Gun owners try to beat registration deadline as new state law about to take effect

Buy Photo Sean D. Elliot/The Day A gun owner fills out his paperwork resting on a lighting fixture while waiting in line Monday at Connecticut State Police Headquarters in Middletown. Gun owners have until today to register their assault rifles, high-capacity ammunition magazines and other guns.

Middletown - Joseph Gaydosh of Waterbury doesn't agree with the state's new more restrictive gun law.

But he also doesn't want to become a criminal.

The 61-year-old was among the hundreds of gun owners who lined up outside headquarters of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection over the past several days to register guns or magazines now illegal under the state's new gun law.

The law, a reaction to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, broadened the definition of assault weapons and banned the sale or possession of magazines with the capacity to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Under a grandfathering provision, high-capacity magazines and guns deemed assault weapons that were purchased on or before April 4, 2013, can be kept if the proper paperwork is submitted by today.

"I disagree with this particular law," Gaydosh said. "It's really a matter of cosmetics. It's all designed to make people feel good rather than address the problem."

Gaydosh said he owns three guns that according to state law are now classified as assault weapons. The certificates he needed were basically an inconvenience, he said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said about 25,000 assault weapons had been registered as of last Wednesday and 17,000 people have registered high-capacity magazines, some registering as many as 100, the Associated Press reported.

Many of people in line Monday said they either procrastinated in getting in the paperwork or hadn't known their gun or high-capacity magazine was illegal until recently. Cars filled the parking lot and for a time lined the edge of a grassy field across the street - until police started tagging the vehicles because they were on private property.

The line of people that snaked around the building in the morning was moving at a steady pace Monday afternoon thanks in part to the added personnel who helped to process paperwork outside and from tables set up in the lobby.

Michael Lawlor, undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning at the state Office of Policy and Management, said he had little sympathy for gun owners who have had since July to register firearms and plenty of publicity about the changes to the state laws.

"I can't imagine an issue that has gotten more attention than this law in the history of the state," Lawlor said. "It's gotten a lot of publicity."

But Scott Wilson of New London, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said it's not so hard to believe some people have guns stored away they don't even know about that are now illegal.

"There are too many people out there that are either not aware or don't pay attention," Wilson said. "If you haven't registered by the 31st … you are going to be essentially a felon by default. That's troubling since these guns were purchased by law-abiding citizens. They owned something legal that's now illegal."

The Connecticut Citizens Defense League, which is part of a legal challenge to the state's law, has received thousands of inquiries about the law.

Wilson himself said he was required to register two of his guns, a Bushmaster and what he called a "plinker," a .22 caliber Walther P22 that he said because of some features is classified as an assault weapon.

Wilson said he hoped there will be some sort of amnesty if someone hadn't registered their gun or ammunition by Tuesday but wanted to. Several Republican state lawmakers Monday had called for an extension of the looming deadline, according to the Associated Press.

After Jan. 1, anyone with an unregistered assault weapon faces a Class D felony and a one-year mandatory prison term or in some cases a misdemeanor for a first-time offense if the owner can prove he possessed the assault weapon prior to Oct. 1, 1993. Otherwise, the state police website suggests that anyone in possession of an illegal weapon after Jan. 1 should, "render it permanently inoperable, sell the assault weapon to a federally licensed gun dealer or relinquish it to a law enforcement agency."

Lawlor's suggestion is to "get rid of it. You don't want to be caught with it."

g.smith@theday.com

Gun owners wait Monday at Connecticut State Police headquarters in Middletown.
Buy Photo Sean D. Elliot/The Day Gun owners wait Monday at Connecticut State Police headquarters in Middletown.
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