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OP-ED | Firearm History and Modern Sensibilities Are Uneasy Companions

by Susan Bigelow | Jul 12, 2013 7:47am
(10) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Business, Opinion, East Windsor, Enfield, Hartford, Somers

CTNewsJunkie File Photo

The Colt Building’s signature “blue onion” is one of Hartford’s most recognizable landmarks.


Susan Bigelow This week the National Shooting Sports Foundation withdrew its support for the long-running effort to make a national park out of the Colt firearms manufacturing complex in Hartford’s Coltsville section, citing Connecticut’s new strict gun control laws. The foundation couldn’t abide the “hypocrisy” of paying homage to an arms factory while simultaneously restricting the modern firearms industry. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wasted no time in calling it “sour grapes.” He’s right, it’s a petty move, but there’s more to it than that.

Connecticut’s relationship with the past, when we think to remember the past at all, is an odd one. History surrounds us, but we’re content to ignore it or at least not think too deeply about it. The massive and burgeoning arms manufacturing industry brought wealth and prosperity during the 19th century, but most of it has vanished or moved since. It’s easy to overlook, but it continues to shape us in all kinds of ways.

I hiked in the Scantic River State Park on Thursday, and passed by the ruined stone structures lining the river. They’re the legacy of the Hazard Powder Company, which was a major supplier of gunpowder during the mid-19th century. The company, owned by Col. Augustus George Hazard, cranked out an astonishing 12,500 pounds of gunpowder per day during the Civil War. Meanwhile, only a few miles away in Springfield and Hartford, the massive Armory complex and the blue-domed factory of the Colt Manufacturing Company produced the weapons that won the war. Money and people poured into the state, and began to transform it into something we might recognize today.

Reconciling that history with current gun-control regulations might seem to be a tricky proposition. “Our industry is more than just a legacy,” said Lawrence Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “The firearms industry is, still today, an important and vital part of Connecticut’s economy.” There is something to that, since for at least a few companies, like Colt, it’s possible to trace their evolution and descent all the way back to the industry’s heyday. And, the argument goes, if we really do treasure the history of firearms making in Connecticut, we shouldn’t be doing so much to hurt that industry now.

So does gun control mean we’re turning our backs on the Samuel Colts and Augustus George Hazards who helped make this state into an industrial powerhouse? Is it actually hypocrisy to want to enshrine our remarkable arms-making history while simultaneously restricting that industry’s descendants and successors?

Well, no. Not really.

Here’s the thing about history — wanting to remember and enshrine it doesn’t mean we endorse it. There’s plenty of things about 19th century labor practices that would make our hair curl, for instance, such as poor pay, unsafe conditions, grueling working hours, and child labor. Enforcing modern labor regulations doesn’t mean we’ve turned our backs on our industrial forebears, any more than our current religious tolerance means we don’t honor our Puritan past. After all, the current arms industry bears about as much resemblance to its 19th century progenitors as the current Congregational Church bears to its own ancestor, the Puritan Church.

The firearms industry is only a shell of what it used to be. The U.S. government closed the Springfield Armory in the 1960s. Winchester closed its New Haven plant in 2006. Remington Arms closed its Bridgeport plant and moved its headquarters to Delaware in the 1980s. Colt’s been plagued by troubles from low quality to labor strikes, and they, too, are only a shadow of what they were. Their mammoth factory in Hartford stands empty; they moved to the suburbs a long time ago. As for Col. Hazard’s gunpowder business, it struggled after the Civil War, and eventually, after the place was severely damaged by an explosion in 1913, went out of business. All that’s left are mysterious ruins along the banks of the Scantic, near the village that bears Hazard’s name.

The remaining companies, as well as new ones like the now South Carolina-bound PTR and Stag Arms, now make weapons so much more advanced and deadly than their forebears that their heritage is nearly unrecognizable.

