In Connecticut there is nothing in the law that explicitly prohibits anyone with a valid pistol permit from sauntering down Main Street with a revolver strapped openly to their waist. But the state’s top criminal justice official wouldn’t recommend it.
Unless such a person was walking into a gun club, carrying a firearm openly in Connecticut will almost certainly attract the police and result in a breach of peace charge, said Michael P. Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s undersecretary of criminal justice.
“In almost every situation you can imagine this happening in, it qualifies as breach of peace,” he said. “If you walk into a restaurant with a gun it’s almost by definition a breach of peace.”
That results in an arrest and sets in motion a chain of events that usually results in the revocation of an issued pistol permit, he said. And that’s the way it should be, Lawlor said. Anyone who walks into a McDonalds plainly carrying a firearm either intends to alarm people or is irresponsible, he said.
Not everyone sees it that way. A man charged with disorderly conduct by the Wallingford police after he carried a pistol into a pool hall there is currently suing the department in federal district court for false and malicious arrest.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Richard E. Burgess, names the town, five members of the department and a bail bondsman who was at Yale Billiards and called the police.
According to the suit, Burgess and his girlfriend went to the pool hall in May of last year. At that time he was carrying a valid Connecticut pistol permit. He was also carrying a clearly visible handgun and two spare magazines, it said.
The gun attracted some attention. Robert Hilton, the owner of the pool hall, asked him to conceal the weapon but Burgess declined, saying the law doesn’t require him to hide it, the lawsuit said.
Hilton went to call the police to figure out whether carrying the gun openly was indeed legal and the bondsman, Mark Vanaman, approached Burgess, it said.
“Vanaman told Burgess to conceal his handgun or he would call the police. Burgess instructed Vanaman to leave him alone and to feel free to call the police,” the lawsuit said.
He did and some time later the police arrived, confiscated the weapon, cuffed Burgess and charged him with disorderly conduct, the suit said.
Nine days later the charge was dismissed in court after a prosecutor told the judge the case lacked probable cause, it said.
The lawsuit contends that the arrest was unlawful and the officers had no right to search Burgess and seize his property. Rachel Baird the attorney representing Burgess in the lawsuit never returned repeated phone calls for comment on the case.
But according to the Wallingford police department, Burgess has since had his gun returned to him.
The town is at fault also because it failed to train its officers on Connecticut’s gun laws, the lawsuit claims. It cites a transcript of police radio communications on that day where officers seem unsure of how the law reads and one officer refers to the permit as a “concealed weapons permit.”
In the end, they agreed that either way a breach of peace charge was in order but a lieutenant recommended “[taking] it a step further and maybe come back in and call uh, the state police and maybe talk to one of the guys in the know there.”
When asked in a phone interview last week if people are allowed to openly carry firearms with a permit, state police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said, “Good question.”
“Does it frighten people? Yes,” he said. “There is no standard quick answer to this question.”
People are not used to seeing folks in Connecticut carrying guns openly, he said, adding that 99.9 percent of people legally allowed to carry firearms choose to conceal them.
Vance said people should use caution when openly carrying firearms. If someone were to walk into a bank with a pistol even partially exposed they would certainly raise some eyebrows, he said.
“It’s not a funny situation. It’s a dangerous deadly weapon not to be made light of,” he said. “There are some people who are definitely afraid of firearms and they have their rights too.”
The issue begs a question: If carrying a gun openly in Connecticut is legal but, as Lawlor said, in most cases it results in a breach of peace charge, why is it legal?
Lawlor likened the issue to people who choose to keep dangerous snakes as pets. The law may not specifically state that bringing a dangerous snake into a restaurant full of people is illegal, but it could still get you arrested.
Laws pertaining to the carrying of handguns vary from state to state. Many require weapons to be concealed.
Lawlor, a former lawmaker, said that personally he was no fan of guns but said he wasn’t inclined to have a discussion in the legislature over changing the law. It would be a difficult sell for gun rights activists, who he conceded raise some valid points. If taking out a gun is illegal under any circumstances, why would people carry them, he asked.
He said he prefers the way the law is written now, where it is on the gun owner to behave responsibly.
“You want to have a gun? Fine, but you have to accept the responsibility that goes with it.”