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Railroaded: How Connecticut's Gun Owners & Gun Makers are Getting Run Down

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The horror a madman brought to an elementary school last December requires anyone who talks about guns and Connecticut to begin by compassionately expressing sorrow and condolences—compassion for those lost and for those mourning that is never enough, as the breadth of spoken language can’t articulate it. What comes next, however, is harder. According to those who want to disarm Americans, gun owners are supposed to remain cowed by this sorrow; after offering condolences, gun owners aren’t supposed to voice reason into an emotional debate that literally has to do with life and death. 

Because a mature adult acknowledges a time for mourning before rising to the occasion to find the best solutions, this is a story about what happened to gun owners and gun makers in Connecticut—and what comes next. It’s about America, and what we can do as we struggle for our freedom and safety. 

Connecticut Loses Touch

Before running the gauntlet of all the rules and penalties in the 138-page gun-control package passed in Connecticut and signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on April 4, it’s worth stepping out of the 21st century, and into the 19th, to put what’s happening into perspective. 

Connecticut, after all, isn’t just a “blue state” that happens to be 1/48th the size of Texas. Connecticut is where Samuel Colt set up shop in 1847. Colt’s revolvers have been credited with helping to win the West, but less well known is the fact that historians also credit Colt’s factory with helping to advance manufacturing techniques in America—techniques that helped stimulate America’s industrial revolution. 

Colt started making AR-15s in 1960. Today, according to Joyce M. Rubino, vice president and chief financial officer of Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC, “Colt has spent the last four years rebuilding its consumer products division and is doing very well financially.” Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC now has 670 employees in West Hartford, Conn., where it makes revolvers as well as semi-automatic rifles now banned in the state as “assault weapons.”

Colt, of course, isn’t the only gun maker in Connecticut. In 1919, O.F. Mossberg & Sons began making firearms in New Haven, Conn. Now located in North Haven, Conn., Mossberg is currently America’s leading shotgun maker—in 2010 alone, Mossberg made 393,284 shotguns. Mossberg’s plant in North Haven now employs 270 people and makes semi-automatic rifles that have also been deemed “assault rifles” and banned in the state. 

In 2003, Stag Arms opened its shop in New Britain, Conn. It has grown rapidly in the decade since, and now employs 200 people in the state. Stag Arms also makes AR-15-type rifles that state residents have been banned from purchasing. 

Today, Stag Arms, Mossberg and Colt all proudly point out that their firearms are made in the United States. Actually, there a lot of guns still being made in America. In 2011, for example, 66 percent of the new firearms made available for sale in the U.S. were made in America. What other manufacturing sector can say that two-thirds of its products are made by Americans? 

Now realize that, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), during the last two years the firearm industry has created more than 26,325 new, well-paying jobs in the United States. Some of these jobs were created in Connecticut. According to the NSSF, gun manufacturers and associated businesses in Connecticut generate $1.75 billion in economic activity annually, and employ more 
than 7,300 people. 

How Gun Owners and Gun Makers Were Railroaded

Stag Arms, Colt and Mossberg all wanted lawmakers to see for themselves what guns mean to individual freedom, personal safety and the state’s economy, so they opened their factories to state politicians. For example, after being invited in by Stag Arms, State Reps. Mark Sanchez and Terry Gerratana, both Democrats, told Stag Arms President Mark Malkowski the visit “opened their eyes.” (Despite this, both would later vote along party lines for the gun-control bill.) 

These firearm manufacturers aren’t naïve. They knew Connecticut is a state where gun-control proponents control the legislatures and the governor’s office. They tried to make reason prevail anyway. To do this, the National Rifle Association, the NSSF and the three gun manufacturers worked with citizens to hold rallies to show that people care about their freedom. For example, at a “lobby day” organized by the NRA, thousands of supporters showed up, including hundreds of employees of Colt. Meanwhile, personnel from the gun makers, as well as from the NSSF and the NRA, continually met with every legislator who would give them a moment.

At the same time, anti-gun groups held rallies and even rode school buses to Hartford, and Vice President Joe Biden showed up to prod the state’s governor into action. 

Despite months of talking to legislators, holding rallies, writing op-eds for local newspapers and much more, freedom supporters were railroaded.

The bill was released on April 3 and put on legislators’ desks around 9:30 a.m. At about 12:30 p.m. that same day—just three hours later—the Senate started debating the legislation as gun owners chanted outside, “Read the bill.” Read or not, the Senate passed the bill 26-10 that day. Early the next morning the House passed it 105-44. And at noon on April 4, Gov. Malloy signed the bill.

A few days after signing the bill, in an appearance on CNN’s show “State of the Union,” Malloy exhibited a bias that made it clear gun owners never had a chance as far as he was concerned. 

“What this is about is the ability of the gun industry to sell as many guns to as many people as possible—even if they are deranged, even if they are mentally ill, even if they have a criminal background,” Malloy said. “They don’t care. They want to sell guns.”

Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the NSSF, replied to Malloy’s criminal accusations in an opinion piece in The Hartford Courant

“We are not the enemy, not in Connecticut, not anywhere else,” Keane wrote. “We have families, too. We do not want to see firearms misused.”

What the Connecticut Law Does

After the bill passed, many newspapers referred to Connecticut’s 138-page gun-control scheme as the “toughest in the nation.” All those newspaper editors should be sent back to journalism school and made to sit in corners with dictionaries on their heads. 

By “tough” they imply it has strict measures designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. That isn’t true. Most of the law’s language has little to do with criminals. This broad package of laws uses the word “felony” 43 times, but mostly as a threat to gun owners. 

