In December 2005, five groups of Wall Street investors flew in private jets to Portland, Maine, where they took waiting limousines to a warren of metal buildings that resembled a midsize lumberyard. They had come to Bushmaster Firearms in pursuit of a highly profitable product whose market was growing faster than any other in America’s stagnant gun industry. The product was the AR-15, and red-hot Bushmaster, the nation’s leading manufacturer of the rifle, had decided to auction itself to the highest bidder.
Bushmaster’s owner Dick Dyke had once feared that he could never sell the company because so many people had a negative view of the gun. A few years earlier, Dyke had been forced to resign his post as President George W. Bush’s chief Maine fundraiser after the media found out he made AR-15s for a living. After that, his company was again pilloried when two snipers who terrorized the Washington, D.C. area used a Bushmaster in their attacks.
But by 2005, Dyke’s concerns had evaporated. Sales of the AR-15 were growing faster than any other rifle or shotgun. When Dyke let it be known that he might be interested in selling, potential private-equity buyers rushed up to Maine to see his operations and make a bid for the AR-15 maker. “All of the sudden, they became an amazing thing,” recalled John DeSantis, Bushmaster’s chief executive.