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Wayne Post
  • Business blames SAFE Act for move from Farmington

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  • FARMINGTON — In stark contrast to new construction, infrastructure upgrades and storefront facelifts along Routes 96 and 332 in Farmington, two vacant buildings stand dormant, both casualties of New York’s Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act of 2013, according to their owner.
    Supervisor Ted Fafinski concurred. Fafinski said until last spring, the two structures at 6162 and 6132 Route 96 were being completely renovated in preparation for the opening of a new showroom, a small arms training space and an indoor range. The properties were home to AR15.com, an Internet-based community, distributor and manufacturer of AR15 semi-automatic rifles and assorted firearms.
    But within a few months of the SAFE Act passage in January, AR15 owners packed up and moved out of state, Fafinski said. Both properties are now for sale. The empty buildings display “Gone to Texas!” signs.
    “Not only did we lose existing jobs because of the SAFE Act, but now there are two vacant buildings — and yet ‘New York is open for business,’” said Fafinski.
    Cyber beginnings
    AR15.com originated in 1996 as a mailing list, eventually morphing into a website for firearm enthusiasts as a means to collect, share, and explore information.
    “Before we knew it we were the largest firearms website in the world,” said Edward Avila, AR15.com owner and administrator. “(Staff members) were working out of their homes, and we kind of wanted to find a central office.”
    What they found was a three-piece parcel between Wade's Market and McDonald's in Farmington, where Avila and colleagues hoped to open up a showroom — something that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the state, Avila said.
    “We put a lot of money and a lot of time into renovating that building and doing the cleanup — about $2 to $3 million,” said Avila. “And that’s nothing compared to the potential for jobs. We spent about a million and a half of that for three different properties and two different buildings.”
    One of those was the former Griffin Technology Inc. site — the target of extensive toxic cleanup and part of New York’s Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP) before it was finally declared an Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site in 2011. Over the years potential buyers had walked away, reluctant to take on potential liabilities associated with the property.
    Avila said AR15 has funded the most recent remediation treatments, and cleanup and maintenance is still going on. The building at 6162 Route 96 was the focus of intensive renovations.
    “We built everything from offices, a walk-in vault, a state-of-the-art training room with surround sound and projectors, retail space out front with hand-built display cases — it was all custom built for that facility,” Avila said. “Gun stores are just never built fancy, but we wanted this to be a real showcase. We wanted to make it a destination point in addition to a business.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Game-changer
    But just as finishing touches were completed on the Route 96 facility, the SAFE Act was announced.
    “Overnight they banned the sale of AR15s and destroyed our business opportunity in New York State,” said Avila. “When we were about to open — that’s about the same time (Governor Andrew) Cuomo passed his midnight legislation.”
    In January 2013, AR15.Com LLC, co-plaintiff with the Westchester County Firearms Owner's Association and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, filed a lawsuit against New York for its gun-control law, saying it violates residents' "fundamental constitutional rights to lawfully possess, keep, bear and use firearms for self-defense and other lawful purposes."
    The lawsuit is ongoing, and will be for years, Avila said.
    “It has nothing to do with guns,” he said. “It has to do with common sense and the politics of downstate New York negatively affecting what the rest of upstate New York has to deal with.”
    Farmington resident Jim Kinsman, a certified instructor for basic pistol, home firearms safety and personal defense, had informally spoken with AR15 owners about doing some firearms teaching in their classroom facilities in one building, and training and assisting at the indoor range at the building next door — plans that are now no more.
    “They had a good business plan,” said Kinsman. “It is unfortunate that they, like other companies, are negatively impacted to such a degree by the SAFE Act.”
    Tom Morrisey, a spokesman for state Senator Ted O’Brien who has spoken out in favor of the SAFE Act, said the new legislation doesn’t prohibit manufacturing of AR15s.
    "Recent changes to New York gun laws did not affect the manufacture of weapons within this state," said Morrisey. "Senator O'Brien remains committed to fighting for New York's small businesses."
    Sending a message
    In the months that followed, the AR15 stakeholders had to make a tough decision: whether to stay in New York, adhere to the law and continue to fight the legislation — or pack up and move.
    Solely on principle, Avila said, they decided to take their business, real estate taxes, jobs and personal income tax, as well as that of their employees, out of state.
    “We've spent the last two years and an immeasurable amount of blood, sweat and tears working on a retail location that, at this point, will never open, thanks to New York politics,” Avila told AR15.com members in March. “While we will continue to do all we can to attempt to ‘fix’ New York and help the brothers and sisters we leave behind, we will do so from outside of the state where we have spent the last 35 years.”
    AR15 employees and the contents of the Route 96 properties vacated at the end of June and finally moved the last boxes out in September. Everything that remains is for sale. Avila said it may be years until they can open up a new location and that’s only after the Farmington property sells.
    Page 3 of 3 - Kinsman believes AR15 should not have had to be put in the position where they had to make a decision to move — and where the community loses a resource where people could learn how to use and store firearms safely.
    “Some suppliers and wholesalers won’t ship certain products into New York now, and this has caused many business to evaluate new strategies,” said Kinsman. “From a business standpoint, there are many reasons that supported a move, or maybe even required it to a significant degree.”
    A Texas welcome
    With New York in the rear-view mirror, AR15.com employees moved the company to Texas, a place where they believe they can put down permanent roots and “never have to move again.”
    Avila said he was impressed with the welcome he received.
    “We’re a small business, and the attorney general of the state of Texas took time out of his day to meet with us and talk with us — to ask us how they could help us,” Avila said.
    Of the town he and AR15.com employees leave behind, Avila has nothing but kind words.
    “The Town of Farmington was exceptional and welcoming — we couldn’t be happier with the town,” he said.
    What has grown up around AR15.com is literally a community, Avila said. It has united its members over a variety of charitable causes, from sending gifts to overseas troops at Christmas, to offering aid and encouragement to a single individual in the final stages of cancer.
    “The real story of AR15.com has nothing to do with web traffic, retail stores, or the products that we make,” said Avila. “... This community, made up of civilians, industry, law enforcement, and military members who love life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, comes together to help those in need on a regular basis. This is what AR15.com is all about, and it exists regardless of where we set up shop.”
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