HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The National Rifle Association is among three gun rights organizations that have joined forces to challenge Connecticut’s new gun control law in court, starting by raising money from gun clubs, gun shops and individuals to finance the planned legal battle.
Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said Thursday that his group, the NRA and Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen believe the new legislation — passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy last week — violates the constitutional rights of gun owners. Among other things, it bans the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines and expands a ban on so-called assault weapons.
“There are a lot of people stunned right now and they don’t know what to do. We do not want people to accept what has passed as status quo,” said Wilson, whose group is holding a rally at the state Capitol on April 20 to unite gun owners and prepare them for the legal phase of their effort to protect the right to keep and bear arms.
But Malloy and both Democratic and Republican proponents of the new law believe it will withstand a legal challenge.
“I think the package is pretty well thought out,” Malloy said. “I will point out that we had an assault weapons ban in the United States for over 10 years, it was never successful challenged. So I think, by and large, this package is on a strong footing. But anybody can sue, even the NRA.”
In a message sent this week to Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen members, Robert Crook, the group’s executive director, said a legal team of “preeminent Second Amendment and constitutional lawyers with national reputations, significant trial as well as U.S. Supreme Court experience, and many U.S. Supreme Court victories under their belts” is being assembled.
Crook said the three organizations understand “the urgency of seeking legal vindication of our rights” but stressed it would be unwise to rush to court without fully understanding the new law and crafting the strongest legal challenge possible.
Another group, however, has taken legal action in state court since the new law’s passage.
On Thursday, New London resident Scott Ennis, on behalf of the Disabled Americans for Firearms Rights, filed a complaint for declaratory judgment seeking to stop enforcement of the new law. Malloy is the plaintiff in that case.
Ennis suffers from Hemophilia A, a bleeding disorder that has caused him severe joint damage. In his complaint, he points out how the Connecticut constitution guarantees the right to bear arms for personal defense and how the state also prohibits someone’s civil rights from being deprived on the basis of their physical disability. By banning certain weapons, including those with customized military characteristics used by people with disabilities, such as telescoping stocks, Ennis argues the new state law unfairly and arbitrarily infringes on his rights as someone who is disabled.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, who helped to craft the new law, disagreed.
“I think the assumption behind that statement —there is no other way to protect themselves other than an AR-15 — I don’t think that’s demonstrably true,” Looney said, adding how the legislative leaders had conversations with the state attorney general’s office throughout their negotiations and no red flags were raised about possible constitutionality problems.
In a statement issued Thursday, Jaclyn Falkowski, a spokeswoman for Attorney General George Jepsen, said the office is reviewing Ennis’ complaint and will respond in court.
“However, it is our belief that this legislation is lawful and the Office of the Attorney General is prepared to vigorously defend the law against this and any potential court challenge,” she said.
Wilson, however, believes gun rights activists stand a better chance of successfully challenging Connecticut’s new law after a landmark 2008 Supreme Court decision ended a 32-year-old handgun ban in Washington, D.C.
“We feel that we have a much better basis to go after guns of common use and protect them,” Wilson, who contends many of the more than 100 guns now added to Connecticut’s assault weapons ban are commonly used by gun owners in the state. But Looney, an attorney, said that same decision upheld the right of government to impose “reasonable regulations” and that “basically no right is a completely unrestricted right.”
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