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Gunmakers aim for greener pastures as states pass new firearms laws

CT gun industry.jpg

A rack of AR-15 rifles stand to be individually packaged as workers move a pallet of rifles for shipment at the Stag Arms company in New Britain, Conn., Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (AP)

Arms manufacturers in at least two states with strict new gun laws are making good on their promise to move their operations -- along with thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenues  -- to locales they deem friendlier to the industry.

In Connecticut, where venerable gunmakers like Colt and Sturm, Ruger & Co. have been joined in the last decade or so by upstarts like Stag Arms and PTR, reform of gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings has left the industry feeling unwelcome. Bristol-based high-end rifle manufacturer PTR Industries announced this month via Facebook that it would be taking its 40 jobs and $50,000 weekly payroll to an unspecified new state, widely believed to be Texas.

“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.”

- Gunmaker PTR INdustries, in Facebook statement

“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 said in a statement earlier this month.

AR-15 manufacturer Stag Arms could soon follow suit, along with Colt's Manufacturing and Mossberg & Sons. The moves could cost the Nutmeg State 3,000 jobs as well as the estimated $1.75 billion in annual taxable revenues.

Texas is making no secret of its desire to lure the gunmakers. This month, Gov. Rick Perry turned to Twitter to welcome PTR to move to the Lone Star state.

“Hey, PTR," Perry posted on Twitter. "Texas is still wide open for business!! Come on down!"

This month, Connecticut lawmakers approved a wide-ranging bill that includes new restriction on weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines. The 139-page bipartisan bill passed 26-10 in the Senate and 105-44 in the House. The new law adds more than 100 firearms to the state’s assault weapons ban and creates what officials have called the nation’s first dangerous weapon offender registry as well as eligibility rules for buying ammunition.

The push to reform gun control laws accelerated after the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Although proposals for strict new federal laws have not gained traction, states have taken it upon themselves to crack down on arms. Connecticut joins California, New York and Massachusetts in having some of the country’s strongest gun-control laws on the books.

Like Connecticut, the fight over tighter restrictions prompted several gun manufacturers in Colorado to threaten to leave.

In March, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed bills that would require background checks for private and online gun sales and ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds

Magpul Industries, which manufactures firearms accessories and ammunition magazines, said on its Facebook page that it would have "no choice" but to leave if the magazine bill was signed, causing an opening for states eager to prove they're more gun-friendly.

Magpul employs more than 200 people and generates about $85 million in annual taxable revenues.

Grassroots Facebook pages have popped up -- some, before the Colorado bills were even signed -- encouraging Magpul to settle in places like Alabama, West Virginia or Alaska.

Alaska state Rep. Tammie Wilson's staff created a Facebook page, too, called "Magpul Industries -- Alaska Wants You."

But no one has worked harder than Texas to make gun companies feel welcome. Lawmakers there have green-lighted a measure that would free up money to local and regional economic development agencies to offer incentives to gun manufacturers to relocate in the state. Perry says it's all about bringing jobs to his state, "whether you’re a weapons manufacturer or whether you’re a tubular steel manufacturer.”

"There is still a place for freedom that is very much alive and well," Perry said. "That place is called Texas."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.