Nearly five months after Gov. Dannel Malloy signed sweeping new restrictions on Connecticut gun ownership into law, a coalition of pro-gun groups is moving forward to challenge the legislation in court.
Led by the Connecticut Citizens Defense League and the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, the coalition filed a motion for summary judgment in the state’s District Court on Aug. 23. The motion asks the court to strike down the law and immediately establish an injunction against its enforcement without discovery or a trial. While the CCDL and CCS have been the public faces of the lawsuit, June Shew et al. v. Dannel P. Malloy et al., the case was actually brought to the court by eight plaintiffs, of which six are individual state residents and two are firearm retailers.
“As of now, our challenge to the State’s evisceration of rights long held inviolable is well-positioned to correct the legislature and governor’s misguided course — whether that correction occurs at the district court or eventually on appeal,” the CCDL and CCS said in a joint statement.
The law, titled the Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Act, passed both houses of the Connecticut Legislature and was signed into law in early April, four months after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that left 20 children and six educators dead. It brought into effect some of the most comprehensive controls on firearms in the nation, something made possible by Democratic control of the state Senate, House of Representatives and governor’s mansion.
The act dramatically expanded the state’s pre-existing ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, outlawed magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, instituted universal background checks for gun purchases, created a gun offender registry and required a gun permit to buy ammunition.
In the motion, the plaintiffs argue that the act is unconstitutional on the basis that it infringes on Second Amendment rights, denies equal protection under the law and is “unconstitutionally vague.” The centerpiece of the case, iterated in the motion’s introduction, is that the law arbitrarily removes Second Amendment protections from a broad class of weapons.
Citing a 2008 case, District of Columbia v. Heller — a 2008 landmark case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution protects the rights of individuals to possess firearms for traditionally legal purposes — the motion argues that the weapons banned by Connecticut’s act are used primarily for legal purposes, and therefore cannot be outlawed.
“There’s no requirement in order to justify a Second Amendment right that there be a certain number of incidents,” said Brian Stapleton, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, when asked how frequently the now-banned weapons are used for self-defense. “It is not a need-based right. You don’t need to show that there are ‘X’ number of newspapers in America before you get to exercise your right to free speech.”
The case is highly similar to one filed earlier this year in New York against the NY SAFE Act early this spring, the restrictions passed in Albany that bear close resemblance to those in Connecticut. New York’s legislation has sparked significant controversy, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo removing the law’s restrictions on magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds after finding them unrealistic to enforce. Stapleton, who says he has represented several gun enthusiast groups in the past, is also the legal counsel for that case.
Connecticut’s Attorney General George Jepsen has said through a spokeswoman that the state plans to defend the law in court. According to Susan Kinsman, director of communications for the attorney general, the state is required to file a response to the motion by Sept. 20.
“We look forward to responding to the motion in court at the appropriate time based on the schedule set by the court,” Kinsman said, though she declined to comment further.
Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Gov. Dannel Malloy, expressed confidence in the state’s defense of the law. Malloy’s term has largely been defined by December’s shooting, and the governor has made the legislation a keystone of his agenda.
“Let’s not forget that this has happened before,” Doba said in a statement. “In prior instances where Connecticut has passed common-sense restrictions on firearms, there have been challenges. They have all been unsuccessful.”
As of June, 86 state laws had been passed across the country in the wake of December’s shooting, some of which restricted gun ownership and some of which expanded it.