Attorneys general in 23 states signed on last week to an appeal by state Second Amendment advocates of a federal court decision which upheld the constitutionality of Connecticut’s gun control law.
The appeal comes from gun rights supporters in Connecticut who unsuccessfully challenged the state’s post-Sandy Hook gun control law. In January, a federal court judge ruled that the law passes constitutional muster, even if it is a burden on gun owners.
The plaintiffs, which include the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, Connecticut Citizens Defense League, gun store owners, and individual citizens, have taken their case federal Second Circuit Appeals Court.
On Thursday, attorneys general in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming filed an amicus, or “friend of the court” brief, in support of the gun rights advocates.
“The amici states believe that the fundamental rights of their citizens and others should receive the highest protection. Connecticut’s Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety . . . burdens those rights and should be subject to strict scrutiny,” the brief read.
In a 25-page document, the states argue that Connecticut’s law will be ineffective and was not narrowly tailored to protect the public and prevent crime. The underlying lawsuit and the amicus brief both challenge the state’s expanded assault weapons ban, which prohibits AR-15 style rifles.
“Increased accuracy means more effective self-defense, less risk of danger for innocent bystanders, and, as a result, increased public safety. Furthermore, although mass shootings are tragic occurrences, and states have a compelling interest in preventing them, states cannot do so by simply banning weapons in violation of the Second Amendment,” the states wrote.
The ban and other provisions like a prohibition on large-capacity ammunition magazines were enacted by the legislature after a gunman murdered 20 children and six educators with an AR-15 style weapon at a Newtown elementary school in December 2012.
In their original challenge of the law, the plaintiffs alleged the statute was unconstitutional and provisions within it were too vague to apply. But in a 47-page ruling in January, U.S. District Court Judge Alfred Covello wrote that the law was not vague enough to be considered unconstitutional.
“The court concludes that the legislation is constitutional. While the act burdens the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights, it is substantially related to the important governmental interest of public safety and crime control,” he wrote.
The gun rights groups responded May 16 with a 70-page appeal to the Second Circuit Court, alleging that the judge erred by not finding the law unconstitutional and unworkably vague.
“Courts and legislatures do not have the authority to second-guess the choices made by law-abiding citizens by questioning whether they really ‘need’ the arms they have chosen to possess,” the gun advocate’s appeal reads.
Attorney General George Jepsen’s office declined to comment Tuesday on the brief filed by attorneys general from other states. But in a January statement, Jepsen promised to “vigorously defend” the law “in the event of any appeal that may be filed.”
“The measures enacted by the General Assembly in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy are entirely appropriate, sensible, and lawful,” Jepsen said following the judge’s decision.
Second Amendment advocates have also vowed to influence the upcoming elections, primarily in opposition to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who signed the law. It is unclear how much impact they will have.
A poll conducted this month by Quinnipiac University suggests that a majority of Connecticut voters — 56 percent — support the law. Asked if they could still vote for a candidate who disagreed with them on the issue of gun control, 65 percent of voters said they could, while just 27 percent said they couldn’t.
Meanwhile, gun control advocates have promised to support Malloy and lawmakers who voted for the new restrictions. During a press conference marking the law’s anniversary, Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said his group was raising money to support pro-gun control candidates and believed Connecticut could be “Ground Zero” in the national battle over gun control during this election cycle.