During the three-month debate over gun control in Connecticut, the name PTR Industries Inc. barely came up, but the Bristol manufacturer with 50 employees has become the first maker of military-style rifles to announce its exit from Connecticut since the state adopted a strict ban on sales last week.
"Although PTR has not decided upon a specific relocation site at this time, over the coming weeks the company will be actively considering offers from states that are friendly to the industry. We hope to have a site identified within the next six weeks, and hope to have our move completed by the end of this year," the company said in an announcement on its web site and in a press release.
A majority of the company's employees, "which includes ALL of our management personnel, engineering staff and skilled gunsmiths," has agreed to move, the statement said, even though the location has not been determined.
PTR said its employees had "a heavy heart but a clear mind" in reaching the decision — and the company said it's inviting other manufacturers and suppliers to join it in departing Connecticut. It's unclear how many people at different supplier companies work on PTR rifle parts, but all of the components are made in Connecticut, said John McNamara, the PTR vice president of sales.
The company's statement echoes comments made by others in the industry — who are upset that no one saw the language of the law until the day before it was adopted by the state House of Representatives, without a public hearing.
"The disregard for public input...and the haphazard production of the legislation should be insulting to any citizen or business in CT," the statement said. "It should be a shock to us all that such landmark legislation could be written in one week, and seen by no one (including the rank-and-file legislators) prior to its emergency certification."
McNamara said the company had representatives at the Capitol this year but, he added, "We're a little bit under the radar."
PTR, which stands for Precision Target Rifles, was started in 2002 when a predecessor company bought tools and designs for the HK-91 rifle from a Portuguese firm, Fabrica Militar, according to the PTR web site. The company at first made copies of the HK-91, then branched out into its own line. It reorganized in 2010, the web site said, and has beefed up its manufacturing, customer service and support.
PTR is not likely to be the only Connecticut firearms firm to move operations out of state as a result of the law. Even before the Newtown tragedy on Dec. 14 and the threat of a ban that followed, firms received many relocation offers from states in the South, West and Midwest. After Newtown, offers from other states became a flood. mpanies have said they are considering a move.
Under the new Connecticut law, signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last Thursday, most military-style rifles are banned outright for retail sale in Connecticut. Firms are allowed to make and ship firearms that are banned. Still, the owners of manufacturers including Stag Arms in New Britain, with 200 employees, and magazine-maker Ammunition Storage Components, which has 100 people in New Britain, say they may be forced to leave by a backlash from customers in other states who refuse to buy from companies that remain here.
PTR, which has "1776" as the last four digits of its phone number, focuses its statement on rights and freedoms in Connecticut, where ten of the 34 "master dealers" of PTR guns are located.
"The rights of the citizens of CT have been trampled upon. The safety of its children is at best questionably improved from the day of the tragedy that triggered the events that lead (sic) us here. Finally, due to an improperly drafted bill, manufacturing of modern sporting rifles in the State of CT has been effectively outlawed. With a heavy heart but a clear mind, we have been forced to decide that our business can no longer survive in Connecticut – the former Constitution state."
PTR's chief executive, Josh Fiorini, said in a Bristol Press story on March 2, "I was born and raised in Bristol and most of my employees are from Bristol. We'd like to stay here, but we are certainly aware of the fallout from the Sandy Hook shooting."
PTR moved from Farmington to Bristol in early 2012 and changed its name from PTR-91 to PTR Industries, reflecting a broader product line that was — and remains — part of a hot trend in the gun industry. The 10,600-square-foot building that the company occupies is valued at $595,300 by the city of Bristol, and the company has equipment assessed at $1.2 million, almost all of which is exempt from local property taxes under state rules.
McNamara declined to give details about PTR's 2010 reorganization. There is no record of a bankruptcy filing by the company but in November, 2010, a German parts-maker, SiTec GMBH, sued PTR in U.S. District Court, seeking $117,000 in damages resulting from unpaid bills. The case settled ten weeks later.
The PTR Facebook page, with more than 400 comments about the announcement by midday Wednesday, included dozens from people around the country urging the company to move to their states. In Connecticut, some dealers praised the PTR product line, including the models based on the HK-91.
"It's better than the original gun," said Mark Byers, an employee at the Newington Gun Exchange. For Connecticut, he said, "that's going to be a huge loss."
Critics of the ban, in and out of the industry, say Malloy should have realized the state would lose good employers such as PTR. Andrew Doba, Malloy's spokesman, said in response, "The governor thinks about job creation 24 hours a day, however on this particular issue he thinks public safety must be a priority and the bill he signed into law increases public safety."
The added background checks and stricter access and registration rules could well improve safety but it's debatable whether the ban will do so, considering that military-style rifles are responsible for only a tiny fraction of gun deaths, and are widely available — with an estimated 8 million in circulation and no national ban in place.
What's not debatable is that the firearms industry has been a linchpin in the Connecticut economy for more than 200 years, and is now threatened. A 2012 study by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group based in Newtown, estimated 2,900 people directly employed by firearms manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers, and another 1,900 employees at suppliers. We will have to wait and see how deeply that cluster of firms unravels.
"We feel that our industry as a whole will continue to be threatened so long as it remains in a state where its elected leaders have no regard for the rights of those who produce and manufacture its wealth," PTR said in its statement. "We are making a call to all involved in our industry to leave this state, close your doors and show our politicians the true consequences of their hasty and uninformed actions. We encourage those in our industry to abandon this state as its leaders have abandoned the proud heritage that forged our freedom."
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