A few weeks ago, House Majority Leader Joseph Aresimowicz, rounded up a handful of his deputy majority leaders and headed to Colt Manufacturing in West Hartford for a tour and demonstration of various firearms.
In anticipation of having to vote in the next few weeks on post-Newtown gun control legislation, he said he wanted to make sure his deputies had “all the available information they needed to make laws.”
But he didn’t stop with the tour of Colt. He sent a staff member to Cabela’s in East Hartford to go through the firearm purchasing process and gather all the relevant documents.
“Sometimes things are too theoretical and it’s better to have first-hand information,” he said.
As for the tour and demonstration at Colt, “It was really helpful for us to see the different types of military-style features,” Aresimowicz, who used a M-16 in the Army Reserves, said this week.
If the Senate Democrats and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have their way any gun control legislation the General Assembly passes will include a ban on any semi-automatic rifle with one military-style feature such as a pistol grip, collapsible stock, or detachable magazine. Currently, a weapon must have two characteristics of a military firearm to be considered an assault weapon.
“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 last month during a forum in Danbury with Vice President Joe Biden.
Under Malloy’s redefined assault weapons ban, the AR-15 would be prohibited from further sale in Connecticut. The AR-15 is the popular semi-automatic rifle used by the shooter in the mass murder at Sandy Hook.
People who purchased the weapon before the law is enacted would be permitted to keep it, but would be required to register it with State Police and get a certificate of possession.
There are about seven states, according to Colt President and CEO Dennis Veilleux, that have their own assault weapons ban. The vast majority of states define assault weapons as being semi-automatic firearms only, but Connecticut defines it as “any selective-fire firearm capable of fully automatic, semiautomatic or burst fire at the option of the user.”
Veilleux admitted that the profile of these types of guns may look scary to the general public, but “this product in the hands of a responsible citizen is not dangerous.”
“I don’t believe banning cosmetic features makes us a greater society,” Veilleux said last Friday in the Colt conference room.
He said the AR-15 is very popular with military men and women who have been trained with the firearms and want a similar firearm when they return home.
“Responsible citizens have a right to a great product to protect themselves,” Veilleux said.
But Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield, who took the tour and received the demonstration, wasn’t convinced.
“I can’t understand why you would need a weapon for personal use,” Morin said.
He said he respects the rights of gun owners, but personally can’t get his mind around the issue of why someone would need this type of weapon in their home.
He said he’s heard the arguments, but he doesn’t think he will be voting on something that doesn’t ban these sorts of firearms. He knows that could cost him votes, but “it’s who I am.”
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents the gun manufacturers in the state, said it agrees with legislators that the focus should be to keep firearms out of the wrong hands, but doesn’t believe an outright ban on semi-automatic rifles will make the state safer.
“An outright ban of the most popular semi-automatic rifle in the United States today, as some are suggesting, for what are essentially cosmetic reasons would make no one safer and is unfair to the millions of people who have purchased them legally and use them responsibly for hunting, shooting competition and home defense,” the organization said in a statement Tuesday.
The organization maintains that banning these popular weapons would affect employment in Connecticut, which is home to about a dozen small arms and ammunition manufacturers in the state. According to NSSF, the industry supports 2,900 jobs, which is about half of the 6,000 jobs the industry supported in the 1970s when Colt was manufacturing M-16s during the Vietnam War.
The firearm industry has a storied history in the state, which is tied directly to their brand identities.
“We believe Connecticut is where we belong and we want to stay here,” Veilleux said.
But he worries that if the state passes a ban on semi-automatic rifles there will be a brand backlash that will cause his board of directors to take offers to move seriously.
“Our heritage is a big part of brand message,” Veilleux said. “Don’t make it so easy to think this thing through.”
Meanwhile, a grassroots group formed after the Newtown shooting, called on lawmakers to pass legislation before March 14th—three months after the shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and 6 educators.
“More than 2,500 people have died from gun violence since the shooting in Sandy Hook,” Newtown Action Alliance said in a press release. “There is clear evidence that Connecticut residents expect their representatives to pass strong legislation that will reduce gun violence.”
Other states like New York and Maryland have been quick to take legislative action in the wake of the shooting.
“Our state is drowning in grief,” Po Murray, vice chair of the Newtown Action Alliance, said, “and if other states can take bold and swift legislative action, surely Connecticut, where this tragedy occurred, can do the same. Because our state is now home to the second worst mass shooting in the history of America, Connecticut has both a moral and political duty to pass strong and sensible legislation that will lead this nation into a new era of reduced gun violence.”
According to a Quinnipiac University poll public opinion is on their side. The poll found by a 2-1 margin that Connecticut voters support stricter gun control measures.