Popular sporting goods store was refusing to sell bullets to Connecticut residents until law clarified
Some gun owners call it a hindrance, while some lawmakers say it's a necessary safeguard.
The ammunition certificate requirement of the state's new gun law went into effect on Oct. 1, and at least one major retailer was as confused as some gun owners.
In an statement last week, the sporting goods retailer L.L. Bean said it had taken a cautious approach to ammunition sales to Connecticut residents until it could consult with the Connecticut State Police on the scope of the new law.
For about a week following passage of the law, L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said, it was difficult to understand whether it applied to Connecticut residents buying ammunition in another state. Multiple calls were made to state police for clarification.
L.L. Bean did not sell to any Connecticut resident who did not have a certificate during that time, she said.
"When we got clarification of the law and understood that it only applies to ammunition purchased by residents in the state of Connecticut, we resumed our selling to Connecticut residents," Beem said. "When we spoke to the state agencies, they said they are fielding phone calls and emails from all across the country with all the new laws that have been implemented."
Lyme First Selectman Ralph Eno, a longtime pistol permit holder and hunter, was stunned when he stopped by an L.L. Bean store in Maine on his annual hunting trip for partridge and woodcock, and was not able to buy shotgun shells.
Eno said the most troubling aspect of the incident is that pistol permit holders like himself already have undergone required screening, which trumps the certificate. Eno said he was under the impression that L.L. Bean was interpreting the law by reading from a state police memo, though state police have not yet responded to a request for that memo or acknowledged its existence.
"It really just struck me as being an overreach," Eno said. "(The pistol permit) means you've done it already, and to a greater degree."
Eno said he reached out to local legislators to ask why out-of-state retailers were under the impression that they couldn't sell to Connecticut residents without the ammunition certificate.
The law requires an application process for the ammunition certificate, along with a $35 fee and criminal background check. It is not needed, however, if the purchaser has a pistol permit or a new long gun eligibility certificate, which requires a background check and a firearms training safety course. The long gun eligibility certificate will be required to purchase a rifle or shotgun as of April 1, 2014.
Essentially, the new law requires background checks for the purchase of any gun or ammunition.
Ron Rando, owner of Ron's Guns in East Lyme, said he has received several dozen reports from hunters about being denied ammunition at other out-of-state retailers - places such as Kittery Trading Post, another popular Maine sporting goods retailer.
"I've heard from a bunch of people," Rando said. "I don't know what right Connecticut has to tell Maine or New Hampshire they can't sell ammo to a person in Connecticut. It's like saying, 'I'd like to buy 10 pounds of lobster,' and they say, 'No, sorry, you're from Connecticut.' It's unconstitutional, as far as I'm concerned."
Michael Lawlor, Connecticut's under secretary for criminal justice policy and planning, said the law is very clear, and it does not apply outside the state of Connecticut. He said it should not cause any undue burden since most people who use firearms already have some type of credential, eliminating the need for the certificate.
"And those who don't have a relatively easy way to get it," Lawlor said. "I think that it's like having a driver's license to drive, or having a prescription if you need to get medication from a pharmacist. It's just a simple safeguard that balances citizens' rights to keep and bear arms against the state's priority to protect public safety."
He said the state had issued 1,080 ammunition certificates as of last week.
Other upcoming deadlines associated with the new law include the assault-style weapon certificate, which must be applied for by Dec. 31. Ownership of large-capacity magazines also must be declared by Dec. 31.
Bill Lacey, a longtime former New London police officer who retired as a captain and is now president of the Bozrah Rod and Gun Club, said those eligible to buy guns should not be affected by the new eligibility certificates, but some hunters and target shooters may find it an added hassle.
He called the changes pertaining to guns a "feel-good law," making it more difficult for law-abiding citizens while not addressing problems such as mental health issues and illegally obtained weapons.
"It's a big infringement on law-abiding citizens when what we need is enforcement of existing laws," he said.
In his time at the police department, he said, he saw too many lenient sentences for those arrested for carrying a pistol without a permit, people who commit crimes or re-offend with the illegal guns.
As for the ammunition certificate, he said it does nothing to stop people from buying ammunition outside the state and bringing it back in.