By ALEC JOHNSON | Republican-American of Waterbury
TORRINGTON, Conn. (AP) — Gerry Zordan is going to make guns in Torrington.
He already is known for his successful universal joint and steering component manufacturing business, Borgeson Universal. Its facility on Technology Park Drive, built in 2005, is the latest home for a century-old business that employs 32 people and serves customers nationwide seeking specialty parts.
Now, in a confluence of personal interest and professional opportunity, he is merging a lifetime appreciation of firearms, his dismay over the state's new gun control laws and his business acumen into this: Classic Carbines & Firearms Inc.
Torrington may seem an unlikely place to start a gun company, in a state which has some of the nation's most restrictive gun laws. In the aftermath of the 2012 Newtown school shooting, other gun makers have fled Connecticut to states with more enthusiasm about the Second Amendment, lower taxes and cheaper cost of living.
But Zordan has decided to produce M1 Carbines here with his 42-year-old son, Borgeson Vice President Alan Zordan, and Gerald J. Peters, a local policeman and firearms expert.
“We are looking forward to making great guns for people who are collectors,” said Peters, who said he sold his business, J.P. Firearms, to join Zordan's venture.
If they do it, the company will be a milestone in the city's manufacturing history, said Mark McEachern, executive director of the Torrington Historical Society. Components of firearms have been made in Torrington — Union Hardware made magazines for machine gun ammunition in World War II and brass mills made shell casings — but not entire guns, he said.
“I don't know of any firearm manufacturer in Torrington history,” he said.
Zordan's affinity for the gun he plans to make, the M1 Carbine, stretches back five decades. Zordan, a Torrington native, now 64, and his father were hunting woodchucks at a Cornwall farm when his father let him fire a center-fire rifle for the first time.
Already adept at shooting from years of practice with a smaller .22-caliber rifle, a 12-year-old Zordan pulled the trigger on a .30-caliber Saginaw M1 Carbine.
“If my memory serves me right,” he said, “I missed.”
The exhilaration of the rifle's louder boom and bigger kick stuck. For hunters, shooting a larger caliber rifle for the first time is like revving a sports car after learning how to drive the family sedan, and Zordan was hooked.
Zordan, who often target shoots but does little hunting, hadn't thought much about his dad's old Saginaw .30-caliber rifle until he began expanding his universal joint and steering component company about a dozen years ago. He tried buying Saginaw Steering Gear, a former division of General Motors, but missed the bid.
In 2012 the company was back on the block and Zordan picked it up, folding its steering box business into Borgeson. The purchase got him thinking about the M1 Carbine.
Like other manufacturers of its day, Saginaw answered the call of the government during World War II and began making M1 Carbines for soldiers 1942.
Saginaw joined IBM, Rock-Ola Manufacturing Co. and eight other manufacturers to make more than 6 million of the .30-caliber rifles used during the war.
All the rifle's 46 parts are interchangeable, made to the same tolerances by all the manufactures, so in the battlefield soldiers could fix their weapons quickly, Zordan said.
Zordan searched for and found one of those World War II-era rifles.
“We bought Saginaw and I bought one of the rifles, just because,” Zordan said. “I thought, `this is pretty cool.”'
A few years ago, Zordan and his brother, Robert Zordan of Torrington, decided to look for a gun shop to purchase. Eventually, in January, Zordan bought Time Precision, a New Milford gun shop that made reproductions of the M1 Carbine in a shop on Nicholas Square. He's going to use Time Precision's equipment — milling machines, a lathe, precision drill presses at his Torrington factory building.
Zordan, who obtained a federal firearms license in a three-month process with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to manufacture and sell firearms, said an informal poll of people in the business and friends suggests there is a market willing to buy guns made locally and with ties to history.
That's despite changes which have made gun ownership more difficult and outlawed some center-fire rifles. Zordan is opposed to the new gun laws. His rifles will be legal in Connecticut, without folding stocks, pistol grips or 15-round magazines, but he'll make versions legal elsewhere to be sold out of state.
“One of the reasons this particular gun intrigued me is it's still legal in Connecticut,” Zordan said. “We have a receptive audience for this gun.”
Zordan has informal commitments for 1,800 guns so far, which according to the recently launched classiccarbines.com will cost $1,095 with a wooden stock and $995 with a synthetic stock. Similar guns made by Fulton Armory in Maryland start at $1,499, according to that company's website. They also have a 12- to 14-week turnaround from the time ordered, something Zordan plans to beat.
“Besides doing something that was fun ... we want to make some money at it too,” Zordan said.
Zordan has carved out 2,033-square-feet in a back corner of his 50,000-square-foot Technology Park manufacturing facility for his new business. He's added a secure room to store finished guns and receivers, the part that holds the round as it's fired. Zordan has thousands of parts in stock from Time Precision, and the tooling from that company will become a small production line.
Zordan recently said they had built four rifles.
“The first one being pretty poor quality,” he said. “But we had to start somewhere and figure out what we were doing. The second was better, the third better, the fourth was almost salable.”
Though not yet up to the quality standards he expects, the fourth firearm works, and he and Alan Zordan fired several hundred rounds through the gun for tests.
No firm date has been set for full production.
Information from: Republican-American, www.rep-am.com