TV shows have been on the air for a while, but only a few have generated as much controversy as Sons of Guns. The program, which follows the antics of a group of gun enthusiasts who own a Louisiana-based firearm business, has had a rocky history, both on and off-screen. But what exactly is this show about, and what are some of the controversies surrounding the cast members?
What Was Sons Of Guns?
Sons of Guns is an American reality television show that aired on the Discovery Channel from 2011 until 2014. The show follows the Red Jacket & Tactical Gear company of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a family-owned business founded by Will Hayden. They create custom weapons for various clients throughout the series, including law enforcement, military personnel, and civilians.
Although it began life as a story of a successful American business, things became turbulent for the red jacket firearms team as soon as rape allegations began to surface regarding Will Hayden and his subsequent arrest and very public arrest. Nevertheless, It was a rating powerhouse for three years and throughout its 65 episodes.
It was so popular that it attracted famous guests and provided its crew an international audience as representatives and symbols of American gun culture, winning fans and detractors alike for its unabashed acceptance of excess and appreciation of the Second Amendment. As a matter of fact, you could say that it even influenced other documentary-style productions, like the equally famous Tiger King that came several years after the show’s finale.
What Made The Show So Controversial?
There are two answers to this question:
- Its unashamed appreciation for gun culture and the company’s desire to protect its second amendment rights at all costs.
- Several legal issues involving cast members led to the founder’s arrest and imprisonment for juvenile rape.
It’s Unashamed Love Of Firearms
Although the show was obviously about firearms and weapons, many gun control advocates saw it as a setback to their cause and as a show that glorified gun culture. The show’s popularity only added fuel to the fire of the gun rights debate.
Although there was never enough critical mass from gun control advocates to have production shut down, the discussion continued to rumble on. Despite the fact that the show’s unabashed advocacy for second amendment rights caused consternation in some parts of the country, their various legal issues began to put a serious strain on the show and the underlying business.
The red Jacket company became mired in controversy throughout production, culminating in serious rape charges for their founder (more on that a bit later). Nevertheless, the company was plagued with various legal issues throughout production.
Issues With The ATF
Businesses dealing with firearms are bound to be scrutinized closely by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and Red Jacket was no exception. Although their brief encounter with the law came several years before the show was aired, the controversy remained. Before the show became a success, it was a fledgling business, and in 2009, the ATF performed a routine inspection and found that ten registered parts were unaccounted for. Naturally, this is a big deal regarding firearms and resulted in Will and his then-wife, Stephanie, surrendering their licenses and passing them onto another individual of their choice.
At the time, Will Hayden stated to the ATF that the missing items were merely mistakes and were unaccounted for due to nothing more serious than poor bookkeeping. However, this didn’t assuage ATF concerns, and so they all concluded that the company should be shut down. The issue was that Hayden was already in talks with the Discovery Channel about a possible show, and so needed to set up another business (this time an LLC rather than an incorporated company).
Airport Incident At Dallas-Fort Worth
Sons of Guns had only been on the air for a few weeks when it caused a stir in the media. On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a team member left a rental truck unsecured next to one of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport terminals (Terminal B, to be precise) while waiting for another crew member to show up. With security high and law enforcement officials on edge, it was no great surprise that an unattended truck outside a major international airport full of firearms would ruffle some feathers. Nonetheless, this was a minor incident in comparison to what would come.
Rape, Abuse, Assault
While the previous issues would prove to be nothing more than setbacks, this part of the saga ended up running the show off the tracks and into serious legal trouble. In 2014, the Discovery Channel dropped the show after serious legal charges were made against Red Jacket’s founder Will Hayden. These charges turned out to be child endangerment, child rape, and abuse charges from which Hayden and ultimately the show would never recover. Furthermore, Discovery also removed all instances of syndication via other networks. This included instances in Netflix, which dramatically hampered the show’s reach and appeal.
To make matters worse for Hayden, his own daughter, business partner, and co-star of the show turned 180 from staunchly defending her father to accusing him. Moreover, she claimed that her father also abused her as a child, further tarnishing the reputation of a once highly respected individual for his stance on gun rights and appearing to embody the American Dream.
To make matters worse, the shop manager, Kris Ford, was also arrested for similar charges, putting the final nail in the coffin of what began life as a wildly popular show. Hayden was found guilty in 2017 of two counts of aggravated rape and one count of forcible rape of two girls over the course of twenty years and sentenced to two concurrently served life sentences and another 40 years to be served consecutively and will ultimately spend the rest of his natural life imprisoned. He is currently serving in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, no doubt contemplating what happened to his life and the business he built up.
With a turbulent few years that ranged from the extreme highs of being one of the most popular television shows of the time to the lows of legal troubles, the company and its founder faced, Sons of Guns is no stranger to controversy.