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Disabled rights group removed from lawsuit over state’s gun law

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published February 10. 2014 5:00PM   Updated February 11. 2014 12:00AM
But founder from New London may still make case

A New London judge has granted Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s motion to dismiss a disabled rights group from a lawsuit challenging Connecticut’s new gun control measures, but is allowing the New London man who founded the group to pursue his legal claim.

The Disabled Americans for Firearms Rights (DAFR), founded by Scott Ennis of New London, filed the lawsuit in April after Malloy signed into law Public Act 13-3. The suit, brought against Malloy in his official capacity, claims the ban on AR-15 type weapons and large capacity magazines is discriminatory against people with disabilities, depriving them of their civil rights and their constitutional right to bear arms. The group’s goal is to overturn the law.

In a memorandum of decision dated Feb. 6, Superior Court Judge James J. Devine ruled that DAFR, because of its mission to educate the public and elected officials, does not have standing to bring the lawsuit, but that Ennis does.

“There is no indication that Public Act 13-3 interferes in any pertinent way with DAFR’s stated purpose of educating the public and elected officials,” the decision says. “A restriction on certain types of firearms does not restrict DAFR from imparting information regarding disabled individuals or their rights regarding the use of non-prohibited firearms.”

Devine said the claim requires participation of individual members of DAFR who would need to provide evidence they require certain features prohibited by the public act to exercise their rights.

Ennis, a hemophiliac, says that due to severe joint damage from the disease, he is unable to straighten his arm or rotate his hand under a rifle that does not have a forward grip, such as the ones found on the AR-15 type rifles.

Ennis’ attorney, Scott D. Camassar, wrote in an email that he expects to add additional individuals to the case as plaintiffs. Camassar had attached statements from disabled shooters to his objection to the state’s motion to dismiss the case, including a Marine Corps sniper who lost the use of his left arm while serving in Afghanistan and a paraplegic man who hopes to be able to defend himself in the event of a home invasion.

In his decision, the judge rejected the state’s assertion of sovereign immunity, noting the plaintiffs are not seeking money but are seeking an injunction or a judgment declaring the law unconstitutional. Devine wrote that governments can be sued for alleged constitutional violations and that Connecticut courts previously found jurisdiction for the plaintiffs in Benjamin vs. Bailey, an unsuccessful challenge to gun control legislation passed in 1993.

Whether or not the plaintiff could succeed is a question for another day, Devine wrote.

“The fact that the plaintiff faces a difficult burden of proof in his case does not strip this court of its jurisdiction to permit him to attempt to carry that burden,” said the decision.

Based on existing state law, Ennis would be required to show that as a result of the new law, there remains no weapon available to him to exercise his right to bear arms in self-defense, according to the decision.

State Attorney General George Jepsen’s office is defending legal challenges to the gun law, which Malloy says are common-sense measures that make the state safer. Late last month, U.S. District Judge Alfred V. Covello upheld the constitutionality of the new law in a lawsuit brought in federal court by a coalition of individuals and nonprofit groups, including the Groton-based Connecticut Citizens Defense League and the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen. The plaintiffs plan to appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

k.florin@theday.com

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