The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., have brought into high relief one of the anachronisms of the American economy: Some of the biggest and most influential makers of firearms in the United States are located in some of its bluest – and most antigun – states.
That is a fact that Gov. Rick Perry (R) of Texas hopes to turn to his advantage this week.
He is scheduled to visit Colt's Manufacturing, which has been in Connecticut since 1847, and Mossberg & Sons of North Haven, Conn., the largest maker of shotguns in the US, among other manufacturers and suppliers in Connecticut and New York.
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The visits are the most public move in discussions that have been ongoing for some time, officials say. "We've been reaching out to them via letters and the governor's talked on the phone to some of them," Lucy Nashed, the governor's spokeswoman, told the Connecticut Post. "This is something he's been doing for a long time – talking to companies in different states."
Forcing the issue are sweeping gun-control measures passed first by New York then by Connecticut in response to the Sandy Hook shootings. When Connecticut lawmakers were considering the bills in March, Colt shut down manufacturing for a day and bused 400 workers to the statehouse in a show of force. Other manufacturers did the same.
"We exhausted ourselves testifying during public sessions at the state capital, reaching out to journalists, busing our employees to Hartford and more, but in the end it didn't matter. They wrote the bill in secret," Mark Malkowski, president of Stag Arms in New Britain, Conn., told Forbes.
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The tone of Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) has frayed the state's relationship with gunmakers further. Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" after he signed the bill, Governor Malloy said: "What this is about is the ability of the gun industry to sell as many guns to as many people as possible – even if they are deranged, even if they are mentally ill, even if they have a criminal background. They don't care. They want to sell guns."
The irony is that politicians are attacking an industrial heartland that is intimately tied with the founding of the nation. The Connecticut River Valley in New England has been dubbed "Gun Valley." The Springfield Armory in Springfield, Mass., was the primary manufacturer of US military firearms from 1777 – before the defeat of the British – to 1968. Its diaspora created the heart of the American firearms industry.
Today, Colt manufactures many of the core firearms of the US military, including the M4 and M16. The No. 1 and 3 gunmakers in the US, according to a report from The Blaze – Smith and Wesson (Springfield) and Sturm Ruger (Newport, N.H.) – are also both from Gun Valley. (No. 2 is Remington Arms in Madison, N.C.)
None of the companies employs a huge workforce individually. Colt, for example, employs about 670 workers, while Stag Arms has about 200. But collectively, they represent an ecosystem of codependent industry. Most of the parts for Colt guns not made on the premises come from suppliers within a 50-mile radius, according to a CNN report.
Moreover, Colt is intertwined with the history of the state and the country. Its original factory is a national historic site, and its iconic product, the Colt .45, is a token of America's westward expansion. "Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal," was a post-Civil War saying.
Ahead of Governor Perry's trip this week, Texas launched a $1 million radio and television ad campaign in the Northeast that speaks of the state's pro-business laws. "Texas is calling," Perry says in the ad. "Your opportunity awaits."
So far, gunmakers say they are simply exploring their options.
"While we have been proud to call Connecticut home for 175 years, as we look to future growth we have a responsibility to consider all options that ensure we remain competitive and meet the needs and expectations of our customers," said Dennis Veilleux, CEO and president of Colt's Manufacturing, according to a Fox News report.
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