Day One: New Gun Law Impacts Branford Shop Owner

Shown here at the February 2013 opening of Branford sporting guns and outdoor shop TGS Outdoors are owner Mike Higgins (right) and store manager Brian Owens (left). Connecticut’s sweeping new gun laws kicked in on April 4; but as of April 5 Higgins said his business, and others like it, had yet to be contacted with sales compliance instructions from the state.

A day after sweeping changes to Connecticut’s gun laws kicked in, gun shop owners awash in customers are still awaiting clear compliance guidelines from the state.

“We were told an email was going to come out today possibly, but nothing yet,” said Branford TGS Outdoors owner Mike Higgins, as of 2 p.m. today.

Word to look for the email came “…through the grapevine” and not state channels, despite TGS Outdoors being “…very easy to find,” said Higgins, referring to his store’s state and federal registration and licensing.

“I can lose my license and be arrested,” Higgins worried. “If it was so important, wouldn’t the state say you have to read the law, we want to make sure you understand it, immediately?  When we talked to the state yesterday and asked what we can and cannot do, through the Department of Public Safety (State Police), they said ‘…we don’t know.’”

In fact, a state trooper who came into his business as a customer today actually asked Higgins what the law restricts, as did some municipal law enforcement officers and countless other customers.  Higgins said he’d also reached out the offices of Branford state legislators Senator Ed Meyer (D, District 12) and Representative Pat Widlitz (D, District 98) for assistance; but had yet to receive a response.

“Gun stores have been open all day with nothing as to what they have to do to comply with the law,” said Higgins. He’s attempted to police himself by wading through the law’s 139 pages and removing from the TGS sales floor any weapons, magazines or ammunition which don’t appear to comply.

“When you read the bill, it’s so convoluted,” Higgins said. “People are asking me what the law is, and we don’t know. I’m telling people to err on the side of caution. It’s ridiculous. If this was so important, as they pleaded and as Dannel Malloy said, how important this was for the safety of the children; then get some state troopers to go out to tell us this is how it’s going to affect the law immediately. Hand out a piece of paper saying this is what you can’t do beginning on this day.”

Among the information found in the new law is a list more than 100 firearms, added to the state’s list of previously-banned guns. Assault weapons banned under the new law are defined as semi-automatic, magazine-fed rifle or pistol with at least two of five specific (military-style) characteristics, including the Bushmaster AR-15 model used by the Sandy Hook school shootings killer on Dec. 14.

Residents who own these banned weapons are now required to register them in order to keep them. Failure to comply leads to an infraction (first offense) followed by felony charges (second offense). All banned weapons can only be disposed of by selling them out of state or to a dealer or transferred to heirs (upon death). The bill also requires the registration of all shotguns and rifles, newly purchased or already owned. The sale or purchase of large capacity magazines (containing more than ten rounds) is now banned. 

In his reading of the legislation, Higgins added, “…there are certain things about this bill that warrant discussion. I will certainly talk more about making background checks more stringent, I’ll even tell you where you need to go. But that’s not part of their agenda. They really want to ban guns.”

He noted  the new law’s compliance changes, such as registering magazines and long arms already in the hands of gun owners, is going to make “…hundreds of thousands of people felons, when a lot of this stuff takes effect.”

“They might think they have to register the ‘scary looking’ ones, but I don’t have to register grandpa’s old shot gun,” said Higgins. “Does that make you outside of the law? These are Class D felonies. Say you have a dozen magazines – and a magazine is what holds rounds in the guns, it’s not a ‘clip’ (containing ammunition) -- and you forgot to register one. That’s a Class D felony, in the eyes of the law, for what’s not even firearms.”

As for his own business, Higgins said TGS Outdoors has removed from sale any types inventory which he’s determined the new laws no longer permit

“We’re down to slingshots and Super Soakers,” Higgins said with a laugh; adding on serious note,”… for me, it might not be that much. I do a lot of sporting and a lot of hunting rounds; but there’s a whole sport called 3-Gun where they tend to use similar (newly banned) rifles. The scope of this is unprecedented. It certainly cuts down an already incredibly short inventory; and it’s very difficult to get anything. It’s already back-ordered. And now, you’ve reduced what I can pull from dramatically.”

Higgins said the legislation counted on the emotional impact of the Sandy Hook shootings to push forth an agenda which won’t serve the purpose of “…keeping children safe.”

“The sad the thing is, once something like this happens, people start to recover emotionally and use this as an excuse. They took advantage of a horrible situation to push forth an agenda,” Higgins said.

In a press release issued after the bill passed the House on its way to becoming law, North Branford State Representative Vincent Candelora (R, District 86) said he voted against it, because it should have focused on those in need of mental health treatment rather than, “…law-abiding gun owners.”

Candelora supported aspects of the bill, including universal background checks for the sale of all firearms; expanding safe storage laws when an at-risk person is in the home; and increasing penalties for firearms trafficking and illegal possession offenses.

Calling his vote one of the “toughest” of his career, Candelora said, “…obviously, with the memory of Sandy Hook weighing heavily on our hearts, we all want to do something positive that will prevent future mass killings. Unfortunately, this bill does not accomplish that goal, and these regulatory changes expose most individuals who have a gun permit to felony charges if they fail to register their weapons and magazines or miscount how many bullets they put in their gun.”




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