Gun makers step up campaign against Connecticut ban

As the General Assembly’s leaders negotiate gun-control legislation, the firearms industry is running commercials featuring three Connecticut makers of the AR-15 rifle, underscoring their importance to the economy with an implicit threat they could leave for friendlier political climes.

“Connecticut’s our home. We grew up here,” Dennis Veilleux, the president of Colt’s Manufacturing, says in one commercial, which focuses on the company’s deep roots, its employees and its military arms. “Our first choice would be to stay here in Connecticut.”

“I don’t want to have to think about leaving here,” Mark Malkowski, the president of Stag Arms, says in his spot. “This is our home.”

Colt, Stag and O.F. Mossberg & Sons each are the focus of a 30-second commercial running on cable television systems outside Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven, in areas where the industry evidently believes it can find persuadable legislators.

The initial buy is a relatively modest $50,000, according to the trade group.

All three manufacturers say they have been courted by other states, an invitation they are more likely to accept if legislators ban the sale of their products in Connecticut. The legislative leaders met Thursday and are to resume talks Friday on the parameters of a gun bill in response to the tragedy in Newtown.

Passage of gun-control legislation is widely seen as inevitable within the next two weeks, with many opponents now seeming to focus on blocking two provisions sought by the governor and some key legislators: a ban on large-capacity ammo magazines, and a redefined assault weapons law banning all versions of the AR-15.

Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 with 30-round magazines to kill 26 children and women at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec. 14, the event that instantly made gun control a major issue in Hartford and in Washington, D.C.

Malkowski, the president of Stag Arms, a New Britain manufacturer whose only products are variations of the AR-15, was at the Legislative Office Building Thursday afternoon, meeting with New Britain lawmakers.

He was accompanied by Gene Sheehan and John Larkin, a publicist and lobbyist, respectively, for the industry trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Sheehan had a new fact sheet that says that producers of the endangered rifles now employ 741 in the state, paying annual wages of $61.9 million and state business taxes of $13.6 million. It also claims it supports 424 jobs at suppliers and is responsible for another 603 indirect jobs.

The data was produced by John Dunham and Associates, a firm that specializes in economic information for lobbying and political campaigns. (A recent client was the U.S. Senate campaign of Linda McMahon.)

Stag employs about 200 in New Britain, where it produces 72,000 AR-15 rifles annually, while supporting subcontractors that do heat treating, plating and other metal finishing work, Malkowski said.

Malkowski said the state cannot expect to ban his rifles, but keep Stag’s jobs and tax base. Many of his customers would rebel at buying a Stag product if made in a state with a retail sales ban.

“It kills the brand,” Malkowski said.

His customers have been urging Stag on its Facebook page to promise it will refuse to sell its weapons to police if they are banned for the civilian market. Malkowski has refused.

“If you want to make a difference, you need to vote out legislators who are passing foolish laws, not punish innocent police officers,” he said.