Colt CEO: Ban Would Hurt Iconic Brand

  • A Colt AR-15 Sporter Lightweight and accessories.
A Colt AR-15 Sporter Lightweight and accessories. (steevithak / via Flickr )
March 18, 2013|OP-ED, The Hartford Courant

As a leader of a Connecticut manufacturing business who answers to owners, I can tell you the one question I am asked regularly, "Why does it make sense to stay or grow here?"

For 175 years, Hartford and Connecticut have been our home. The genius and vision of Samuel Colt built a core of manufacturing excellence that helped make Hartford one of the nation's wealthiest cities and ignited the industrial revolution in the Connecticut River Valley. Amazingly, that heritage continues with a substantial firearms industry and a critical mass of skilled craftsman and machining expertise for aerospace and other precision industries that are the envy of the country.

But this tremendous economic advantage is in grave danger. What's most astounding is our advantage is not being taken away — it's being given away.

Colt, for example, manufactures the AR-15 platform rifles in a military version and a very different commercial version. Colt has manufactured the commercial semi-automatic version of the AR (one shot for each trigger pull) since 1963. The AR-15 has evolved into the modern sporting rifle. It is owned and used responsibly by millions of Americans for hunting, target shooting and home defense. This product is the backbone of our business and is very important to us and our customers.

Now Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says that with or without bipartisan consensus, he intends to ban this rifle. But a ban of the most popular semiautomatic rifle in the United States for what are essentially cosmetic reasons would make no one safer and punish a vital Connecticut industry.

Changes are needed to make our communities safer, and there are things we can all agree on to meet this goal. We should focus on keeping firearms out of the wrong hands.

We must strengthen what we know works such as strictly enforcing penalties for those who purchase or possess an illegal firearm. We can build on the existing National Instant Background Checks to bring all appropriate mental health and other records, such as restraining orders, into the system.

We can educate gun owners and enforce laws on the safe storage of firearms in the home (Imagine if the firearms criminally and insanely misused in Newtown had been stored securely.) I have two young children and like so many in our state, I identify with, but can only imagine, the searing pain of those parents who lost children in Newtown. If I thought a ban would make the state and especially its children safer, I could not write these words.

The fact is bans don't work. We tried to ban alcohol nearly 100 years ago, which just drove a regulated activity underground.

I know one thing that the governor's proposed ban will do: It will irreparably damage — if not destroy — the brand of any Connecticut firearms manufacturer.

Our customers are unusually brand-loyal. In many cases, they personally identify with the firearm brand they choose. Although our Connecticut heritage has historically enhanced our brand, that will change overnight if we ban the modern sporting rifle.

As a result Colt, as well as other Connecticut manufacturers such as Mossberg and Stag Arms will see immediate erosion in brand strength and market share as customers migrate to manufacturers in more supportive states. This will have consequences for dozens of Connecticut companies and thousands of workers. Connecticut will have put its firearms manufacturing industry in jeopardy: one that contributes $1.7 billion annually to the state's economy.

Like every other precision manufacturer in Connecticut, Colt is constantly approached by other states to relocate, but our roots here are deep. Colt is and always has been an integral part of a state characterized by hard work, perseverance and ingenuity.

I know, however, that someday soon, I will again be asked why we fight to keep well-paying manufacturing jobs in Connecticut. I will be asked why we should continue to manufacture in a state where the governor would make ownership of our product a felony.

I will be asked these questions and, unlike in the past, there will be few good answers.

Dennis Veilleux is president and CEO of Colt's Manufacturing Co. based in West Hartford.

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