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Mashantuckets behind bill that would enable tribes to issue pistol permits

One of southeastern Connecticut’s two federally recognized Indian tribes is pushing legislation that would enable tribal police chiefs to issue temporary state pistol permits to residents living on the tribes’ respective reservations.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns Foxwoods Resort Casino, is backing House Bill 5177, one of nearly a dozen bills the Public Safety and Security Committee subjected to a public hearing last week.

The Mohegan Tribe, owners of Mohegan Sun, offered no testimony during the hearing, which was conducted online.

In written testimony, Merrill Reels, who chairs the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council’s public safety committee, wrote that the bill would allow a tribal police chief certified by the Connecticut Police Officer Standards and Training Council, or POST, “to issue a temporary pistol permit on an equal basis with the heads of police from individual municipalities across the state.”

Currently, the two sovereign tribes lack the authority to issue temporary state pistol permits, leaving those living on their reservations to seek temporary permits from the appropriate municipal authorities. Residents of Mashantucket must seek them from the Ledyard police chief and residents of the Mohegan reservation must apply to Montville's mayor, who serves as the town's police chief.

Connecticut residents must obtain a temporary pistol permit locally before applying to the state for a permanent permit. No person convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence involving the use or threatened use of physical force or a deadly weapon may possess firearms.

Reels noted in his testimony that the Mashantucket police department employs 22 POST-certified officers and, as a sovereign entity, provides government services “including police, fire, utilities, public works, a judicial system, land use, occupational health and safety regulations as well as air and water regulation, among other things.”

“… (I)t is quite perplexing, and if I’m being honest very insulting that our tribe does not have the authority to issue temporary permit licenses for residents of Mashantucket,” he wrote.

In 2014, both the Mashantucket and Mohegan police departments took over policing duties on their reservations, including their casinos, from state police. The agreement required that members of their departments have POST certification.

James Gessner Jr., the Mohegan tribal chairman, issued a statement Monday through a tribal spokeman.

“We at Mohegan have no plans to issue permits in the near future,” Gessner said. “Our position is we understand the legislation, and from a sovereignty standpoint understand that it makes perfect sense that our POST-certified police department would be issuing permits to those living on the reservation who meet the strict requirements from a public safety standpoint.”

No handguns are allowed on the Mohegan reservation, a prohibition that extends to off-duty police officers at Mohegan Sun, according to Chuck Bunnell, the tribe’s chief of staff.

The Mohegans employ 30 POST-certified police officers, Bunnell said.

“Mashantucket law does not prohibit firearm possession for those individuals on Mashantucket who have a valid Connecticut permit to possess the firearm,” Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket chairman, wrote in an email. “As we’ve adopted Connecticut criminal law into our criminal code, it would be a violation of our law if an individual possessed a firearm on reservation without that permit."

“Firearms may not be possessed inside Foxwoods per the language of our gaming procedures and Foxwoods policy,” Butler wrote.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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