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Ruling Upholds Connecticut's Expansive Firearm and Magazine Bans Despite Findings that Banned Items are Commonly Used for Lawful Purposes

Friday, January 31, 2014

On January 30, 2014, a federal court judge upheld Connecticut's new gun control law as constitutional, notwithstanding its finding that "the act burdens the plaintiffs' Second Amendment rights …."  The ruling comes from U.S. District Court Judge Alfred Covello in response to a lawsuit filed last May challenging the constitutionality of Connecticut's new gun control legislation. In April, the Connecticut legislature hastily passed wide-ranging restrictions on Connecticut gun owners that embody several long-term planks of the anti-gunners' agenda, including an expanded ban on so-called "assault weapons," restrictions on magazine capacity, expansion of an existing "eligibility certificate" requirement to all firearms and ammunition, an expanded ban of private transfers, and registration of all non-conforming firearms and magazines, the possession of which was grandfathered under the law.

The plaintiffs in Shew v. Malloy, backed by the NRA, included the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, Connecticut Citizens Defense League, gun store owners, and individual citizens and focused on the bans of more than 100 additional commonly-owned firearms, as well as magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The case challenged the melodramatically and inaccurately titled law, "An Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety," for violating plaintiffs' rights under the Second Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and for containing provisions that are unconstitutionally vague.

Covello dismissed all three constitutional challenges in the 47-page decision. In assessing the common use of semi-automatic rifles and standard capacity magazines, Covello invoked the Heller decision and found that that these firearms and magazines are, in fact, commonly owned and legally used nationwide, including in Connecticut.  He then disregarded his own findings of fact and wrote that the ban is justified because the government's asserted goal of reducing violence outweighs the Act's infringement on Second Amendment rights. Nevertheless, in finding that the bans satisfied intermediate scrutiny, he acknowledged that the "court cannot foretell how successful the legislation will be in preventing crime." He further acknowledged the vagueness of several provisions in the legislation and their need for clarity, but still dismissed any claim that the law is unconstitutionally vague.

Covello's decision was similar to the adverse ruling recently handed down in a case challenging New York's so-called "SAFE" Act. In both cases, the courts relied on the fact that although the banned weapons were commonly used for lawful purposes, other options still existed for people wishing to exercise their rights.  Needless to say, such reasoning would hardly be tenable if the government were to ban books or close places of worship, merely because other options it considered more acceptable were still available.  Also, notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that self-defense is at the "core" of the rights protected by the Second Amendment, both courts used the "lethality" of the banned firearms as a basis to reduce the protection they receive under the Second Amendment.  Whether further appellate review will resolve these contradictions, or perhaps merely add to them, remains to be seen.

An appeal in this case is already underway, and NRA will be sure to inform its members of any new developments. As NRA continues to take up similar battles in courtrooms across the nation, it is more important than ever to focus on making pro-gun gains in state legislatures and Congress this election season. The only way to prevent ill-informed court rulings that affect our fundamental, constitutional rights is to stop giving opportunities to anti-gun lawmakers both to pass unconstitutional legislation and to appoint judges who have no familiarity, understanding, or appreciation of firearms and their role in the fundamental right of self-defense.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.