Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wants the federal government to give him access to its “watch lists” so he can deny gun permits to individuals who are on those lists.
The executive order Malloy is hoping to be able to sign once the U.S. Department of Justice gives him the green light would require those who apply for a permit to be checked against government watch lists.
Assault weapons already are outlawed in Connecticut, so Malloy’s executive order would additionally prevent an individual on the list from purchasing a handgun, ammunition, shotgun, or a rifle.
Malloy said he’s been in touch with officials at the White House and is in the process of getting access to federal watch lists. It’s unclear when he may receive an answer.
Connecticut’s governor, who was sworn in last week as the head of the Democratic Governors Association, said he started conversations with White House officials last week after Congress failed to act. At a press conference Thursday outside his Capitol office, he said he was unaware of any other governor moving in this direction.
“If Congress will not act, we in the states will,” Malloy said, adding that it’s “basic, common sense.”
“If you cannot fly due to being on a government watch list, you should not be able to purchase a firearm while on that watch list as well,” Malloy said.
There are an estimated 16,000 individuals on the no-fly list, which is one of the smallest of the government watch lists. Malloy said he was asking for access to a broad range of watch lists that include suspected terrorists.
According to a Government Accountability Office report, between 2004 and 2014, suspected terrorists attempted to purchase guns from American dealers at least 2,233 times. And in 2,043 of those cases — 91 percent of the time — they succeeded.
“Connecticut, we are seizing this moment,” Malloy said.
He said he believes they have to power to do this because what they are denying is a “permit.” Along with that permit comes the ability to appeal it. It’s unclear how the appeals process would work if someone felt they should not be on a federal no-fly list.
The American Civil Liberties Union was fighting in federal court Wednesday to make sure those who end up on a no-fly list are able to find out how they ended up there.
“While the governor’s proposal would infringe on some persons’ constitutional right to obtain firearms, the Supreme Court has said specifically that some limitations on who may obtain guns and where they may be carried are permissible,” William Dunlap, a professor at Quinnipiac University Law School, said Thursday.
The only problem with the proposal is “federal lists on which the state ban would be based are notoriously inaccurate,” Dunlap said. “They include many people who should not be on them. And they obviously leave off many dangerous people that we don’t know about, which means the lists are not as effective as they could be. These inconsistencies matter when courts apply heightened scrutiny to state laws.”
In Connecticut, someone who is denied a gun permit can file an appeal with the Board of Firearm Permit Examiners. It’s not clear how a hybrid appeal process would work between the state and the federal government.
He said if a person on the list already has been issued a gun permit, then he would argue that the gun should be removed “subject to appeal.”
Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, has said that the criteria for ending up on the terror list are unclear and vague.
“Governor Malloy is planning to take what is in our view unconstitutional executive action that would prohibit firearms purchases and seize firearms of individuals who have not been indicted or convicted for any crime,” Wilson said. “While we are all concerned about terrorism, this approach is very un-American and shameful.”
He said his group will not rule out legal action if Malloy moves forward with an executive order.
But Malloy, who has challenged the gun lobby in the past, said he doesn’t understand why anyone would protect a person suspected of being a terrorist.
“We have reason to believe there are people on the watch lists living in Connecticut,” Malloy said. “There are a number of these lists, it’s not just a no-fly list or a terrorism list, there are other lists. We’ll apply whatever lists are being watched by the federal government.”
The governor said the idea was too new to bring to the General Assembly in time for this week’s special session. The executive order is expected to be signed once he gets the green light from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“This is very scary to think that police will be showing up to houses to seize firearms from people that may have done nothing wrong. It spells serious trouble,” Wilson added.
However, the move was applauded by members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation who were frustrated last week when the U.S. Senate was unable to find enough support to debate the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015.
“Keeping guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists is just common sense, and it is crucial to keeping our communities safe,” U.S. Rep. John B. Larson said.