There is little about the new law’s penalties, restrictions and bans that is tough on criminals, but there is a lot that’s onerous, crushing and galling to the rights of law-abiding American citizens who happen to live in Connecticut. (To see how troubling the new restrictions are, visit http://cga.ct.gov/2013/tob/s/2013sb-01160-r00-sb.htm)

At press time, the NSSF pointed out that the language in the new law specifies a procedure for “universal” background checks on private party transactions that may not even be permissible under federal laws governing the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). 

“As we read it,” reports the NSSF, “this mistake in lawmaking means that all private party transactions in the state now cannot be accomplished legally.”

Basically, the bill creates “a first in the nation statewide dangerous weapon offender registry;” it requires universal background checks for all firearm sales, deliveries, and transfers (even parent 
to child;) it requires residents to obtain a state-issued “eligibility certificate” (or other firearm-related permit) before they can purchase a rifle, shotgun or ammunition; it bans more than 100 semi-automatic rifles and uses language to outlaw the sale of firearms that meet vague and broad design specifications; it bans magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds; it expands safe storage laws with rules that could punish gun owners if their firearms are stolen or misused by someone else, and much more.

As there is too much to cover in this article, here are a few snapshots from the law that’ll give you an idea how onerous it is: 

The law’s new “ammunition eligibility certificate” expires every five years and, by definition, creates a kind of gun owner database, as any person who wishes to buy ammo for his or her firearms will have to navigate regulations not yet written in order to get permission. 

The law states, “[A]ny person who possesses a large capacity magazine on or after Jan. 1, 2014, that was obtained on or after the effective date of this section shall be guilty of a class d felony.” It does, however, grandfather in existing magazines that are “declared” (i.e., registered), but once again, the procedures for this process remain to be written.

 A provision of the previous law was downright scary in its own right: “The possession of any firearm upon which any identifying mark, number or name has been removed, defaced, altered or obliterated shall be prima facie evidence that the person owning or in possession of such firearm has removed, defaced, altered or obliterated the same.” The bill made it worse, however, by ratcheting up the already stiff penalty for a conviction: “Any person who violates any provision of this section shall be guilty of a class c felony for which two years of the sentence imposed may not be suspended or reduced by the court. …”

The Connecticut law also states, “No person shall store or keep any loaded firearm on any premises under such person’s control if such person knows or reasonably should know that (1) a minor is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the parent or guardian of the minor, (2) a resident of the premises is ineligible to possess a firearm under state or federal law, or (3) a resident of the premises poses a risk of imminent personal injury to himself or herself or to other individuals. …”  Previously, the requirements of this section applied only in the case of likely unauthorized access by minors.   

There are many problems with this expanded language. For example, a homeowner with a tenant would need to know some very private things about a renter in order to comply with the second part. And how is a person to know if another person is an imminent risk to himself or herself? Can a law really require we read other peoples’ minds? 

The storage provision gives exceptions for guns “a reasonable person would believe to be secure” and so on, but it nevertheless places the burden on gun owners. Like so much of this lengthy law, it puts the state in charge of an individual right that’s protected from government infringement by the United States Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights was designed to restrict government from stepping on the peoples’ rights; it didn’t create positive rights the government can define as it pleases while sprinkling in threats of felonies here and there. (Given the U.S. Supreme Court cases d.c. v. Heller [2008] and McDonald v. Chicago [2010], some smart lawyers are sure to argue the state of Connecticut is treating a constitutional right as a privilege—an important legal distinction.) 

That’s just a small sampling of what this law does, but obviously there is much that will need to be challenged in court. In fact, the NRA plans to do just that.

“Your NRA is fully committed to our members and all responsible gun owners in Connecticut, and is preparing appropriate legal action to address the enactment of this legislation,” NRA-ila said in a statement. “Furthermore, we are deeply committed to holding every state legislator who voted for this blatantly unconstitutional measure in the darkness of night accountable in the 2014 election. We are analyzing all ramifications of this act and will be communicating that information to our members soon.”

What Are Connecticut's Gun Makers to Do?

As gun owners try to understand this 138-page law, what are gun manufacturers to do? 

“Some companies have seen brand damage because they operate in a state consumers see as unfriendly,” said Stag Arms President Mark Malkowski. “We have to take this into account. We have to consider all our options. Tomorrow, for example, I have a meeting on the schedule with officials from Texas. They and other states would like us to take our business to them.” 

Keane shares Malkowski’s worry, saying, “As we can see from social media chatter already well under way, many retail customers in other states will not buy products made in this state.”

Joe Bartozzi, senior vice president and general counsel for O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc., and Colt’s Rubino said they’re both being courted by numerous states, but have yet to make a final decision. “Colt has been here for about 175 years,” Rubino said, “so this won’t be a decision we make in haste.”

After explaining that all options are on the table, Bartozzi said, “We’re the oldest family-owned firearm manufacturer in America and we have people at our plant in North Haven who have been with us 30, even 40, years. They are a resource of expertise we can’t just move away from. They’re our family and friends.”

Bartozzi said it’s tempting to relocate to a place where Mossberg’s products aren’t illegal, but “even if all the employees would come with us, moving multi-million dollar cnc machinery isn’t easy.” He explained that though logic seems to indicate Mossberg could move—after all, though it has 270 employees in Connecticut, it also has 400 employees in Texas—moving machines isn’t as simple as shipping them to a new factory floor. “These are very precise machines. It would take years to properly move everything,” said Bartozzi.

All these companies have a difficult decision to make and are hoping consumers will take all they do—and have done—for gun-rights into account when they go to their favorite gun store. 

“We exhausted ourselves testifying during public sessions at the state capitol, reaching out to journalists, busing our employees to Hartford and more,” Malkowski said. “In the end, it didn’t matter. This has taught me that, whatever state you live in, you have to do all you can to make sure your representatives understand the Second Amendment and what really can stop murderers.” 

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.