Gun makers, clubs add voices to debate over gun violence

Local gun manufacturers and sportsmen's organizations are starting to speak out after initially holding their tongues in the wake of the Newtown shootings.

They will have many groups to speak with as the federal government, state government and most recently the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities propose legislation aimed at curbing gun violence.

"Today is my son's seventh-year birthday," said William Finch, mayor of Bridgeport and vice president of CCM. "I am sick of people telling me that his rights to be safe take a back seat to somebody's ridiculous infatuation with a war weapon. This is not what this state is about; this state is about protecting the babies. We lost 20 futures, and the families lost 20 futures."

The association, which represents 151 municipalities, on Wednesday put forth 13 proposals to reduce gun violence.

Executive director Jim Finley said CCM's proposals might encounter resistance, including one that would require a rifle permit for long guns - guns with long barrels - and one that would establish a gun registry.

The state now requires a permit only for handguns. If someone wants to buy a hunting rifle or long gun, they must go through a background check and 14-day waiting period, unless they have a hunting license, which would waive the waiting period and background check.

The gun registry would be a database for law enforcement use. For example, if police officers responded to a domestic dispute, the database would tell them how many firearms were in the home, Finley said.

Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said a number of the proposals would create redundancies and waste resources or not serve any purpose at all. One of the 13 proposals was a request for an expanded assault weapons definition based on California law.

"Where are there instances of long guns being a danger, except in this one instance? You don't hear about criminals running around with long guns," he said.

This was one area where he and mayor John DeStefano of New Haven agreed.

The "fact is, spree-shooting accounts for the least common form of gun death in the United States. Far more common is what we see in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven," DeStefano said.

In the last three years, New Haven has seen about 75 gun-related homicides, largely in the minority community, he said. None of them involved assault rifles, and they rarely involved large-capacity clips, he said.

But in spite of those statistics, DeStefano said lawmakers should address assault weapons, require all firearms be registered, allow one weapon to be purchased per 30-day period and close secondary markets. CCM's proposals address assault weapons and the most common forms of violence, he said.

Crook, of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, said gun registration is a bad idea because many people wouldn't register their guns, and "policing" registration would be a waste of police efforts and funds.

He also said limiting high-capacity magazines was not appropriate because they are used for "fun" or for sport.

"It's like bowling," he said.

But the goal of CCM's gun control proposals was to "make Connecticut better, not perfect," DeStefano said.

Joe Bartozzi, senior vice president and general counsel for gun manufacturer Mossberg & Sons, said everyone in his company feels "profound sadness" and "disgust" about what the shooter did, but law-abiding citizens should not bear the burden for his actions, he said.

"I think the biggest concern that we have as a manufacturer, and frankly as citizens of this state, is ... that the legislature doesn't adopt or take a knee-jerk reaction to the tragedy in Newtown," Bartozzi said.

He said he didn't know how many jobs would be affected by the proposed expansion of the definition of assault weapons, but that if certain guns are banned, it would have an impact on which employees are retained and hired.

Mossberg & Sons in North Haven has 270 employees but also purchases parts and high-capacity magazines from other retailers.

In 2011, the arms and ammunition industry provided 2,899 jobs directly and 1,902 jobs indirectly through suppliers in Connecticut, according to a report by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Newtown.

j.somers@theday.com

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