlin and H&R products.
Parts of the Remington Arms Co. factory, with its imposing four-story front of brick and old-style, multi-paned windows, date back to the days when upstate New York was a manufacturing powerhouse. But factory jobs have become rarer along the Mohawk River, and Ilion, with about 8,000 residents, depends heavily on Remington Arms Co.
The mayor was disgusted by the news Dec. 14 of 20 first-graders and six adults killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. But he is critical of the new state law that bans assault-style rifles and large-capacity magazines, among other measures. He dismisses the idea that there’s an emotional link between Newtown and Ilion.
“Are people disappointed and distraught?” Stephens asked. “Do they feel bad and are they sad? Absolutely! Absolutely! I would never wish that on anyone, never. But as far as an emotional attachment between us and them, I don’t see it.”
Jamie Rudwall, a union official, has worked at the plant since 1995. He’s the father of a second-grader.
“I think of Anheuser-Busch, I think of Ford tires, I think of Tylenol,” he said, citing other major brands that have been blamed for tragedies as varied as drunken driving deaths and poisonings. “It doesn’t matter what age it is. Terrible things happen.”
Bushmaster is owned by Freedom Group Inc., the largest firearms maker in the U.S., which has its headquarters on Remington Drive outside the twin towns of Madison and Mayodan, N.C.