A bill in Connecticut’s Judiciary Committee calling for greater control on the state’s open-carry policy failed to garner enough support to be placed on the committee’s Friday agenda, with opponents citing concerns about racial profiling and Fourth Amendment violations.
House Bill 6200 was co-sponsored by 13 state senators and representatives, including Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven. The bill would allow law enforcement officers to request permits from individuals who openly carry their firearms as long as the weapons are visible to the officers.
Looney said in last month’s public hearing that the bill does not violate a citizen’s right to bear arms because the Second Amendment has long been interpreted to allow certain common sense regulations, such as this bill. He added that the substance of this bill is similar to asking all drivers to carry their driver’s license when operating automobiles.
“It would seem even more justifiable to require presentation of a permit to carry since an openly visible pistol or revolver may cause anxiety to other persons within sight of the weapon,” Looney said at the hearing. “The visible weapon can be used as an intimidation factor even when the person carrying possesses permits.”
Gun safety advocacy groups such as Connecticut Against Gun Violence also supported the bill. According to CAGV Executive Director Ron Pinciaro, his organization supported the bill because it received calls in the past years from concerned citizens across the state. Many of these residents contacted CAGV after seeing firearms carried in public spaces they frequent, such as Walmart and Subway, Pinciaro said. He added that many residents said they were scared and unaware of the open-carry policies in the state.
In addition to alarmed residents, Pinciaro added that several police chiefs also reached out CAGV for help because officers cannot control situations if they cannot request to see gun permits.
H.B. 6200 is an update to another bill supported by CAGV that passed in the state’s Public Safety Committee last year. That 2016 bill, which allowed law enforcement officers to request civilian’s gun permits even if the firearm is not visible, did not receive a floor vote in the House of Representatives because debate time on the floor was dominated by the group’s domestic violence bill, Pinciaro said.
Both the 2016 and 2017 iterations of the bill incited concerns regarding the potential for police officers to stop gun-owners of underrepresented races. Both pro-gun right groups and state legislators from urban areas with a large African-American or Hispanic population opposed the legislation.
State Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said during the public hearing for H.B. 6200 last month that there are clear differences between how jurisdictions carry out police operations, and that a situation that might not alarm one city might cause alert in another. Porter also questioned the bill’s intrusiveness into a citizen’s right to carry weapons, even if the firearm is not involved in any suspicious activity — a real concern for the district that she represents. She added that the bill gives police officers carte blanche because it asks no further reason to stop gun owners than the sight of their weapons.
The Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun rights advocacy group, opposes the bill for a different reason, according its president Scott Wilson — namely because the bill is danger to the liberty of around 250,000 gun owners in the state.
“The bill essentially would have stripped the terms under reasonable and articulable suspicion of a crime in progress or about to be committed from the statutory language in the Connecticut general statutes,” Wilson said. “No one who is not under suspicion a crime should not be stopped or detained for any reasons.”
Calling the bill “a nuisance,” Wilson said he thinks that anti-gun groups wanted a token legislation that they can show as an example of what they were able to accomplish this year. He added that his group supports law enforcement officers and believes that they should be able to do their job. On the other hand, Wilson said citizens have rights for a reason and law enforcement also has restraints on their reason as well.
The Connecticut General Statutes require all gun owners obtain permits to carry firearms, but does not specify whether the weapon should be concealed.