“Sons of Guns” is a reality TV series which aired on Discovery Channel from 2011 through 2014. It focused on a family-owned Louisiana-based gun shop, Red Jacket Firearms LLC, which specialized in manufacturing and selling custom firearms to security companies, law enforcement and private collectors. The main star of the show was Will Hayed, the founder of Red Jacket Firearms, while he was helped by his daughter Stephanie Hayden Ford, and her husband Kris Ford.
A lot of episodes focused on military-style weapons such as rifles, cannons, machine guns and even bazookas, while personal relationships among the Hayden family were also a staple of the series. Despite being a show about weapons, “Sons of Guns” still put safety first and foremost, with each episode preceded by a warning saying ‘Guns can be dangerous. Don’t be an idiot’.
Look back and catch up with the Red Jacket crew with videos from Sons of Guns. http://bit.ly/HbQ6X9
While “Sons of Guns” was a big hit among weapon enthusiasts and laics alike, a lot of illegal and downright disturbing things were taking place behind the scenes. As the cast’s illegal activity started to be uncovered, the general public put pressure on the network to end the show, which was ignored and the series continued on until its main star, Will Hayden, was faced with sexual abuse charges in August 2014, which prompted Discovery Channel to immediately cancel the show.
History of the show
Before appearing on “Suns of Guns”, Will Hayden had been a long-time gun enthusiast. He was born and raised in Louisiana, and started taking interest in weaponry at an early age. His first weapon was a zip gun he made as a child, using junk found at a nearby construction site. At the age of 16, Will dropped out of high school, to join the US Marines, earning his GED (General Educational Development) in the process.
He graduated from military boot camp in 1982 at the age of 17, and stayed a member of the Marines for another five years, before returning to Louisiana. There he opened his first business, Red Jacket Refrigeration. Around this time, Hayden married his first wife, Trudy, with whom he had three children.
In 1999, he started to expand his refrigeration business, and rented a warehouse which had a lot of extra space, so he also contemplated the idea of using it as a storefront for selling guns. He presented the idea to the building owner, Scotty Scardina, who was his business mentor for several years at that point, and the two started work on setting up the new store. Will was very passionate about their business project and invested nearly all of his life saving into it, however, a catastrophic robbery took place at his shop before it was even open for business. The police initially suspected that Hayden may have faked the robbery to collect the insurance payout, but the claim was quickly disproved, as he didn’t have no insurance on anything.
The majority of the weapons he was supposed to sell in the shop were on consignment, meaning that Will lost not only his own property, but the property of people who were selling their guns through his store. The incident left him financially devastated and drowning in debt, but Hayden was determined to keep his business afloat.
His mentor, Scotty Scardina, and one of the people whom he was in debt to, offered Will work at his newly opened gun show, called Red Stick Firearms, in exchange for paying off the debt. Things finally started looking better for Hayden in 2003, when he paid off his debts in their entirety, after working two full-time jobs for four years. He re-opened his shop, and hired his daughter Stephanie to work there. She was initially reluctant, but her father got his way, and she started working full-time.
Re-opening of the store meant a new approach to doing business, and Hayden now focused on manufacturing firearms, instead of reselling. He quickly managed to make a name for himself by making custom guns for local police officers and private contractors.
In 2009, he was noticed by Discovery Channel producers, who were working on developing a reality/documentary TV series focused on American gun culture, centered on a small business. Hayden accepted their offer immediately, and as soon as the show started airing in 2011, the shop experienced a huge influx of new customers.
When the show started airing in January 2011, the employees of Red Jacket Firearms made a big impression of viewers with their unique approach to weapon building. Over the course of five seasons, they showed that they were not afraid to step out of the box and try to build things such as Civil War era cannons, and often collaborated with famous guests to develop weapons fitting a specific theme.
