As Mark Malkowski watched Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sign the gun control bill into law on April 4, he sat in his office with three military-style rifles.
Nothing unusual there, since Malkowski’s New Britain company, Stag Arms, makes the AR-15-style guns. But one of the black weapons was a bit different – it had a sawed-off pistol grip.
The de-gripped rifle was the first go-around in Stag’s effort to design a gun that’s legal for sale in Connecticut, and still has the core of the AR-15, the wildly popular type of rifle that represents fully one-quarter of all firearms sales in the United States.
Even as he considers relocation offers from Texas and other states, he’s moving ahead in the time-honored tradition of factory managers and engineers, solving the latest problem.
“Don’t dismiss the creative minds of manufacturers. We’re entrepreneurs, we’re job creators and we will do what we have to do to succeed,” he said, minutes after Malloy signed the bill.
On that day of grimness for this 10-year-old business with 200 employees, the gun with a lopped handhold might have seemed nothing more than a symbol of protest. But now, more than a week later, Malkowski reports progress.
“I’m currently working with some prototypes that may be something that would be available for Connecticut citizens,” Malkowski said. “It’s still early in the development.”
And it’s not just the employees at Stag. “We have been approached by a lot of other designers that have input,” he said.
The State Police firearms unit is still not prepared to say what designs, exactly, will be legal. “They’re not really giving much definition to anything right now,” Malkowski said.
The reason is that the unit, part of the Department of Public Safety, has more immediate concerns, such as figuring out what retailers may sell, and how they may sell it.
A deeper concern is the law itself, which is a lot harder to get around than previous gun bans. Many people have assumed that this ban is a true, outright prohibition on the AR-15 – unlike earlier bans.
In 1993, Connecticut passed a law banning military-style rifles, which allowed the basic AR-15 design to slip through with some minor changes. That law, similar to a federal ban in effect from 1994 to 2004, prohibited guns with at least two military-style features from a list that included a flash suppressor, adjustable stock, bayonet mount and pistol grip.
The pistol grip is the one indispensable feature, so gun-makers simply designed “ban-legal” versions that had the pistol grip but didn’t include those other things.
California tightened its version of the ban, essentially outlawing detachable magazines — another crucial feature of all military-style firearms. In response, companies designed a so-called bullet-button, which requires a jab by the point of a bullet or some other probing object to remove the magazine.
The result: The bullet-button made the magazine non-detachable under the law, and the modified gun was good to go in the Golden State.
The latest round of bans, in New York and Connecticut, apparently offer no such easy out, lawyers connected with the industry say. That means no pistol grip – a basic part of the AR-15 design since legendary inventor Eugene Stoner first developed the ArmaLite rifle in 1957 – unless Yankee ingenuity leads to some other answer.
The irony is that a pistol grip makes a rifle safer because it’s easier to handle and less likely to be fired accidentally, firearms instructors and manufacturers say. Another irony: A modified AR-15 might function more or less like a traditional rifle with semiautomatic action that’s far deadlier – but not banned.
Just this week John W. Olsen, president of the state AFL-CIO, suggested that manufacturers get busy finding ways to modify the gun so they can sell in Connecticut.
“Obviously we are going to do everything we can to comply with state law,” Malkowski said. “We’re trying to figure out what that is right now….We will be submitting designs to the state weapons unit as soon as they’re available.”