Gun rights advocates up in arms over proposed fee hikes

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Gun rights advocates say Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposal to quadruple pistol permit fees and increase the cost of background checks will price out some of the state's 250,000 pistol permit holders and prevent others from ever obtaining permits.

The Groton-based Connecticut Citizens Defense League, the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action and the National Shooting Sports Foundation have scheduled a news conference on the proposal at 11 a.m. Friday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. State Reps. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, and Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, who have been vocal supporters of Second Amendment rights, will facilitate the event, according to Scott Wilson, president of the CCDL.

"I have heard from so many people directly who would be impacted by this," Wilson said. "This is something that is reaching a lot of people we believe have never been politically involved in terms of gun-related issues who are now going to be faced with the inability to ever obtain a permit or afford a permit."

Among them, he said, are individuals who are disabled or on fixed incomes, and middle-class families.

The governor proposes that the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection increase the state fees for renewal of pistol permits from $70 every five years to $300. First-time permit holders would pay $370, which includes a local fee of $70. Malloy estimates the proposal would generate an additional $9 million annually.

In addition, the governor proposes increasing the cost of background checks for various clearances, including pistol permits, from $50 to $75 for an estimated additional revenue of $2.6 million annually.

Dubitsky said he will do everything he can to prevent the legislature from enacting the proposal, which he said during a phone interview Tuesday is "another attempt by the governor to attack lawful gun owners."

"This fee is onerous and it will have no purpose but to prevent poor people from exercising their constitutional rights," Dubitsky said. "Rich people can afford an extra $300. This is designed to differentiate between rich people and poor and prevent poor people from exercising their constitutional rights."

Many states, including Maine and New Hampshire, do not require permits to carry a firearm, Dubitsky said.

"Connecticut has decided they want to have permits because they want to be able to distinguish between law-abiding people and criminals," Dubitsky said. "But what's the case for higher fees? All that does is distinguish between rich and poor."

Wilson said the governor's projected revenue increases are out of line, because older permit holders eventually will pass away, others will not renew their permits based on the price hike and new applicants will not be able to afford the high price tag.

"Just imagine if you went to the DMV and you saw more than a quadruple price to get a driver's license," Wilson said. "There certainly is a rights issue attached for people to be able to own a handgun for self-protection and target shooting."

Wilson said the price hikes also would hurt small businesses that sell guns and ammunition.

Ernie King, an employee of The Outpost Guns & Ammo in Uncasville and a pistol permit holder since the 1980s, said a lot of people who go into the shop are upset about the potential fee increases. During a brief phone interview, King emphasized that he was speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the store owners.

"I get a lot of new permit holders," King said. "Some of it's for safety. Some of it's for pleasure. Right now you see an increase because they think it (the right to carry a pistol) can be taken away and they want to be grandfathered."

k.florin@theday.com

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