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‘Wave of new litigation’ in Connecticut possible after Supreme Court gun law ruling

Connecticut’s gun laws won’t be immediately impacted by Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a New York law restricting where guns can be carried outside the home, but it could open the door to future challenges, officials say.

While acknowledging the decision “could undermine” Connecticut’s gun laws, Attorney General William Tong said Thursday that his office is ready to fight to keep “some of the strongest gun laws in the nation.”

“We are not going back in Connecticut,” Tong said. “We will stand up and fight, and if this ... decision leads to an attack on Connecticut’s gun laws, we will be the firewall, and we will do everything we can to protect Connecticut families and children, particularly kids in school, from harm’s way.”

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen strikes down a law that requires anyone who wants to carry a concealed weapon for self-defense in New York to show a specific need for doing so.

The court ruled that the New York law violates a person’s Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Five other states, including Massachusetts, have laws similar to New York’s that are now imperiled.

Attorney Rachel M. Baird, who represents clients before the state Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, said the Supreme Court decision will “certainly lead to a challenge of Connecticut’s laws.”

In order to obtain a gun permit in Connecticut, a person must apply to the local police chief or state police, who can deny a permit if that official deems the applicant "unsuitable" to own a firearm, "even though there is no definition of what makes a person unsuitable,” Baird said. “Whether you get a permit is totally dependent on this abstract term that isn’t defined at all.”

If the applicant is denied, the only recourse is to appeal to the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, but Baird said it could take up to three years for that board to hear the case.

“Someone in Connecticut is going to challenge the law here now that the Supreme Court has ruled on the New York case,” Baird said.

Connecticut does not distinguish between carrying a gun openly or concealed. A person with a gun permit in Connecticut is allowed to carry a gun in public. So far this year, state police officials said they have issued 12,124 new permits and renewed 27,395.

The Supreme Court decision doesn’t mean other restrictions that have long been in place, such as the prohibition of guns in certain locations, will change. There are numerous locations where someone cannot carry a gun, including federal buildings.

In Connecticut, that also includes school grounds, either chamber of the General Assembly, any building where a public hearing of the General Assembly is held, any state park and any place where firearms are prohibited by the person who owns the premises or prohibited by law.

Gun control advocates questioned the court’s decision in the wake of recent mass shootings at a school in Uvalde, Texas, and a supermarket in Buffalo. The recent shootings have led to some movement in Congress on gun safety laws as the Senate is expected to vote on a bipartisan agreement soon.

“This deeply destructive decision will unleash even more gun violence on American communities. Instead of upholding common-sense safeguards to reduce gun violence, it will only put more guns in public spaces and open the floodgates to invalidate sensible gun safety laws in more states,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.

“Worse yet, it is a significant step backwards at a moment when horrendous shootings happen across our country every day, taking too many beautiful lives and terrorizing generations of Americans,” he added.

Holly Sullivan, the president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a Second Amendment advocacy group, did not immediately return calls for comment.

State police officials and representatives of Tong’s office have been meeting in recent weeks to discuss the possibility that the court would overturn the New York law.

In a two-page memo that came out of those discussions, Cara Passaro, the attorney general’s chief counsel, said, “The potential impact on Connecticut’s gun laws, specifically our laws about carrying firearms in public, could be substantial and lead to a wave of new litigation.”

Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, many of them passed after the Sandy Hook school massacre nearly 10 years ago, when 26 people, including 20 first grade students, were killed by a lone gunman.

Among those laws were the banning of the sale of AR-15s in Connecticut, the type of guns used at Sandy Hook and later at some of the nation’s other horrific mass shootings.

“Even though our gun safety laws have already been vetted by the courts, we expect a wave of new litigation challenging a range of gun safety measures — including age restrictions on gun ownership, assault weapons bans, and provisions such as Connecticut’s that require a ‘suitability’ review before a gun permit is granted,” Passaro wrote.

“Our statutory scheme differs from the New York statute at issue in Bruen," Passaro wrote. "Still, we need to be prepared for all possibilities, including the need for legislative and legal action.”

“The Office of the Attorney General is coordinating with attorneys general across the country and is ready to aggressively defend Connecticut’s laws and our right to protect the safety of all our citizens,” she wrote. “We are working closely with advocates and legislators to make sure that we are ready to respond to whatever impact this decision may have on Connecticut.”

Experts were quick to point out that while the court’s decision was a blow to the momentum of gun safety legislation, the decision doesn’t affect the gun laws in more than 40 states, and the court acknowledged there are some regulations that are permitted.

Eric Tirschwell, the chief litigation counsel for Everytown Law, a national gun control organization, said at a news conference that “Justice (Brett) Kavanaugh emphasized in his concurring opinion that, properly interpreted, the Second Amendment allows a variety of gun regulations, and the court went out of its way to confirm that its decision does not impact the constitutionality of licensing laws in 43 other states.”

Tirschwell also said that the laws prohibiting the carrying of firearms in sensitive places like schools, government buildings and polling places are still constitutional.

“More people will be harmed by guns as a result of today’s decision," he said. "More people will be intimidated by guns, more people will be shot and wounded, and more people will be shot and killed by wrongly issuing this decision and ignoring its public safety implications.”

Dave Altimari is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (www.ctmirror.org). Copyright 2022 © The Connecticut Mirror.

daltimari@ctmirror.org

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