BOONVILLE — Several residents told the Boonville City Council Monday night about their concerns with an AR-15 rifle manufacturer the city lured with a forgivable loan in 2016.
Boonville resident Joan Reed called the rifles “the weapon of choice terrorizing us all over the country.”
“With millions of assault weapons out there, any random school or community can easily be a victim of mass shootings, including Boonville,” she said.
The Boonville Industrial Development Authority awarded the gun manufacturer, CMMG, a $200,000 forgivable loan to move into an old electric heating plant in 2016. The plant had been empty since INDEECO moved its operations and 65 jobs to a new plant in Monroe City in 2012, according to the Boonville Daily News.
CMMG moved from its plant in Fayette, about 15 miles north of Boonville, bringing 52 jobs and the expectation that it would create more. According to its website, CMMG was founded in 2002 “to create a quality AR rifle that can be afforded by anyone” and is a “leading manufacturer” of AR-15 rifles and accessories.
Called “ARs” after ArmaLite, the gun’s original manufacturer, the semi-automatic rifles have become one of the most popular styles of guns in the United States.
The rifles have come under intense national scrutiny because of their widespread use in mass shootings, most recently in the killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February.
Reed said she was opposed to “military weapons in civilian hands,” and was also concerned with a lack of transparency in the development authority. The loan granted to CMMG was forgivable if the company met job targets set out in the loan agreement. Second Ward Councilwoman Susan Meadows said the company had 56 full-time jobs at the plant in 2017, but was down to 46 by the end of the year, below the goal of 55. Still, the company asked for the loan to be forgiven, she said, and for the job requirement to be changed to 51.
She said the residents of Boonville who have concerns have a right to know what is being done with their money.
“What’s to be done?” she said. “Do you just go make a loan, and then suddenly when it’s not working out a year later say, ‘we don’t want to pay the loan back.’ That’s not how business is done.”
Boonville Economic Developer Jim Gann said there was some confusion over the job requirements, and that a sub-committee of the development authority is discussing how to proceed.
Citing CMMG’s plans to move Black Rifle, its retail store, from Columbia to Boonville, resident Connie Schneider called for the city to “stop being a bystander,” and hold the development authority accountable for the loan.
“Although guns are just a tool, when misused, people can be injured and die,” Schneider said.
She said “common-sense” gun laws would hurt CMMG’s bottom line and the city’s investment.
Boonville resident Judy Stock spoke in defense of CMMG and the AR-15. She said before the city lured CMMG, residents were concerned that having a gun manufacturer in town would keep tourists away.
“What happened with the tourism? Nothing,” Stock said. “There are a lot of Boonville citizens who don’t know (CMMG) is here.”
She said she understood that it was taking CMMG a while to settle into their new plant, asking council members how long it took them to settle in the last time they moved.
“Took me quite a while,” when she moved 40 years ago, Stock said. “My husband swears I still have boxes I’ve never emptied.”
She said Black Rifle moving from Columbia would be good for Boonville, because local hunters could shop at a local store instead of making the drive to Columbia.
Mayor Julie Thatcher said as long as Black Rifle meets all the city’s ordinances and zoning requirements, she doesn’t have a problem with a “big-ticket” retailer coming to town.
Fourth Ward Councilman Henry Hurt, who shared concerns about the development authority and a lack of transparency in the city’s dealing with CMMG, said the last time he held an AR-15 was in basic training.
“You don’t hunt with them that I know of,” he said.
Several in the room interjected that they have hunted with AR-15s.
“I have two grand-babies, and I’d hate for them to be in one of these damn schools when someone comes in with an assault rifle,” Hurt said. “And I’d hate for our police department to have to go in with pistols after someone with an AR-15. It’s just ridiculous and it needs to stop somewhere.”