Therefore, wanting to place long-overdue consumer restrictions on assault weapons Colt and Hazard couldn’t have dreamed of doesn’t mean we’re disrespecting or dishonoring our history. I believe that the new gun-control laws are a necessary step in the right direction. And if Coltsville ever does become a national park, I’ll see you all there.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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(10) Comments

posted by: Mopar | July 12, 2013  7:39pm

Mopar

Susan, your own link shows that the AR-15 was designed in 1957, and has been in production since shortly after that. To call it an advanced design is like calling a ‘57 Chevy an advanced design. Sure, almost 60yrs ago it was advanced compared to a model A, but compared to a Prius? Not so much. To carry it further, even though the model A, the 57 Chevy and the Prius are radically different,in many ways they still the same. Still 4 wheels, an internal combustion engine, transmission,  steering wheel, doors, etc. They look different, but when you think about it they are still a lot alike. Same with firearms. Aside from the way they look, and added reliability and safety features, the basic way they function has not changed in over 100yrs. Towards the end of the American Civil War, they were starting to use guns that could fire almost the same speed as the AR-15.
And as for deadly? The AR-15 is actually one of the least lethal rifles you can buy. Grampa’s hunting rifle )which probably shoots a bullet designed over 100yrs ago) is far more deadly.
And that’s the problem that gun owners have with the new laws. They lack common sense. Why is an AR-15 banned, and the Ruger Mini-14 Ranch isnt? They shoot the same bullet, at the same rate of fire, and both are capable of holding the same number of bullets. One is black and urban looking, the other is light and rural looking. Why is the little bullet the AR shoots so deadly, but the hunting rifle’s bullet that is 3-4 times more powerful is ok?

posted by: wmwallace | July 12, 2013  10:58pm

You just don’t understand the Second Amendment and never will. You talk about our Founding Father’s and the firearms we now have.  Our firearms have advanced as our nation has grown. What was once a musket is now an AR-15. Handguns commit the majority of the killings by a firearms and most are illegal. Yet all these new laws do nothing to combat that problem. No we just restrict law abiding citizens their right to bear arms.

posted by: Jason | July 12, 2013  11:15pm

Interesting facts about history, but the conclusions drawn by the author and the arguments she makes to support that conclusion are weak and easily refuted.

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | July 13, 2013  8:09am

GoatBoyPHD

I miss seeing Powder Hollow every day!

lets not forget the sensibilities of hunters are little changed or that of outlaws.

Then there’s CTs dependence on large scale professional military weaponry that kill far more than are killed on the streets of CT. We Nutmeggers are a net exporter of death. Our 120 deaths a year pale compared to the deaths we so embrace overseas.

BTW, seen any anti-war Democrats lately? My, they do go into hiding when a Democrat is in the Oval Office. Not a one marching with a coffin or counting out death flags at Bushnell Patk

posted by: ASTANVET | July 14, 2013  6:20am

My favorite part is the not so subtle insulting tone of the writer… Guns don’t fit with ‘modern’ sensibilities - so they are what, archaic? We (gun owners and advocates of our 2A rights) are somehow less enlightened?  So the only ‘smart’, ‘enlightened’, ‘modern’, ‘correct’ opinions are the ones who share in your group think… I will gladly stay in your knuckle dragging segment of FREE people Susan… thank you very much.

posted by: Matt from CT | July 14, 2013  7:00am

>so much more advanced and
>deadly than their forebears
>that their heritage is nearly
>unrecognizable.

Huh? 

Semiautomatic rifles were in production by 1885.

If their heritage is unrecognizable, it’s primarily an issue of cosmetics and ergonomics, not of functionality nor of lethality.

The 11mm bullet fired by the first semiautomatic rifle weighed 370 grains, leaving the barrel at 1,400 feet per second and carrying 1,700ft-lbs of force.

A typical 5.56mm bullet fired by most AR-15 style semiautomatic rifles weighs 63 grains, leaves the barrel at 3,000 feet per second, and packs 1200 ft-lbs of force.

