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Pressure Builds As Leaders Work On Gun Control

The National Rifle Association and three makers of AR-15 rifles filled the Legislative Office Building with gun owners and firearms workers Monday, a show of force intended to blunt the reach of gun-control legislation now being negotiated by the General Assembly's leadership.

The Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate adjourned without a deal at 5 p.m. after a third day of negotiations. A spokesman for House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said they had “another productive day and will meet again tomorrow.”

Gun control dominates the General Assembly as the legislature approaches an expected vote next week on a still-developing bill. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other gun control advocates say it most likely will result in a retail ban on the sale of large-capacity ammo magazines and all variations of the AR-15 rifle.

As the rifle used by Adam Lanza to kill 26 children and women at Sandy Hook Elementary School December 14, the military-style AR-15 has become a symbol of the tragedy. But it also is a popular firearm produced by three gun makers in Connecticut, providing wages to 741 workers and taxes to the state.

Colt's Manufacturing of West Hartford, Stag Arms of New Britain and O.F. Mossberg & Sons of North Haven sent employees to the LOB to urge legislators to consider the impact on jobs if the legislature expands the state's 20-year-old assault-weapons law to cover all types of AR-15 rifles.

The NRA designated the day for lobbying by its members. John Hohenwarter, lobbyist for the NRA, estimated attendance at 3,000. Capitol police offered no independent crowd estimate.

Maps in hand, some set off as though on a scavenger hunt, looking for the office of their legislators. They left blaze orange postcards that said, “I want to urge you to oppose any and all gun control proposals that will penalize the law-abiding gun owners of Connecticut for the acts of criminals.”

So many stopped Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, a longtime ally of gun owners, that he hadn't reached his office more than two hours after he arriving at the LOB. Some thanked him. Others tried to measure his resolve or get his sense of what the legislature will do.

“What are the odds that something is going to happen?” asked Kevin Quirke of Watertown.

“Something's going to happen,” Miner told him.

Quirke arrived on one of the buses that came from Cabela's, the sporting goods dealer in East Hartford. It was a staging area for the all-day lobbying effort. He said most gun owners are willing to accept some gun control measures, such as better background checks.

He questioned a move to ban the AR-15, a rifle that rarely shows up at crime scenes, but he expressed some sympathy for the governor, knowing how much time he had spent with the Sandy Hook parents.

“He had to look those people in the eye,” Quirke said.

Rep. Rick Lopes, D-New Britain, joined Quirke in questioning the efficacy of banning the AR-15 and other semiautomatic rifles with military characteristics, such as a pistol grip or collapsible stock.

Lopes is a self-described liberal and a supporter of gun control, but the production of the rifles provides well-paying jobs in his city, and he joins other urban legislators in saying illegal handguns are a far greater threat to public safety.

He wants to see a gun registry that would better track handguns, one of several measures proposed to discourage the straw purchases of firearms.

Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, the co-chairman of the Commerce Committee, is another gun control supporter who says the impact of a broader assault-weapons ban on manufacturing jobs is a concern.

Gun-control advocates have scheduled a rally and their own lobbying day Wednesday. A public hearing by the legislature's Public Safety Committee is certain to draw another large crowd on guns Thursday, and Malloy can expect to hear from Stag employees Thursday night at a community forum in New Britain.

On both sides of the issue, legislators seem optimistic about moving past gun control as the General Assembly hits the two-month mark of its bi-annual five-month session, with the budget among the major unresolved issues.

“We've got a budget that is in free fall,” said Miner, who is the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee.

(This story originally appeared at CTMirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror, an independent, non-profit news organization covering government, politics, and public policy in the state.)

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