In season two, the cast teamed-up with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department to attach a M240 machine gun and a MK19 launcher to their gulf patrol boat, which was a crazy stunt later described by Hayden in his book “Sons of Guns: Straight-Shooting Stories from the Star of the Discovery Series”.
One of the most notable guest stars of the series was the WWII veteran Hershel Woodrow ‘Woody’ Williams, who wanted to restore an original flamethrower used in the war. The “World War Z” author, Max Brooks, also appeared on the show, in an episode focused on building weapons fit for zombie apocalypse survival, whatever that meant.
BTF settlement and Dallas-Fort Worth airport incident
As “Sons of Guns” became more and more popular, several cases of illegal activities involving the show’s cast started surfacing online, which negatively impacted the series’ reputation. In 2012, the online tabloid “TMZ” reported that Will Hayden had been forced to surrender his Federal Firearm License, after government officials found out that a lot of his weapons went missing under suspicious circumstances. According to reports, in 2009, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) conducted a routine inspection of Hayden’s gun shop, during which they noticed that 10 of his guns couldn’t be accounted for.
In the following year, Will and his daughter Stephanie agreed to surrender their gun-making licenses. and to appoint a licensed person to legally run the store. This revelation caused a big scandal, as the man who subsequently appeared on “Sons of Guns” as the owner of Red Jacked Firearms and a professional weapons maker, was actually neither – he didn’t have a license to produce weapons, and his shop was run by Joe Meaux, a gunsmith frequently featured on the show.
On the other hand, an article published by the news outlet “WBRZ” told a different story. They talked with Hayden’s lawyer, Craig Davidson Jr. who said that 10 guns didn’t go missing from Will’s shop in 2009, but one or two guns were stolen from the store a few years prior, while the rest of the missing guns were actually thrown away for having defects. Furthermore, he said that the issue with BATF came from a ‘bookkeeping error’, as Will and Stephanie didn’t keep track of discarded weapons.
According to Davidson, Will was already in talks with Discovery Channel at the time, and agreed to start another business, Red Jacket Firearms LLC. He confirmed that Will wasn’t the officer of the store, but didn’t provide the reasoning for that.
In September 2011, Will Hayden was involved in another controversy. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, he parked a rental truck full of pyrotechnics and automatic weapons outside the Dallas International Airport, while waiting for a colleague. This caused panic, and an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), while a part of Terminal B was closed for several hours. A production company executive later apologized for the incident, blaming it on ‘a simple yet colossal error in judgment by a member of our staff’.
Sexual abuse charges against Will Hayden
The biggest scandal of the show to date remains the sexual assault case involving Will Hayden, which caused immediate cancellation of the series. On 9 August 2014, he was charged with molestation of a juvenile and crimes against nature. According to “TMZ”, Hayden denied the claims, saying that they were made by a ‘crazy ex-girlfriend’; he was released from prison after posting a $150,000 bond.
‘During that investigation, we received more information that these rapes allegedly occurred from March 2013 to July 2014 on our victim who was 11 and then later 12 years old at the time’, said Casey Hicks, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s office spokeswoman at the time. It was documented that the victim told the police that these acts would happen on a daily basis, but she didn’t report earlier because she was threatened by Hayden.
Later the same month, Hayden was re-arrested, after new charges were filed against him, and sentenced to two life sentences plus an additional 10 years on the incest charges. During the trial, he testified in his own defense, denying the rape allegations, but it took the jury only one hour to unanimously convict him.
Following this result, Discovery Channel cancelled “Sons of Guns” and scrapped all presence of the series from streaming platforms.
Then in September 2014, Will’s daughter Stephanie publicly revealed that she was a victim of her father’s sexual abuse, speaking about her experience in an interview with Phil McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil, saying ‘I’m very afraid of him. I think that he has spent his life manipulating people and hurting people. He controlled my entire world.’. She further said that she was assaulted by her father when she was 12 years old, and talked about how she knew that he had abused other victims. She said that Hayden raped an 11 years old girl ‘almost daily’, and after the incident emerged, the girl went into hiding because she had received multiple death threats from him. Stephanie’s cousin was also assaulted by Hayden twice, at the age of 12, while her friend told her that he’d grabbed her by the throat and kissed her when she was 11.
