According to the Frank Sinatra song, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Although Ol’ Blue Eyes specifically meant New York City, for those in the firearms business, it might apply to New York State, especially those in the New York City area, including most of Long Island. Ed Newman, the co-founder and co-owner of Dark Storm Industries, knows a thing or two about New York’s draconian gun laws.
And after developing a New York State-friendly AR and opening the first gun range on Long Island in more than 30 years, Newman really could make it just about anywhere. But that success has come at a price for Newman and his partner, Peter Morrisey.
Like many Long Island residents, Newman enjoys boating and other water-related activities in addition to shooting sports. However, because he runs a business, he doesn’t have much time to get to the shooting range, even though he owns one. So why would someone who lives so close to one of the most restrictive cities for firearms ownership consider opening a gun shop, a manufacturing business and a gun range?
The answer is opportunity. Newman and Morrisey saw the potential to fill a niche market after two events most folks likely want to forget. The first was the economic downturn of 2008. Then there was Superstorm Sandy, which left an indelible mark on Long Island.
The men worked in security with large government contracts and were doing well after 9/11. But in the post-2008 economy, they found it was difficult to get paid. They began to look at other opportunities, and the writing was on the wall after Sandy destroyed many coastal towns and left parts of New York City in the dark. Sandy demonstrated that civilians couldn’t always count on police and other law enforcement personnel when things went sideways.
“The storm really presented an opportunity for us,” Newman said. “It brought devastation, loss of power and other situations that go with a natural disaster. The ground wasn’t even dry before I was approached by friends and neighbors about personal protection. Even the usual anti-gun types change their minds quickly when their family’s security was an issue.”
Then, Sandy Hook occurred, and that tragic school shooting resulted in calls to ban AR-style firearms. This created a surge in demand while limiting availability, especially in restrictive communities such as Long Island.
“The truth is that this was a contradiction, really,” Newman said. “The most popular gun being bought at the end of 2011 was the AR platform, but it was highly restricted in New York State. This made it hard to get the right parts, and we were told many were back-ordered for six to eight months.”
The Storm Brews
Newman said that in early 2012, shops that had AR parts were taking advantage of the capitalist concept of supply and demand to new extremes.
“We reached out to an old contact for parts kits, and that opened our eyes, that there was a profit to be made in selling certain parts,” he said. “We saw that $40 parts were selling for over $100 each. Peter and I started a side business selling non-restricted parts. We wanted to offer the parts at a competitive rate and still make money.”
The pair started Dark Storm Industries (DSI), which was fitting, as Superstorm Sandy presented the opportunity, in January 2013.
However, that was also when the New York State Legislature passed the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act of 2013, which was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Although it had several provisions that seemed to contradict the Second Amendment, the most worrisome for New York gun owners was that it broadened the legal definition of “assault weapon” to include semi-auto rifles, pistols and shotguns with one or more “military-style” features. That could include a telescoping stock, a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor or a grenade launcher—not that most sport shooters cared about mounting a bayonet, and pretty much no one has a grenade launcher, anyway.
The other disturbing provision for sport shooters and firearms enthusiasts was banning so-called “high-capacity” magazines. As a result, only magazines with a seven-round capacity were sellable in the state. Thankfully, the courts later overturned the measure and returned to a 10-round limit.
Despite the challenges the SAFE Act presented, Newman still saw an opportunity. He and Morrisey began selling non-restricted parts with a goal of doing about $10,000 per month by January 2014. Instead, they did $11,000 in their first month by selling on eBay and Amazon. However, that also brought some headaches.
“We were soon frustrated by the incorrect application of regulations by eBay had and other problems with Amazon,” Newman said. “The bigger issue was that the fees were high and really started to cut into our profits. We launched our own e-commerce platform, and the business took off from there.”
Newman began getting phone calls asking if he had a shop. It was apparent Dark Storm Industries had outgrown its spot in the corner of Newman’s office. Although many traditional retailers have closed or focus on online sales, DSI actually grew by opening a physical store. It was modest, but just the beginning.
“Peter transitioned to working at the shop full-time,” Newman said. “We started with folding tables in a 1,200-square-foot location. We operated under the ‘if you build it, they will come’ idea, but it’s still scary to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars and hope that sales will come.”
As with any gun shop, it meant getting a federal firearms license (FFL) and a New York State license, which Newman said wasn’t too bad of a process.
It also took just two years for DSI to outgrow its initial space and move to a larger facility. Ironically, as the SAFE Act was driving manufacturers to pull out of New York, DSI was growing and moved to fill the niche.
“Early on, we applied for a manufacturing license so that we could eventually build complete guns, but in the meantime, we began selling lower receivers,” Newman said. “After that, we decided not to just buy lower receivers. We contracted someone to machine our own. We operated under the mantra that our guns were built in New York by New Yorkers and for New Yorkers.”
