Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is pushing a plan to ban military-style rifles outright. Connecticut's firearms industry executives will say it jeopardizes thousands of jobs and does nothing to improve safety.
Emotion is on Malloy's side. Tighter registration and sales rules, which he also rolled out Thursday, are in order.
But where equipment bans are concerned, logic may well be on the industry's side.
For now, everyone is doing a dance. Malloy is saying he wants to ban all "assault weapons," which he says is an obvious definition akin to Supreme Court Potter Stewart's "know-it-when-I-see-it" label for pornography. The industry is saying only that it wants a careful deliberation.
What Malloy is not saying is that he wants to ban outright the firearm that represents 60 percent of all rifle sales, the gun design that is basically where rifle evolution has taken us, with perhaps 6 million in civilian hands — the AR-15.
As it happens, the AR-15 is a Connecticut product. It was invented in California but developed in Hartford by Colt Firearms and Colt's Manufacturing Co., as the company has been called at various times. It's made by Colt's and three other companies here, plus Smith & Wesson up the road in Springfield -- along with about 60 other firms across the nation, including Bushmaster, which made the model used by the Newtown killer.
Malloy's critics did not say Thursday that such a ban is illogical -- not yet, anyway. Instead, Republican leaders in the legislature and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents manufacturers and retailers, said they were upset that Malloy upstaged his own handpicked commission and a bipartisan legislative task force with a laundry list of gun control measures on the day of Vice President Joe Biden's visit.
Setting aside that purely political flap, Malloy argues that "assault weapons" should be banned. Fair enough. He says the AR-15 is obviously an assault weapon, and that people who think otherwise "have a reason not to see it that way."
Two problems with that: It's not obvious that the AR-15 is an assault weapon, and even if it makes sense to ban it, the action ought to be national rather than state-by-state -- especially in the very state that's still the cradle of the firearms industry.
Malloy's plan would ban any firearm that is semi-automatic, meaning it shoots a bullet with each pull of the trigger; takes detachable bullet magazines; and has at least one military-style feature.
He calls these "assault rifles." The industry calls them "modern sporting rifles" and says assault rifles -- which are virtually banned for civilians -- are fully automatic machine guns that spray multiple bullets with a single trigger pull. The neutral term is "military-style rifles."
Regardless of the words, the current Connecticut law, similar to the federal ban that was enacted in 1994 and expired in 2004, allows two of a list of features, including a pistol grip, removable flash-suppressor, bayonet mount, collapsible stock and grenade launcher.
Makers of the AR-15 have gotten around the ban by offering a model with a pistol grip but none of the other features. Those weapons still function more or less the same as any other AR-15 that's excluded from Connecticut and a half-dozen other states that kept the ban.
Take away the pistol grip and it's hard to imagine the AR-15 existing in any form. That may be fine with Malloy, but the industry will argue that there are weapons out there -- many of them -- that are not military-style, but which are just as deadly as an AR-15. In fact, they will say, the pistol grip might even make the world safer because it's easier to handle by someone defending him- or herself, while a determined assailant could do just as much damage without one.
Put another way, just because mass killers tend to use military-style weapons does not necessarily mean they must use those weapons to do the same damage. Banning all semi-automatic weapons that take detachable magazines, with or without pistol grips, might do the trick. But that would essentially take us back to the 19th century.
"Do you want to make the streets safer for the children? Arbitrary restrictions on features don't do that," said Mark Malkowski, founder and president of AR-15 maker Stag Arms of New Britain, at the state Capitol on Jan. 28.
Malkowski owns one of four factories within a 40-minute drive of Hartford that make versions of the AR-15. He and his fellow owners are in the sensitive position of appearing to put profits and jobs ahead of public safety. Not true; they're only saying that bans don't bring safety, and that by the way, we have thousands of jobs in Connecticut, including a web of suppliers from spring-makers to metal-coaters.
Access, sale and registration rules are one thing. Malloy's plan to require registration of ammunition purchases will bring the mother of all constitutional debates and I'm eager to witness it. But if an equipment ban makes sense, it's only logical as national legislation where borders matter -- not in a state with three superhighways capable of bringing guns in, and jobs out.
"What does a factory like Mossberg do?" said Lawrence Keane, general counsel at NSSF, the industry group based in Newtown, referring to O.F. Mossberg & Sons of North Haven, which introduced a line of AR-15's last year,
"Do they continue to invest in Connecticut or do they move jobs to Texas?"