The divide between Connecticut’s gun manufacturers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would seem too wide to bridge, but after a cordial meeting, both sides are showing some optimism.
The meeting happened Monday between Malloy’s policy staff, including Mike Lawlor, the administration’s criminal justice chief, and a group of executives and owners from Colt’s Manufacturing Co., O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Stag Arms and others.
By all accounts the 2-hour confab at the state Capitol, initiated by the governor’s staff, was friendly. Malloy himself — who wants to ban the extremely popular AR-15 class of rifles — was not there. He was at the National Governor’s Association in Washington, D.C.
To the firearms makers, most any ban by the state on currently legal equipment in the state where it’s made represents a move that would not improve public safety, but would cost jobs. They prefer to see tighter background checks and other forms of access restrictions.
“We can find common ground by building on and improving those systems, like National Instant Criminal (NICS) background checks, that we know work,” said Dennis Veilleux, President and CEO of Colt’s Manufacturing Co.
He added, “As the birthplace and historical center of the modern firearms industry, what we do here will send a message to the rest of the country and Connecticut must set an example of thoughtful and balanced decision making.”
They’ve been through this before, several times in fact, since Connecticut adopted some of the nation’s strictest gun-control rules in 1993 — a precurser to the federal ban that was adopted in 1994 and ended in 2004.
Malloy’s surprise release Thursday of a gun-control plan that includes a virtual ban on civilian purchases of the AR-15 military-style rifle was a deep disappointment to the manufacturers. Also Monday, the group issued a 25-minute video through the National Shooting Sports Foundation, in which employees and executives defended their work and their livelihood.
“What kind of message does it send to my employees who are honest, law-abiding citizens, who can’t purchase the product in their own state? They can’t own their own product,” said Mark Malkowski, founder and president of Stag Arms in New Britain, which employs 200.
Even under the current law, there are versions of the AR-15 that are not legal in Connecticut and several other states. Malloy’s plan would tighten the rules considerably by allowing no military-style features on semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines — including the pistol grip that’s central to the AR-15.
“The governor hasn’t produced a fully written bill,” Lawlor said Tuesday. “At the discussion, a lot of points were raised. Some of them were valid.”
“They’re all thoughtful, reasonable people,” said Lawlor, who worked with several of the manufacturers — often as an adversary — in his years as co-chairman of the General Assembly’s judiciary committee.
“I was very pleased by the warm reception we got,” said Joe Bartozzi, vice president and general counsel at Mossberg.
By Tuesday, Bartozzi was in Washington, where he was a hot office guest of representatives from Georgia, Alabama and other states eager to end Mossberg’s 94-year history in and around New Haven. Malkowski had also heard from three Southern states with offers even more enticing than usual, as they smell opportunity in Malloy’s hard-line proposal.
“I’m not itching to move but business is business,” said Bartozzi, whose firm has 270 people in Connecticut, up by 100 in the last year or so, and a plant in Texas. “I hope Connecticut appreciates that we are a good citizen and a good employer.”
Based on this week’s meeting, we are at least at the cordial stage; in other words, it could be worse.