Meanwhile, they took a conservative view of the law, and as a licensed manufacturer, worked hard to earn the respect of local and federal law enforcement agencies. At the same time, they earned the respect of customers by having higher standards than just making parts you could buy from someone else, and offering a product that could be found elsewhere but that wasn’t easily owned in restrictive communities such as New York. Dark Storm Industries was one of the first manufacturers to create a New York-compliant AR.
“To meet the demands of those living in New York, we sold ‘featureless’ rifles, but we also worked on a way to come up with options with fixed magazines that provided options such as pistol grips or expandable stocks,” Newman said. “This involved a fixed-magazine lower, and we filed for a patent, which we were granted. That offers an option for those in New York State. You can have a fixed magazine with all the features or a detachable magazine with no features.”
Dark Storm Industries has expanded further by opening its own manufacturing facility. It now machines many of its own parts. But it’s still a New York-style operation.
“We’re outside New York City, but Long Island is mostly suburbs, so there isn’t a lot of extra real estate, and what is available costs more money than other parts of the country,” Newman said. “As a result, we have to produce in a smaller space than our competitors.”
Even as the business has grown, there’s still concern about a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the law, or that law enforcement might be too zealous in how it interprets laws.
“The real frustration with New York is that many of the laws are antiquated, and the new ones are poorly written,” Newman said. “There is no functional method for interpretation where federal agencies have the processes. This leaves us with a lot of legal fees as we work to clarify the right way to do something.”
So, at times, DSI’s owners have had to make gut calls, and that has presented some challenges. Being based in New York State has also presented its share of paperwork headaches for DSI, which has increased the cost of doing business.
“The main difference is that there are three sets of books,” Newman said. “You have your federal logs, which every shop maintains, but we have a state book and a county book that we have to maintain.”
Despite the headaches, Dark Storm Industries had deep roots in New York, where it has grown as a business. It also has the support of the community.
“We have been impressed to see the response from the community, and we try to give back,” Newman said. “We have an emphasis on hiring veterans that are coming out of the service. We’re here for the community, and they are here for us.”
It would seem that launching a new business, opening a gun shop on Long Island and manufacturing firearms would be enough for DSI, but Newman and Morrisey went further. They opened the first new gun range in the New York area in more than 30 years.
As with the shop and manufacturing facilities, the range is modest compared to what you might find in other parts of the country, but it provides an opportunity that didn’t exist before. The Dark Storm Industries range is 50 feet long overall, which results in a maximum tip-to-target distance of about 12 yards. It has six points or lanes, one of which the ADA approved for wheelchair access.
At DSI, the ventilation systems meet or exceed the latest OSHA, NIOSH and ASHRAE standards, with 100-percent fresh air and changing the air change roughly once per minute. The range can handle up to .50 caliber for pistols, .50 for low-velocity rifles and .308 for high-velocity rifles.
“It was really interesting to open it,” Newman said. “We expected the worst but were pleasantly surprised at the response from the town. We wanted to make the safest and best possible range in the space, and I think we accomplished that.”
With the business up and running and the range a hit with locals, Dark Storm Industries continues to move forward. The recent presidential election was good news, even if Newman admitted it would likely change little in his home state.
“The way we viewed the election was that if Trump won, it would be a good thing for the country, but it wouldn’t change a lot in New York,” he said. “If Hillary won, it would be a bad thing for the country, but it wouldn’t get worse than what we see now in New York.”
The hope for DSI is that with across-the-board Republican control of government, new legislation might provide assistance to people in highly restricted states.
“We are really watching how this affects reciprocity of CCW licenses and also the Hearing Protection Act,” Newman said.
The latter, H.R. 3367, which was reintroduced in the 115th Congress in January 2017 by Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina and currently has 92 bipartisan co-sponsors from 31 states, could remove firearm suppressors from National Firearms Act (NFA) regulation after 82 years. Of course, Dark Storm Industries already does business with law enforcement. That business includes the sale of NFA items like sound suppressors.
“We take some flak for selling suppressors to law enforcement, as most shooters are barred from owning these items,” Newman said. “We think that by selling to law enforcement, it will eventually make people more comfortable with it. People will get used to the suppressors and help minimize the misinformation surrounding them. That could make legislative change a little easier.”
Down the Expressway
Newman and Morrisey will continue to do more of the same with Dark Storm Industries. The election results have brought some sense of security, too.
“I actually hope to do more shooting now that Trump is in the White House,” Newman said. “The past few years, the business has been all-consuming, as it grew at an exponential rate. I might also try to do more off-roading with my Jeep Wrangler, which is my other hobby. But sadly, like many things, you have to leave New York State to enjoy it to the fullest.”
For more information, please visit Dark-Storm.com.
This article is from the summer 2017 issue of Ballistic Magazine. To subscribe, please visit OutdoorGroupStore.com.