The trade association for the firearms industry worries that if some of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s gun proposals gain traction with the legislature they will have a detrimental effect on an industry that supports 2,900 direct jobs in the state.
Gun manufacturers contributed more than $1.7 billion to economic activity in Connecticut in 2012, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Jake McGuigan, a director of government relations and state affairs for the NSSF, said Thursday that his organization is concerned about some of Malloy’s proposals, especially the ban on any semi-automatic weapon with one or more military-style features.
“I am proposing that we change the definition of assault weapon to any semi-automatic that has at least one military characteristic, and ban the sale of these weapons in our state,” Malloy said Thursday when he unveiled his legislative proposals. Currently a weapon must have two characteristics, such as a pistol grip or a folding stock, to be considered an assault weapon.
Under Malloy’s redefined assault weapons ban, the AR-15 would be prohibited from further sale. The AR-15 was the popular semi-automatic rifle used by the gunman in the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Malloy’s proposal would give owners of these type of weapons until October to register their semi-automatic rifles with state police. If gun owners wanted to sell their gun to a federally licensed firearm dealer they could, but those guns could only then be sold outside of Connecticut.
McGuigan said his organization is acting under the assumption that gun manufacturers in the state wouldn’t even be able to manufacture these types of weapons here, and even if they were the owners and employees of the company wouldn’t be able to own any of the guns they manufacture.
“Essentially we would lose the entire retail market in the state of Connecticut,” McGuigan said.
However, Michael Lawlor, the governor’s top criminal justice adviser, said manufacturers would still be able to make them in the state, they just wouldn’t be able to sell them in the state. It would not prohibit them from manufacturing them, which they do now under the current assault weapons ban, he said.
Even if that’s the case, McGuigan said Colt Firearms already has a small research and development facility in Florida and could easily begin transitioning the rest of its business out of West Hartford.
He said New Britain is home to eight to 10 companies with licenses from the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agency and they lease between 700,000 and 1 million square feet of property. If any of them left it would have an impact on the local economy, McGuigan said.
The only other state with a law similar to what Malloy is proposing is New York, McGuigan said.
After New York passed the NY SAFE ACT, which included a ban on semi-automatic rifles or shotguns with “military-style” features, gun manufacturers in that state like Remington started receiving offers from other states to move their operations.
Within two weeks of the New York legislation passing, South Carolina Congressman Jeff Duncan wrote to Remington’s CEO, saying: “In South Carolina, we believe in the right to keep and bear arms. We need to encourage other businesses who share those beliefs to relocate to the Palmetto State.”
Just this week, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn invited 14 gun manufacturers from seven states, including Connecticut, to make the move.
“I am personally inviting you and your company to come to the great state of Mississippi,” Gunn wrote in a letter to Colt’s Manufacturing Co. “In our state, you will not be criticized for providing good [sic] to the law abiding citizens who enjoy hunting, shooting or who just want the peace of mind that comes with the constitutional right to protect their families.”
Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told WTIC Friday morning that he was pleased with Connecticut when lawmakers and the governor decided to take a more deliberative approach to the issue.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “rushed forward with his hastily drafted bill and the legislature of New York voted it out without either reading or seeing it,” Keane said. “Now look what’s happening in New York, you have law enforcement agencies all across New York sending letters to the legislature and the governor complaining about the legislation.”
He speculated the same would happen in Connecticut, if it went forward with some of Malloy’s proposals.
“I think there are very, very serious constitutional questions about what the governor is proposing,” Keane said. “He’s proposing criminalizing law abiding citizens, confiscating lawfully purchased products that you have a constitutional right to own that were lawful when they were purchased in Connecticut. Now he’s going to confiscate those?”
At a Thursday, afternoon press conference Malloy said he thought a prospective approach to banning “assault weapons” was “insufficient.”
That’s why his legislation would make certain parts, like a ban on high capacity magazines with more than 10 bullets, retroactive. It would also force registration of all firearms, when currently only handguns require permits. Malloy said he doesn’t want to pretend these weapons or these high capacity magazines don’t exist.
“I don’t want to ignore it and I want to bring a comprehensive approach to it,” he said.