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Fairfield firearms maker, with $1.2M donated to NRA, helps arm gun-rights lobby

Updated 2:29 pm, Saturday, January 5, 2013

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  • Then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich holds a rifle at a Sturm Ruger firearms plant in New Hampshire last January. The conservative Republican signed the stock of the gun for the onlooking plant manager. Photo: Elise Amendola, Associated Press / AP
    Then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich holds a rifle at a Sturm Ruger firearms plant in New Hampshire last January. The conservative Republican signed the stock of the gun for the onlooking plant manager. Photo: Elise Amendola, Associated Press

 

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Sturm Ruger at a glance Annual revenue: $328.8 million * Annual net income: $40 million * Total stock value: $907 million Employees: 1,224 *Revenue and income for fiscal year that ended Dec. 31, 2011
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Now that the federal government's fiscal cliff crisis is over, another impassioned debate in Washington is likely to affect one Fairfield business more than any other.

But to make sure its voice is heard in that debate, Sturm Ruger & Co., a manufacturer of handguns and rifles headquartered on Lacey Place in Fairfield's Southport section, has emerged in the last year as a major bankroller of the firearms industry's powerful lobby -- the National Rifle Association.

Sturm Ruger made and sold more than 1.2 million firearms from April 2011 to April 2012, and some of the weapons it manufactures in Newport, N.H., and Prescott, Ariz., appear to be in the sights of at least one Democratic senator who favors new gun-control legislation.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., plans to introduce a bill this month that would ban the manufacture or sale of "military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition-feeding devices." While the specifics of her bill aren't available, she includes "semi-automatic rifles and handguns with a fixed magazine that can accept more than 10 rounds," according to a summary on her website.

Sturm Ruger, whose weapons are sold at 30 retail stores in Connecticut, manufactures about three dozen weapons that have a capacity greater than 10 rounds, according to its website. The highest-capacity weapons advertised on its site accept 30-round magazines.

A Sturm Ruger spokesman said Wednesday the company is declining interview requests from the media, even as the firearms industry and its allies have been thrust into the national spotlight following the Newtown school shootings last month.

The Dec. 14 massacre, which claimed the lives of 20 first-grade students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, has ignited the latest round of debate over gun laws in the United States and a push for new controls on the availability of weapons, particularly assault-style rifles like the one used by the Newtown killer.

But Sturm Ruger is not making comments in part because the company is publicly traded and has to be "careful about forward-looking statements," the spokesman said.

Shares of Sturm Ruger are traded on the New York Stock Exchange and its stock price closed at $47.34 per share Thursday.

The NRA, which likely will lead the opposition to new gun-control legislation, benefited handsomely from Sturm Ruger last April when the company's "1.2 Million Gun Challenge to Benefit the NRA" ended. The business had pledged to donate $1 for every firearm it sold during the year-long challenge, which started and ended on the dates of NRA annual meetings. Sturm Ruger ended up donating $1.254 million to the NRA.

The donation, which Sturm Ruger describes as a "historic accomplishment" and "record-breaking feat in the firearms industry" on its website, benefited the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, which has a stated goal of "preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals to purchase, possess, and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."

"Our friends at Ruger have long supported the work of the NRA, and the Million Gun Challenge takes their commitment to the next level," Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president, said in a statement on Ruger's website. "The NRA is grateful for their leadership and dedication to the cause of freedom."

Sturm Ruger CEO Mike Fifer was quoted in the news release as saying that the company achieved its goal "because of the strong support of our loyal consumers."

"Everyone who purchased a Ruger during the past year contributed to this achievement and should take pride in making history," Fifer said in the release. In the statement, the company boasts that it is the first firearms manufacturer in the nation to build and ship more than a million firearms in one year.

Sturm Ruger's status in the firearms industry was also noted in November, when the company won the Firearms Manufacturer of the Year award from the National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers for the sixth consecutive year. Sturm Ruger describes itself as "one of the nation's leading manufacturers of high-quality firearms for the commercial sporting market."

Fairfield Police Lt. James Perez said Sturm Ruger no longer manufactures weapons at its 2.73-acre Southport complex. Perez said he's toured the building and that it's used as office space.

"Just an office building," he said. "It used to be a manufacturing plant, but they have since done away with any manufacturing in Connecticut."

Perez said Sturm Ruger, founded in 1949, "has been a very positive community partner of ours." He said the company recently donated $3,000 to Fairfield police so the department could acquire a K-9 and, in turn, the dog was named "Ruger" in honor of that donation.

He said the Police Department and Sturm Ruger are working to develop programs to promote firearms safety. One would be designed for gun owners, and the other would be a community program whose audience and objective is still in development, Perez said.

"It's going to be both gun owners and the community at large," Perez said. "We've talked several times about how we could fit in programs about how to positively impact the community.

"Gun safety is very important, and that's something we're very interested in pursuing with them."

Sturm Ruger also owns an office building on Station Street in Southport, and its annual tax bill this fiscal year for that property and the one on Lacey Place, which has an address of 2520 Post Road on land records, totals $75,763. The business is current on its taxes, according to the Tax Collector's Office.

Sturm Ruger manufactures weapons in seven categories, according to its website -- bolt-action rifles, single-shot rifles, auto-loading rifles, center-fire pistols, rim-fire pistols, double-action revolvers and single-action revolvers. The firearms that have a capacity of more than 10 bullets fall into the categories of auto-loading rifles and center-fire pistols. Some of the single-action revolvers and bolt-action rifles have a capacity of 10.