EXCLUSIVE: An Inside Look At Manufacturing Guns In Connecticut [PHOTOS]

PTR Industries, gunA newly completed PTR-91 rifle.

CEO Josh Fiorini and his gun manufacturing company PTR Industries, are right in the centre of the national gun control debate.

PTR makes clones of the HK-91 semi-automatic rifle and is located in Bristol, CT. Bristol is about 45 minutes north of Newtown, where 20 children and 6 of their teachers were shot to death last December.

The debate grew more heated recently, when Connecticut passed the strictest gun control law in the nation on April 4th. As a response to that law, on April 9th, PTR announced its plan to leave Connecticut in an open letter to the state.

When we asked Fiorini how he felt after learning about the shootings in Newtown, he told us, while the tragedy left him and his employees devastated, he ultimately feels manufacturers are not the problem.

“I probably feel the same way an engineer at GM feels when he drives by a car accident,” he said.

We visited PTR Industries to get a firsthand look at the company, their operation, and employees living on the front lines of the gun control debate.

As soon as you enter the PTR factory, gun parts are everywhere.

These parts are being assembled by PTR's 42 employees. This is the 1st phase assembly area.

Most of PTR's employees are guys in their twenties and thirties who grew up in the area and have known each other for years.

VP of sales John McNamara (left) and CEO Josh Fiorini (Right) have been friends since they were teenagers. Fiorini and his grandfather, Everett Weed, took over the company from a previous owner in 2011.

The company produced about 4,400 guns last year, up from 2,000 guns in 2009.

This is a receiver. It houses the moving parts of a gun. Legally this is the first point at which the metal is considered a firearm.

This is the PTR 91 rifle. It's a clone of the HK-91, a German gun.

It usually comes with a 20-round magazine.

PTR purchased about 150,000 of them a few years ago from Hechler & Koch, the orginally maker of the HK-91.

Under the new law, all existing magazines over 10 rounds must be registered. PTR says this process is unclear and could potentially be very costly.

Or they can be cut to 10 rounds. That would cost PTR about $17 per magazine.

PTR is also concerned about transferring their rifles, which are painted in a different location. They feel that under the new law, this is also vague and could be seen as illegal.

PTR sells wholesale to distributors around the country. About 85% of their sales are for the commercial market with some small contracts for law enforcement. The local community also helps anchor their business.

Nonetheless, the company is still committed to moving, probably somewhere in the south. McNamara receives stacks of letters daily from states around the country asking PTR to move there.

Most offer tax breaks and fewer regulations.

PTR has also received hundreds of emails of support for their decision.

Back in the shop, production manager Mike Lee, 30, helps out with first-stage assembly. Lee has worked for PTR for 2½ years. He will be moving with the company.

He says leaving will help him support his two daughters, who will be staying in Connecticut.

Other workers continue with the first stage of assembly. The rifle begins to take shape.

PTR currently has 56,000 orders. The wait is a few years.

Kevin Therrien, 34, has worked with PTR on and off since 2008. He won't be moving with the company.

He has a wife and two kids. He may go back to having his own construction business or work for another gun manufacturer.

As of now, 24 of PTR's 42 employees have committed to move with the company, including head welder Jamieson Woodard.

He's 22 and has been with the company 4½ years.

He grew up in the area and has never lived outside of Connecticut.

In another area of the factory, master gunsmith Ruben Diaz works on a trigger.

Fiorini says manufacturing skills like Diaz's are hard to find.

Diaz has been with the company 12 years, since it was under different ownership.

He's originally from Argentina and has made guns there and in South Africa.

His wife Grace also works with the company. They will both be moving to the new location.

Not far from Diaz, Zofia Wesolowska (left) and Krystyna Orzol (right) do light assembly work on front sights.

They're inserting the retaining pin for the front sight blade.

Both will be staying in Connecticut. They're reluctant to leave the Polish community in which they live.

On the other side of the factory, Zack McNamara, brother of John McNamara, works on threading a barrel.

He's 23 and will be moving with the company. The McNamaras are one of three sets of brothers who work at PTR.

He forms the parts in these machines. In recent years, PTR has begun making all but the plastic parts of their guns in house.

Head engineer Kevin Grover programs one of the machines to make a different part.

He's worked for owner Everett Wood for 30 years, and will be moving with the company. He says his salary, benefits and growth potential would be hard to find elsewhere in Connecticut.

Competitive salaries are not the only sign that PTR is thriving. Prices are up about $500 on all PTR products in recent months.

Elsewhere in the factory Mike McCann, 31, is assembling triggers. He's worked at PTR since August.

He grew up with many of the guys he works with and will be moving with the company. His parents and sister may go with him.

He doesn't think he'd have much opportunity for employment if he stayed in Connecticut.

Next to him, Eli Davenport, 19, was on his second day at PTR when we visited.

He previously worked at Starbucks. He wasn't sure if he'd be moving with the company.

One of the more important parts of the manufacturing process is firing the guns to make sure they're functioning properly.

Rick Carpentiere fires a PTR rifle into a testing device.

He's been with the company for three years and will be making the move.

After the function test, he inspects the cocking tube ...

... and the barrel.

Soon another rifle is put on the rack and ready to be shipped. A simple task surrounded by many complex issues.

Enjoy going behind the scenes at a gun manufacturer? Now go behind the scenes of an aircraft carrier.

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