Published March 14. 2013 12:00PM Updated March 14. 2013 12:54PM
Hartford - More than 500 Colt Manufacturing employees rallied at the Legislative Office Building on Thursday, chanting "Save our jobs" and "Where is our governor?"
The group came out to put a "face on jobs" said Dennis Veilleux, chief executive officer for Colt's Manufacturing Co. LLC.
Expanding the definition of an assault weapons ban, as has been proposed, could negatively affect 80 percent of Colt Manufacturing's business, said Mike Holmes, the shop chairman who represents the bargaining unit workers at Colt. Eighty percent of its business is selling semiautomatic rifles with the AR-15 platform, he said.
Colt has been producing guns in compliance with the law for over 175 years, he said. Banning Colt products won't make communities safer, Holmes said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said if the assault weapons ban were to be expanded, gun manufacturers would still be able to sell weapons that are illegal to sell in Connecticut outside of Connecticut.
"I don't want them to leave," Malloy said on Wednesday. "As long as they are manufacturing a product that can be legally consumed or purchased in the nation they are welcome to stay in our state."
But Holmes said Colt workers are concerned about similar gun control laws spreading across the nation.
New York has passed strong gun control laws and many other states are discussing laws in the wake of the shooting of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown Dec. 14.
President Barack Obama has recommended a number of proposals to Congress, such as limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds and reinstating and strengthening the federal assault weapons ban.
Holmes said Colt was open to discussing how to improve background checks and how to strengthen the handgun permitting process with regard to mental health issues.
"We believe mental health to be the root cause of such tragedies," Holmes said.
Eric Koenigs of Old Lyme, who works as a manufacturing engineer at Colt, said he attended the rally to make sure his rights are not taken away.
"It's our right to bear arms," he said. "No one should tell me what I can carry."
Koenigs said he has worked in the firearms industry as a barrel maker for 18 years.
"For the first time ever, I fear I will not be able to retire doing this," he said.
Expanding the definition of an assault weapons ban would hurt good-paying jobs in Connecticut, he said. A gun machinist makes $25 to $30 an hour, he said.
Addressing the cosmetics of a gun or limiting the number of military-style features is not the issue, he said.
"It's the crazy person behind it (the gun)," Koenigs said.
Many of the Colt employees stood around the legislative building as another couple of hundred people filed into the public hearing room to discuss gun control bills before the Public Safety and Security Committee.