These stories contradicted Stephanie’s previous statements, in which she defended her father against the allegations, but during the interview with Dr. Phil, said that she was pressured by Hayden into publicly defending him.
Following the interview, Stephanie’s publicist posted a statement on her talent agency’s website, saying ‘She had gone public with her story for one reason only, to help others find the strength to do the same’.
Further issues with law
Not long after Will Hayden’s sentencing, other serious allegations against his co-stars from “Sons of Guns” came to light. In November 2014, Stephanie herself and her husband Kris Ford were arrested on a charge of cruelty to juveniles, pressed by William Scott, who has a son with Stephanie. He claimed that Kris had struck his son, who was nine years old at the time, with a leather belt, leaving him severely bruised, while Stephanie’s arrest warrant stated that she had ‘witnessed the intentional mistreatment’ of a minor. The boy was interviewed, confirming his father’s claims, but the charges were dropped after a few weeks due to a lack of evidence.
Legal trouble kept piling-up on the “Sons of Guns” former stars. In May 2016, “Fox News” reported that Will Hayden had been ordered by the Baton Rouge state judge to pay over $130,000 in penalties and damages to his former business partners. According to court documents, he secretly entered into a licensing contract with a San Antonio, Texas – based car dealership, with the intention of selling 21 Jeep Wrangler Rubicons, labeled with the Red Jacket Firearm logo, unbeknownst to his former business partners. They noticed the issue a few weeks after Hayden’s arrest, as they saw two checks addressed to him in the mail. ‘I recognized the mail as someone we had dealings with before, as we’d authorized two Special Edition RJF Jeeps to be made – one for charity and the other for the show. I thought it was strange as I wasn’t aware of any further licensing agreements’, the former CEO of Red Jacket Firearms, Joe Meaux said in the interview with “Fox News”.
He further revealed that Hayden had used Red Jacket Licensing’s charge account to illegally acquire more than $25,000 for his other company, Red Jacket Muzzleloading.
Where is the cast now?
After the show fell from grace due to a myriad of controversies, Joe Meaux and the rest of his team stayed determined to keep the Red Jacket company afloat and move on. However, even though they hadn’t participated in Hayden’s illegal activities, their company’s reputation was permanently damaged, and Meaux later opened his own firearms shop called Meaux Guns & Ammo, based in Baton Rouge. He has further distanced himself from Hayden, saying ‘At one time I considered Will a friend, but looking back on it a lot of our interactions had ulterior motives from him – manipulations and things.’
Kris and Stephanie Ford also moved on from their Red Jacket Firearms days, and opened their own gun store, Ford’s Firearms, operated by Kris’ father Gary.
Upload a few pics to FB..but you guys get a diff 1! 🙂 Hope u like it! (NOT PG! this photoshoot rode the line on sexy) pic.twitter.com/WFFlimse
— Stephanie Ford (@StephanieRJF) November 30, 2012
Stephanie also runs an airsoft range called IAC Wargames. In an interview she gave for the website “Ammoland”, she opened up about her life after “Sons of Guns” came to an abrupt end, revealing that she and her husband initially had a difficult time, as they knew their main source of income had been cut off, but they have since grown happier and more financially stable, running their own businesses. ‘This is only the beginning for us, not the end. We’d really like to show everyone what we can do without all the drama of RJF dragging us down’, Stephanie concluded.
As for Will Hayden, he’s currently serving time in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Sources close to the show have reported that he’s said to be having a hard time in prison, is depressed and gaining weight.
In recent years, Discovery Channel has completely disassociated itself from “Sons of Guns”. The series is no longer available to watch through cable providers and streaming platforms, and understandably, potential re-runs seem to be out of the question.