HARTFORD, Conn. - The governors of Texas and South Dakota visited Connecticut on Monday to court gun manufacturers that have threatened to leave since the state passed tough new gun-control laws this year in response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
While gun makers may be unlikely to leave behind their factories and skilled work forces, executives say Texas is an appealing location - and some said the out-of-state attention marked a stark contrast with a Connecticut governor they say has shown little regard for a local industry that dates to the Revolutionary War.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry shot at a firing range at Connecticut's venerable Colt Manufacturing Co., one of the plants he toured, and met privately with company owners and other businesses at a downtown Hartford restaurant. At a brief news conference afterward, the Republican offered a conservative policy blueprint in a state run by Democrats.
"Are your tax policies really in the best interest of your job creators?" he asked. "Is your regulatory climate one ... (that) really allows your citizens to be able to enjoy the freedoms that they can have or they should have or that they think they should have, or are they going to relocate somewhere?"
Connecticut's Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, signed new gun restrictions into law in April, four months after 20 children and six educators were murdered by a lone gunman at the Newtown school.
Joe Bartozzi, senior vice president and general counsel at O.F. Mossberg & Sons, welcomed Perry's planned visit to the North Haven gun maker, which employs 270 workers in Connecticut and 400 in Texas. He contrasted Perry's interest in the business and the jobs it provides with what he called "less than flattering remarks" in recent months by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Malloy about the gun industry.
Asked about the possibility of expanding in Texas, Bartozzi said, "That would make more sense. That would be more logical for us."
The political climate in Connecticut is one of the factors, he said. He also said taxes and costs are higher in Connecticut.
Colt President and CEO Dennis Veilleux issued a statement saying Perry assured the company it would "always be welcome in Texas."
Mark T. Malkowski, president of Stag Arms in New Britain, said he's been in touch with Perry's office and met with the governor in Houston last month. He said he and Perry spoke about taxes, what Texas is doing "to keep it a very friendly place for businesses" and the cultural differences between Connecticut and Texas, which is perceived as less hostile to guns.
"There was nothing as much as a phone from our governor asking us to stay," he said.
Malkowski also was expecting a visit from South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Monday.
Kelsey Pritchard, a spokeswoman for Daugaard, said the governor and state economic development officials are visiting Connecticut on Monday and Tuesday to meet with gun manufacturers.
Malkowski said the biggest obstacle to quitting Connecticut is that the company's 200 employees would have to uproot themselves and their families.
"That's the hardest part. The employees make up the business," he said.