Connecticut gun manufacturers will welcome not one red-state governor on Monday, but two — as Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s tour is followed by a visit from South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard that afternoon and Tuesday.
Both of the Republican governors will tour the Colt companies in West Hartford and O.F. Mossberg & Sons in North Haven, and perhaps other firearms makers. While Perry announced his foray to Connecticut and New York with fanfare and an ad campaign, Daugaard planned his trip quietly.
Perry, keeping with his higher-key tone, will host a lunchtime reception for Connecticut firearms firms at Max Downtown restaurant in Hartford, in addition to touring several plants in a whirlwind day.
Both governors hail from states that offer low taxes and a business climate that’s more than friendly to the makers of military-style guns of the sort that Connecticut banned for sale on April 4.
For Mossberg, the visits coincide with an active search for a place to expand. The 94-year-old Connecticut gunmaker has 270 employees at its home plant and 400 in Texas, and is looking for more capacity as sales climb.
“It’s nice to see someone come and say ‘We like your jobs, we welcome your business,” said Joe Bartozzi, senior vice president and general counsel at Mossberg. “It’s nice to be liked, it’s nice to be wanted.”
Bartozzi said Mossberg has not met with other governors this year, but he noted, “We’ve met with senators, we’ve met with congressmen. I have a stack of letters that would choke a horse from economic development agencies around the country, and obviously like any business we’re looking at options.”
As for Connecticut, Bartozzi said, the law is bad enough but the attitude of elected officials such as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy is worse.
“It would be incredibly unlikely for us to expand in Connecticut,” he said.
Each of the four Connecticut companies that make military-style, semiautomatic rifles in the state has a different stance when it comes to expanding or moving.
PTR Industries in Bristol, which has about 45 employees and makes a version of the German HK rifle, has said it is exiting the state entirely. PTR hosted a South Carolina official last month after visiting his Myrtle Beach district. My colleague Tony Terzi of Fox CT reported that PTR employees favored South Carolina over other states, in an informal vote.
Stag Arms of New Britain, an AR-15 rifle-maker with 200 employees, is considering a move or an expansion, perhaps along with Ammunition Storage Components, a New Britain maker of bullet magazines, many now banned in its home state. Stag owner Mark Malkowski, whose photo with Perry at the NRA convention in Houston raised eyebrows last month, is again meeting with his new friend Monday.
The Colt companies — Colt’s Manufacturing Co. and Colt Defense, with 700 local employees under one roof between them — are not saying what they might do.
“Texas has always been a loyal supporter and friend of Colt and we will be pleased to welcome Gov. Perry to our facility on Monday morning,” Dennis Veilleux, CEO of Colt’s Manufacturing, said in a written statement. “While we have been proud to call Connecticut home for 175 years, as we look to future growth we have a responsibility to consider all options that ensure we remain competitive and meet the needs and expectations of our customers.”
The companies have a backlog of orders, and Colt Defense has added employees this year in West Hartford, said Jim Tipton, human resources vice president at Colt’s Manufacturing.
Each governor will come away with a custom-engraved version of the famous Colt 1911, “with a special serial number and his name engraved on the slide,” Tipton said. For Texas, the outline of the state is on the firearm, but since South Dakota is a straight rectangle, Daugaard’s version will have something else.
That’s a high honor. Every modern U.S. president except one has been offered a customized Colt gun, though at least one — Bill Clinton — declined. Colt’s has not made an offer to President Barack Obama.
Obama, like Malloy, has led the charge to expand the definition of “assault weapon” to include the semi-automatic rifles that the industry calls “modern sporting rifles.” Malloy chafes at the notion that he’s trying to drive gun manufacturers out of the state, however.
“Let’s be clear about something: The goal of the comprehensive gun violence prevention law that was passed was to improve public safety. And the law the governor signed will improve public safety,” Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said Friday.
Malloy’s position has been that no manufacturing activity was outlawed, and that firearms firms that act responsibly are welcome in Connecticut. Doba cited a report released Thursday in UConn’s Connecticut Economy quarterly, showing that there’s no link between states’ gun control laws and firearms manufacturing jobs.
“Any attempt to try to link the two is disingenuous at best,” Doba said.
The gunmakers in Connecticut say the law is very much linked to operations here, as customers may punish them for staying put. Bartozzi, at Mossberg, said moving local operations elsewhere is a possibility.
“We’ve got great employees in Connecticut, we’ve got skilled people in Connecticut. We don’t want to do that, but to do what’s right for the business we have to consider the options,” he said.
The Mossberg family would like to stay where it’s been since 1919, Bartozzi said, but Malloy is making that difficult. “Every time he opens his mouth or Murphy says something, our customers take it out on us,” he said.
For now, business remains strong enough that the effects of the bans in Connecticut, New York and elsewhere, and the backlash, are mitigated.
And for now, the dance with governors of more gun friendly states becomes more intense, the inevitable result of a Connecticut ban that was legislated based on emotion. It was clear from the start that the ban would cost jobs at a critical time for the state’s economy, whether or not it saves lives.
Perry’s website said he’s going after firearms, finance and pharmaceutical companies on the trip to New York and Connecticut, but his staff has not confirmed details of the visit, aside from a speech that he will give at the Ferguson Library in Stamford on Monday at 6 p.m. Daugaard’s spokesperson did not return a call Friday.
And both visiting governors will have a chance to use the firearms at the indoor test ranges of Colt’s and Mossberg, if they want to do so. I asked Bartozzi which firearm will that would be at Mossberg — perhaps the smaller, .22-caliber version of the AR-15, a big seller that’s still legal in Connecticut?
No, Bartozzi said. “The modern sporting rifle. The one that’s too dangerous for the folks in Connecticut to shoot.”