"The Freedom Group came in and consolidated production and just alienated everybody because they bought up these great brands and then destroyed them... it is fu***ng up some of the best brands in the gun world."
Robert Farago, publisher of the popular gun blog The Truth About Guns, told me that about the Freedom Group a month before the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, involving its gun brand Bushmaster. It was a month and a few days before Cerberus Capital Management announced it would sell its 95 percent stake in Freedom Group, citing the school tragedy which had, in its words, "raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level."
Investors saw Cerberus' move as a surprise (an added wrinkle: the father of the founder of Cerberus lives in Newtown) despite the raging gun debate. But many in the gun owning community saw it as a ray of hope. Finally, maybe, some classic gun brands would be free from an umbrella group that, in the opinion of many, was destroying untold brand value.
"Cerberus is fu***ng up those gun making companies without any help whatsoever from George Soros. Every company they've bought is making inferior products to those made before the acquisition, and at higher prices. That's why it's important to support the remaining makers (Ruger, S&W, Taurus, Glock, Kel Tec, among others). Cerberus is ruining some great brand names that had long traditions of quality," wrote user "Rbstern" on a message board back in March.
Freedom Group has faced two distinct problems since buying up some of the most storied names in firearms, including Barnes Bullets, Remington, Bushmaster, Dakota, Marlin, Parker. The first was a rumor that the conglomerate was a holding company owned by liberal boogeyman billionaire George Soros, who, the rumor went, would then close them down. That rumor turned out to be just another wild conspiracy theory but was so string that the NRA itself had to issue an official denial.
Even before Bushmaster became the focus of America's gun debate this week, Freedom Group had a problem nearly as bad, as noted by both commenter Rbstern and publisher Robert Farago: It was making crap products. "One gun was made so poorly it snapped in half in my hand," Farago told me about a product he used following Freedom Group's consolidation. "It was a a truly epic moment."
From overlapping products to gutting some of the brands of their most knowledgeable professionals to lacking quality control, the brands under the Freedom Group were soon the complaint of gun fans.
"They are known in the gun world as 'the borg'," Farago told me. And it seems the gun world is actually eager that the fire sale of the "the borg" might lead to many iconic gun brands become independent once again.
"See? Something good WILL come out of this. The Freedom Group will be forced to spin off at least some of its components back into independent companies, at which point they could go back to building quality products," speculated one commenter on Farago's blog.
"Could this mean that Marlin might see a noticeable increase in quality control in the near future?" asked Thefirearmblog.com commenter "Sethwrote" on a posting about the Freedom Group sale.
In 2011, Freedom Group announced that it was suspending production of the Marlin rifles after quality control issues. Earlier, the group had shut down Marlin's 140-year-old old production facility and consolidated the brand into its Remington production line, likely to save on costs. At the time, The Truth About Guns declared that the brand's quality was "circling the drain" and squarely blamed Freedom Group as a "collective that seems to have forgotten everything its ‘members’ once knew about making firearms."
Marlin, once one of the most reliable (and subsequently popular) .22 caliber rifle brands in America, was, literally sometimes, falling apart under Freedom Group. Last year, one gun store uploaded a video to YouTube titled "Come on MARLIN!" in which he said his Marlins "looked like a blind man put the pins in" and called the brand "pathetic."
In another video, a Marlin owner recounts his numerous quality issues, concluding, "Freedom Group strikes again."
In the comments section of a March 2012 NRA News radio interview with George Kollitides, the acting CEO of Freedom Group, one commenter wrote,"they ruin every firearm company they take over. go to a gunshop that sells used guns and new guns and compare guns of the same brand and model. you will be shocked at the lack of quality after freedom group takes them over."
Ironically, in that interview, Kollitides told NRA News, "We don't think that in the event that a Democrat takes the White House there's going to be a lot of legislative moves in the short term. However we're very conceded about the fact that if a Democrat does take the [White] House, the next President is highly likely to appoint at least one Supreme Court justice and could appoint as many as four… that really worries me."
The Freedom Group sells 1.2 million guns and over 2.6 billion rounds of ammunition each year. In retail shops that sell guns, the group's brands can account to up to 30 percent of offerings. Asked if he thought gun fans would welcome the news that Freedom Group was on the ropes and might be dismantled, Farago replied, "Yes. Yes I would."
So, maybe everybody wins.