Christine Stuart photo
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Karen Buffkin (Christine Stuart photo)

Second Amendment advocates and gun owners feel that legislation before the General Assembly is infringing on their right to possess firearms, while proponents feel the bills would protect domestic violence victims.

Members of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League and the National Rifle Association packed the Judiciary Committee’s public hearing Wednesday to testify against three bills. Two bills seek to shorten the amount of time a person with a temporary restraining order can hold onto his or her firearms. A third seeks to strengthen gun storage requirements. This marks the second time in two years that gun owners have opposed legislation involving firearms that’s come before state lawmakers.

One of the two domestic violence bills proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would remove firearms from the targets of temporary restraining orders in 24 hours rather than waiting for a hearing before a judge. Proponents said the goal is to protect the person who filed for the order, particularly in domestic violence cases. But opponents of the legislation say it’s an unnecessary restriction on law-abiding gun owners.

Malloy proposed the bill as part of his budget and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman testified on his behalf Wednesday because the governor was on vacation in Puerto Rico.

Members of the Judiciary Committee grilled Wyman and the governor’s chief legal counsel, Karen Buffkin, for more than three hours as hundreds waited to testify. The hearing was still ongoing at 6:30 p.m.

Rep. Robert Sampson, R-Wolcott, said the bill doesn’t give gun owners an “opportunity to be heard” before their firearms are taken away.

According to Buffkin, a person would first file the application for an ex parte restraining order and explain what violence occurred. If the judge believes the person is credible and that he or she is in “imminent danger,” the order would be issued and firearms would be required to be turned over within 24 hours.

“The goal of this bill is to reduce the risk to victims of domestic violence in a very critical period of time,” Buffkin said.

According to the Judicial Branch, 291 ex parte temporary restraining orders were issued between July 1, 2013, and June 20, 2014, for cases in which the written application showed allegations concerning firearms. Thirty-three were issued after a hearing in which at least one of the parties was present, and 282 were issued in cases that included both an ex parte application and a hearing.

Currently, the law leaves access to firearms in temporary restraining order cases up to a judge at a hearing that may be held as many as two weeks after the initial order is issued. 

“Without a hearing, there is no way to know — all the judge sees is an allegation on a piece of paper. Why would we not have a hearing at least on the seizure of the firearms?” Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Canterbury, asked.

He said taking away firearm affects a resident’s constitutional rights.

“Doing it without a hearing affects another set of constitutional rights,” Dubitsky said.

Buffkin and Wyman responded that the bill does provide due process. The complainant is required to give a sworn statement of what occurred and could be criminally charged if he or she filed false allegations, the two said.

Once the ex parte restraining order becomes permanent, the offender’s gun permit would be revoked, according to Buffkin. The offender would have to wait until the end of the restraining order to reapply for a permit, which caused concerns for opponents of the legislation.

Sampson said it could take up to two years for someone to get a new permit, according to the state Board of Firearm Permit Examiners.

“We believe this really protects people,” Wyman said. “In the long run, the judge can say there is no problem and we don’t have to take the guns away. We trust the judges to make the decision. We are just giving them the tools,” she said.

Wyman said the days following the victims’ filing of a temporary restraining order are the most dangerous and the current process takes too long.

“We can and must do more to protect victims of domestic violence and their families,” Wyman said. “In Connecticut, guns are the most commonly used weapon in fatal family violence incidents.”

Wyman testified that research shows a woman who is in an abusive relationship is five times more likely to be killed if her abuser has access to a firearm.

But gun owners, who organized in 2013 to oppose sweeping changes to the state’s gun laws following the Sandy Hook school shooting, said there is no protection for those who become the subject of a temporary restraining order under false pretenses.

James Dempsey Jr., a gun owner and Enfield resident, said in written testimony that gaining access to Second Amendment rights has been a struggle.

“Stripping a gun owner of his firearms without even seeing a judge is blatantly against due process,” Dempsey said in written testimony.

He said he had a friend whose wife filed a restraining order against him at the advice of her lawyer.

“Shortly afterwards, the police came looking for his firearms,” Dempsey said. “Luckily, he knew the law and refused to surrender his firearms.”