Remington Arms declares bankruptcy despite surging gun demand

Civil unrest, worries about personal safety have driven firearm sales to record highs

Firearms maker Remington Arms Co. filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time since 2018, weighed down by more debt than it can repay even as fearful Americans buy more guns than ever.

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Remington, which supplies weapons for hunting, shooting sports, law enforcement and the military, sought chapter 11 protection and will try to sell its business at a time when civil unrest and worries about personal safety have driven firearm sales to record highs.

The chapter 11 petition in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Decatur, Ala., marks Remington's second restructuring since 2018, when it filed for chapter 11 and transferred ownership to investors including Franklin Resources Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

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Remington has been searching for potential buyers and was in talks to sell itself out of bankruptcy to the Navajo Nation before negotiations collapsed in recent weeks, leaving the company without a lead bidder, or stalking horse, in place.

The manufacturer's firearms and ammunition businesses could be sold off separately, according to a person familiar with the matter.

In this March 1, 2018 file photo, the Remington name is seen etched on a model 870 shotgun at Duke's Sport Shop in New Castle, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

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Despite shedding roughly $775 million in debt in 2018, the company has struggled with high interest costs and has faced litigation related to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, in which the killer used a Bushmaster rifle manufactured by Remington.

Meanwhile, gun-control activists have put pressure on investors and retailers to reconsider their ties to the firearms industry, particularly following the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

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The industry's fortunes tend to rise and fall based on the country's political climate. Under former President Obama, firearm sales grew as enthusiasts worried about potential regulations. Sales softened after President Trump took office pledging to defend gun rights.

Demand has skyrocketed again since March as measured by Federal Bureau of Investigation background checks, a proxy for sales. Background checks in June for civilians seeking licenses to carry guns were the highest since the FBI began conducting them 20 years ago.

Gun stores, which have largely stayed open during the Covid-19 pandemic, are selling to many first-time buyers worried about personal safety over the civil unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd in police custody and the ensuing movement to reduce police funding.

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While many types of retail inventory have plummeted in value during the pandemic -- such as apparel, fashion accessories and footwear -- firearms are holding up relatively well, according to appraisal and liquidation experts.

But buoyant sales at the counter don't immediately flow to manufacturers like Remington, which traces its roots to 1816 and makes firearms at facilities in Ilion, N.Y., and Huntsville, Ala. Some firearms companies also face supply-chain issues that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, making it difficult to ramp up production to meet growing demand.

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--Alexander Gladstone and Julie Wernau contributed to this article.

Write to Andrew Scurria at Andrew.Scurria@wsj.com