Stag Arms, the New Britain maker of military-style rifles, is scheduled to deliver 13 specially made firearms to a gun shop Friday for pick-up by Newtown police officers.
Will the sale be legal if the legislature adopts the gun control agreement that’s due for a vote Wednesday, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs it into a law that takes effect immediately?
Mark Malkowski, owner and president of Stag, doesn’t know. Much of his business is selling AR-15-type rifles to law enforcement officers, not as government agencies exempt from gun laws but as individuals, to use the equipment on the job.
It appears that every rifle made by Malkowski and his 200 employees in four adjacent buildings will be illegal for sale in Connecticut — they are all of the AR-15 type. But Malkowski doesn’t know that either, for sure. This year alone, his company has sold $1 million worth of its guns in its home state.
“It’s very confusing,” Malkowski said Tuesday. “We have a lot of people asking a lot of questions. We can’t see this bill…Is the governor going to contact me on my cell phone at midnight tomorrow night and tell me what I can and can’t do?”
O.F. Mossberg & Sons in North Haven sells many AR-15-type rifles that use low-power bullets. Will they be exempt from the law? “We’re not going to get to see it until they vote on it,” said Joe Bartozzi, senior vice president and general counsel at Mossberg.
For Malkowski, Bartozzi and others at firms that make the AR-15 in Connecticut, short-term confusion is not just a tense annoyance — they’re still trying to influence legislation that they can’t see. The confusion will abate soon enough, however, and what’s left is disappointment and disillusionment at the agreement by Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly, which would expand the definition of banned assault rifles to cover virtually all versions of the AR-15 rifle.
The manufacturers — Stag, Mossberg, Colt’s Manufacturing Co. of West Hartford and Ammunition Storage Components of New Britain, which makes magazines that would also be banned — have all, since the Newtown tragedy, made the point that their customers are law-abiding citizens, and that semiautomatic rifles, despite their wild popularity, are responsible for an minuscule fraction of gun deaths.
And so, as custodians of a storied local firearms industry that dates to Eli Whitney in 1797 and gave rise to Connecticut’s giant defense contractors, they have a right to feel under siege as the vote nears — even after they struggle to figure out what, exactly, the legislature is doing.
With an estimated 5,000 direct and indirect jobs and a statewide economic impact of $1.8 billion, they’re all the more certain they will look elsewhere when it comes to their futures.
It’s pretty clear that any expansion efforts would likely not be in Connecticut,” said Bartozzi, whose company recently invested $4 million in lines to build the soon-to-be-banned rifles, and has a factory in Texas. “It becomes hard to justify. I love Connecticut. I don’t want to move from here. But I know this is the first bite at the apple.”
Mossberg will send a few dozen employees to the Capitol in Hartford Wednesday, in a last-ditch effort to derail support for the ban. The workers will hope to meet with state Rep. David Yaccarino, R-North Haven, who told Bartozzi he remained undecided on the bill, Bartozzi said. “Let them look him in the eye and ask him the touch questions,” he said.
With Malloy pushing hard and with Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, there’s been an air of inevitability that some form of ban would be part of the gun control package. Connecticut already is among the five strictest states before the latest legislation happens.
“I don’t think it’s a personal attack,” Malkowski said. “It might be an opportunity to push forward something that they couldn’t do before on the shoulders of the tragedy…I don’t see how this is anything more than adding more laws to the books that weren’t being enforced.”
He especially focuses on mental health issues and access to guns in general — some of which is addressed in the bill. “I was optimistic in the fact that I thought they would address mental health issues, and I thought that would be the focus,” Malkowski said. “I’m glad they were able to address that, that’s important, but the other stuff, is that satisfying an agenda.”
Malkowski blames what he called “Washington politics.”
“That’s where this is being pushed down from. This is what Biden wants, this is what Obama wants,” he said.
A fair argument can be made that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who’s unhappy that the agreement does not ban ownership of magazines holding more than 10 rounds, is among the national leaders in the post-Newtown round of gun control. Regardless, the compromise allowing rifle and magazine owners to continue to possess items that are banned for sale in Connecticut doesn’t help their business.
But for now, said Malkowski, a lifetime local resident who branched out of his father’s machine shop exactly ten years ago, there is too much shock to act quickly. He had thought he would have at least some time to adjust before a law took effect.
“I’m just so disappointed in what happened, I really thought that through education we would be able to have the legislature come up with good, sound choices that would have made a difference. Frankly, I don’t know exactly what to do at this point. We’re going to explore options, we’re going to see how it affects our business.”
At Mossberg, as much as half of the product line could be affected by the ban, Bartozzi said — but he can’t get answers on the eve of the vote. Clearly, lawmakers are allowed to limit gun ownership, but considering that they’re meddling with a Constitutionally protected right, they ought to at least write the law and look at the details before voting on it. Bartozzi thinks that might be required under court rulings.
In the end, for all of these companies, including Colt’s — which developed the AR-15 design into the M-16 and M-4 military rifles and is one of the largest producers of civilian versions — the question isn’t only about lost business from the ban, but also the companies’ standing in a market that’s famous for punishing certain brands. Customers may abandon Colt’s just for staying in place in Connecticut, Colt’s CEO Dennis Veilleux fears.
And the manufacturers’ message is clear: Limits on access to guns may be fine, but bans will not make the state safer because a determined mass murderer such as the Newtown killer will find a way to create hell.
“History will be the judge on this one,” Veilleux said.
Meanwhile, rank-and-file factory workers will lose their jobs.
“They’re the ones that are ultimately going to pay the price,” Bartozzi said. “It’s just awful to think about it, but that’s the way it is.”