You don’t want to be hit by either…but the bullet from 1885 weighing five times as much and with 50% more energy in it to transfer to flesh once it hits someone is going to do more damage most of the time.

posted by: Fisherman | July 14, 2013  2:54pm

Enlightened? Educated? Modern Sensibilities? That’s quite a stretch.

Let’s forget the firearms issue for a minute… this really boils down to the taking of citizen’s Constitutional Rights.  It’s really no different than the taking of Suzette Kelo’s home “for the good of the people of the City of New London” (yeah, sure).

These rights have served the citizens of the United States very well for a LONG TIME; and there is no justification for the notion that, although they have served us “rightly” in the past many years, they are somehow “wrong” for us now. 

Liberals such as Susan will often try to use unfortunate events to their own advantage; even though there is no causal relationship. They will frequently point to “studies”; but these are (more often than not) performed by sympathizing organizations (like asking the teachers’ union about educational issues; or the police department about defending one’s self).

Liberals believe they are “saving the masses”… when, in fact, all they are doing is relinquishing their own rights and freedoms… and they will be the first to cry once they are gone.

posted by: Greg | July 15, 2013  12:34pm

Regarding the “more advanced and deadly” assertion, two examples of how that’s not exactly true:

- The 1911 pistol celebrated its 100 year anniversary 2 years ago, and is STILL one of the most popular and sought after pistol designs on the planet. The 1911 is the preferred sidearm of some CT State Police tactical units and I’ve seen some of Hartford SWAT carrying it as well.  Once again, this technology is 100 years old.

- The M-14 rifle succeeded the M1 Garand rifle in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s as a gas operated, magazine fed, select fire battle rile chambered in 7.62 NATO.  It was retired in 1970 as the M-16 came online and the military put them into storage except for sniper units.  Enter Iraq and Afghanistan: the military needed a rifle with more oomph and range than the 5.56 M-16/M-4 (read: AR-15), so military armorers pulled these puppies out of storage, juiced them up a bit, and issued them to select marksmen in the field. This is 50 year old technology issued because the M-16 was underpowered to engage targets at a distance.

Let me say that differently:
The M-16 of “modern” technology wasn’t getting the job done on the modern battlefield, 50 year old technology was dusted off to get the job done. Hardly unrecognizable to our forebears as the author notes.

The M-14 is produced commercially as the M1A, and with one swap-out of the “flash supressor” with a “muzzle brake”, is absolutely CT legal. There’s no “pistol grip” and the M1A does not have the “bayonet lug”, to quote the requirements under CT law.  Mopar noted the Mini-14, which is a scaled down version of the M-14 with almost identical functionality. 

In short- 100 year old technology is still a preferred choice for many shooters, including law enforcement tactical teams; 50 year old technology is a preferred choice for sniper and designated marksman applications in the current field of battle. 

PTR and Stag make rifles that look scary, but don’t have any magical technology making their products more or less deadly than technology that’s been around for 100 years.  This is a major hangup with us “gun nuts”, because we know that a flash supressor doesn’t actually hide a flash, or that a bayonet lug is useless, and a pistol grip is an item of comfort, yet legislation is passed on the basis on merely how a gun looks instead of how it functions. People who know what they’re talking about find that problematic, and rightly so.

posted by: Salmo | July 15, 2013  1:00pm

Is Susan Bigelow for real?!?

posted by: Jason | August 1, 2013  9:43pm

“The firearms industry is only a shell of what it used to be.”

That statement must not apply to CT-based Sturm, Ruger & Co., “The largest publicly traded U.S. firearms maker”

From a Bloomberg Businessweek Article, August 1st.

“Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR:US) defied concern that the fading debate over gun control would crimp demand for firearms with its highest quarterly sales since at least 1990.

The shares advanced to a four-month high. Second-quarter revenue (RGR:US) surged 50 percent to $179.5 million, the Southport, Connecticut-based company said yesterday. That beat the estimate (RGR:US) of $155 million from Scott Hamann, a KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc. analyst, who rates the shares underweight.”