Hugh McQuaid file photo
Guns displayed at a hearing earlier this year by the state police (Hugh McQuaid file photo)

Connecticut residents who own guns categorized as assault weapons under firearm regulations have until the end of the month to register the weapons with the state before risking felony charges in some cases.

The registration requirement was included in gun control regulations approved in April as part of a state response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The law expanded the number of firearms prohibited in Connecticut and banned the sale of ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds.

Although the law did not require gun owners who had previously purchased the weapons and magazines to get rid of them, it did require them to register the equipment with the state. The deadline for declaring the guns and high capacity magazines is Jan. 1.

As of mid-November, the state had received about 4,100 applications for assault weapon certificates and about 2,900 declarations of large-capacity magazines.

Michael Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s criminal justice advisor, said that so far fewer people than expected have registered weapons under the new law. However, he said gun owners should take seriously the consequences of ignoring the law. Disregarding the registration requirements can carry felony charges in some cases, which can make Connecticut residents ineligible to own guns.

First-time offenders who can prove they owned the weapon before the law passed, and have otherwise followed the law, may be charged with a class A misdemeanor. In other cases, possessing one of the newly-banned guns will be considered a felony that carries with it a sentence of at least a year in prison.

“If you haven’t declared it or registered it and you get caught . . . you’ll be a felon. People who disregard the law are, among other things, jeopardizing their right to own firearms. If you’re not a law-abiding citizen, you’re not a law-abiding citizen,” Lawlor said.

Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said he believes there are a number of gun owners in the state who have yet to register their weapons. Wilson counts himself among that number, although he said he plans to declare his rifle before Jan. 1. The CCDL is a Second Amendment advocacy group opposed to the new law.

Wilson said many Connecticut gun owners were holding off on registering their weapons while a lawsuit filed by his group makes its way through the court system. The complaint challenged the constitutionality of the new law and asked a judge to bar its implementation.

“I have a hunch that there’s at least 4,000 more [unregistered weapons.]” Wilson said. “I think a lot of our members were hoping there would be injunctive relief before the year’s end.”

Although the lawsuit is still pending, the court has not ordered an injunction and CCDL is advising its members to register their weapons and magazines before the deadline.

Wilson said there is grumbling about the requirement among Connecticut gun owners. Many of them fundamentally oppose the idea of declaring the firearms to the state. He said he agrees with their position, but does not want to see anyone become a felon for not following the new law.

“We’re law-abiding citizens. CCDL is law-abiding. Until we can get this law changed, we feel it’s in our best interest to register. I understand the mindset [of those who chose not register]. It runs contrary to pretty much everything I believe in,” he said. “I’ve dragged my feet. It doesn’t feel right to me but I’m going to do it.”

Wilson said gun owners looking for help complying with the law could visit his group’s website:

The new law added about 100 guns to a list of weapons specifically banned in Connecticut and broadened a “physical characteristic test” of military-style features that make it an assault weapon. The expanded definition of assault weapon includes the AR-15 style weapon the gunman in Newtown used to murder 26 people.

The law includes an exemption for military service members who move to the state after the deadline. They have 90 days to apply for a certificate to keep the gun. Everyone else who moves to the state has a 90-day period to permanently disable it, sell it to a gun dealer, or move it out of Connecticut.

For first time offenders, possession of an assault weapon will be a Class A misdemeanor if the person can prove they owned the gun before the new law passed on April 4 and has otherwise complied with the law.

In other cases it will be a class D felony, which comes with a sentence of at least a year in prison. If someone is convicted of selling or giving someone else one of the newly-categorized assault weapons, it carries a prison sentence of at least two years. The law requires an additional six years in prison if someone gives one of the weapons to a minor.

Punishments for undeclared large-capacity magazines also will vary. Anyone who bought one before the law passed but did not register it will be subject to a $90 fine on the first offense and then will face a Class D felony on subsequent offenses.