New Britain — Everyone was polite. Even as they accused Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of ignoring the Second Amendment, of violating his oath, of wanting to put a local gun manufacturer out of business, of secretly wanting to confiscate their guns, they were polite.
Malloy came to New Britain High School for a community forum Thursday night prepared to talk about taxes and spending, his idea of eliminating the car tax, his attempt to change state funding formulas. But he stepped to the microphone knowing he might not get beyond guns.
Little in Connecticut politics gets beyond guns since Newtown, where 26 children and women were shot to death in an elementary school exactly three months ago, bringing gun owners and gun-control advocates back to the edges of a great cultural and political divide.
Malloy stands unwavering on the gun-control side.
He wants to ban the retail sales of military-style rifles like the AR-15, the rifle Adam Lanza used in Newtown, and the 30-round magazines Lanza used, two taped together so he could quickly reload as he riddled two first-grade classrooms with .223-caliber rounds.
It is the only type of firearm that Mark Malkowski, who sat in the last row of a small lecture hall, makes at Stag Arms in New Britain. He says his company employs 200 and spends $13 million on supplies from local subcontractors, but he feels Malloy wants to see him go elsewhere.
He testified earlier in the day at a public hearing on gun legislation. Colt’s Manufacturing, another maker of the AR-15, bused 400 employees to the Legislative Office Building, a reminder that firearms also provide a living in Connecticut.
Malkowski asked Malloy what purpose a ban would serve? He said Malloy would ban the sale of his rifles based on “cosmetics,” military-style features like a collapsible stock, a pistol grip, a flash suppressor and a bayonet lug.
“Making a semiautomatic rifle illegal based on cosmetic features, I don’t see how that’s going to do anything to make a safer state of Connecticut,” Malkowski said.
But he first thanked Malloy for coming.
Malloy told Malkowski he considers his product inherently more dangerous than other semiautomatic rifles. He told him that if the legislature had written a tighter assault weapons law in 1993 or in 2001, when it was revised, the AR-15 purchased by Lanza’s mother would have been illegal in Connecticut.
But he first thanked him.
“Your story is an inspiration. You had an idea, and you moved forward on it, you grew a company,” Malloy said. “Regardless of what happens, I hope you stay in the state of Connecticut.”
A tall, broad-shouldered man named Kyle stepped to the microphone, towering over Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who coordinated the procession of speakers, who were picked at random.
He began quizzing Malloy on the Constitution, a roundabout way of making the point that he saw no justification for Malloy or the legislature to pass any law infringing on his right to bear arms. He quoted long passages of the Constitution and Federalist Papers.
Wyman could be heard over the PA system asking him, “Do you have a question?”
He ignored her.
Malloy signaled to let him talk.
The governor finally told him that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld an individual’s right to bear arms, while allowing reasonable limits, which have yet to be defined. Malloy told him his constitutional rights extend beyond the right to bear arms.
He can petition his government. He can avail himself of the courts.
“If such legislation is passed and found to be unconstitutional, then that will be rectified, OK?”
Kyle seemed dubious.
“We have a disagreement, and I don’t think I’m ever going to convince you of my position,” Malloy said. “And I’m not sure you’re ever going to convince me of your position. But you have a right to try to convince the legislature. You have the right to try to convince the courts if they pass such legislation.”
His turn at the microphone over, Kyle spun around and quickly exited the hall with long, loping strides into the night, which had turned bitterly cold.
The evening ended with Wyman calling Linda Czaplinski to the microphone, stammering over her last name.
“I apologize,” Wyman told Czaplinski. “I love your hair, though.”
The two women of a certain age, each with short gray hair, laughed and hugged like old friends. The audience applauded.
The lightness wouldn’t last. Czaplinski told Malloy she was concerned by a proposal that gun owners register their weapons.
“What I would really like is an honest dialogue,” she said. “I would like the mask to come off. Registration is a prelude to confiscation. And that’s where we’re heading. Let’s just call a spade a spade. Let’s talk about what the real agenda is.”
There was scattered applause.
Malloy asked how long Connecticut has had a permit system. Since the 1990s?
Someone shouted, “Ninety-five.”
He looked to Czaplinksi and asked, “Has anyone tried to confiscate your handgun?”
“Yes, you are right now,” she said.
“I’m not,” he said.
Malloy said he wants universal background checks, limits on the size of magazines and, yes, a ban on the retail sale of the rifles Mark Malkowski makes across town — though he would not demand that current owners surrender them.
“This is not going to confiscation,” he said, his voice soft. “I’m not going to convince you of that.”
On the last point, they agreed.
Follow Mark Pazniokas on Twitter @CTMirrorPaz
Related: New Britain company soars with AR-15 sales — for now