At Firearms Firms, A Last-Minute Rush To Fill Orders Amid Confusion

Stag Arms

Delta Arsenal owner Douglas Odishoo of Wallingford loads his vehicle with 300 serial receivers for the high capacity AR-15 at Stag Arms in New Britain in an attempt to beat the noon deadline for selling the AR-15 in Connecticut. (Patrick Raycraft | Hartford Courant / April 4, 2013)

Workers at Stag Arms in New Britain have been in a rush to finish orders and ship to Connecticut stores for customers to buy before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs the historic gun control law at noon.

Stag was able to ship more than 500 of the soon-to-be banned rifles Thursday morning, after sending out 2,000 to Connecticut customers on Wednesday as the legislature debated and adopted the ban. Although he makes more than 6,000 rifles a month nationwide, it's been a total focus on Connecticut this week, he said, "The customers who have supported us for so many years."

Among them was John Napierski, owner of JOJO's Gun Works in Southington, who arrived just before 10 a.m. to pick up 35 "Connecticut legal" Stag AR-15-type rifles — legal, that is, under the old law until noon today.

"There's a line at the store since 7 o'clock this morning," Napierski said. "As soon as I arrived I opened the store."

Napierski said he sold the first-ever Stag rifle exactly ten years ago, when Mark Malkowski launched the manufacturer with an innovation: rifles for left-handed shooters. On Thursday as he loaded his Dodge pick-up, there was no time for wistfulness. Napierski was unable to say exactly how many military-style rifles he had sold this week, as he's quickly getting through then paperwork.

For Stag, which only makes AR-15-type rifles, there was some confusion — the company's brand was not on the list of more than 100 banned rifles contained in the bill, but, Malkowski said, the features of his products are banned in the legislation. "I'm trying to get some clarity," he said.

Across the industry in Connecticut, there was confusion about what. exactly, the new law said. One retailer called the state police firearms unit and asked whether he could sell banned guns after noon that had been ordered in advance. "I don't know," he said he was told by state police.

Douglas Odishoo, owner of Delta Arsenal in Wallingford, loaded 300 rifle receivers into his black SUV at Stag's loading dock at around 10 a.m. and rushed back to his store. The receiver is the core component of the rifle, the part with a serial number — from which many owners build their own rifles using the interchangeable parts that make the AR-15 as popular as it is.

"My business is destroyed," Odishoo told my colleague, Courant Staff Photographer Patrick Raycraft.

The fallout, however, will come later. When Odishoo arrived back at the store, a crowd of customers applauded, as the number of customers swelled to about 70, Courant Staff Writer Brian Dowling reported.

Among the three Connecticut-based manufacturers of AR-15′s — including Colt's Manufacturing Co. in West Hartford, which developed the rifle after buying the design in 1959, and O.F. Mossberg & Sone of North Haven — Connecticut sales represent a small but significant portion of business. Stag, for example, has sold $1 million worth in this state in 2013, Malkowski said.

As for their future plans, all three said they are constantly receiving offers from other states for moves, and although they're discouraged by the law, they are unlikely to exit Connecticut altogether. As for adding jobs, that may be a different story.

"The issue of where we would grow and expand is an issue that was and will be on the table today, yesterday, tomorrow," one local industry executive said Thursday morning. "You're always thinking of what's best for the company….You have to have compelling economic reasons to move an operation that's been in place for a long time."

Mossberg, which was founded in New Haven in 1919 and just got into the AR-15 business a year ago, has a factory in Texas.

"It's pretty clear that any expansion efforts would likely not be in Connecticut," senior vice president and general counsel Joe Bartozzi said.

But on Thursday morning, there were more immediate concerns — shipping orders and figuring out the law. For example, some of the factories have employees under age 21, or employees who had had mental health issues. Are they still allowed to work in the industry?

"We tend to equate the ability to work here with the ability to be in possession," said the industry executive who asked to remain anonymous. "What are you obligated to do?"

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