(Updated 4:30 p.m.) Despite caution offered by the legal community, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a former prosecutor, stood his ground Friday in defending his position on the issuance of gun permits to individuals on federal terrorism watch lists.
Following a state Bond Commission meeting, Malloy said people can argue about the process.
“I believe it is the right discussion to have with respect to gun safety, but it’s only the beginning of that discussion,” Malloy said.
He said he’s focused on improving the safety of all Americans, but that’s hard to do when Congress fails to act on a similar proposal. Last week the U.S. Senate failed to pass legislation that would have banned individuals on watch lists from purchasing firearms.
Malloy appeared on CBS This Morning and said governors from other states have reached out to his office for information on how to proceed with a similar order. He later declined to say which governors called to ask for information.
He said he thinks they will succeed in getting the federal government to agree to share the watch lists, either by adding the lists to national background checks for gun purchases in Connecticut, or by having Connecticut officials gain access to those lists.
“When we do a background check in Connecticut, we should be able to deny somebody the ability to purchase a gun, subject to an appeal, obviously, if they’re on that list,” Malloy said. “It’s just common sense.”
Malloy said he’s not saying the state has the power to unilaterally prevent someone from gaining access to a firearm, “but we should be able to stop it if they’re on that list.”
Malloy said there are already limitations to constitutional rights. For example, “you can’t yell fire in a theater,” and felons can’t purchase firearms.
“I’m not suggesting we deny people access to our country based on their religion,” Malloy said. “Or that we deny our obligation as a nation with respect to refugees. What I’m saying is is that it makes no sense to be in a position where we are allowing people who we think are terrorists or connected to terrorists to buy guns in our country.”
Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, said he doesn’t want to see someone on a federal watch list get access to firearms, but the move presents some constitutional issues.
“Do you give people due process because they’re on that list by mistake?” Frantz said.
Frantz said there are a lot of complications, and rather than coming out and making a suggestion for a broad, sweeping policy change, it should be studied. Frantz said he would rather see legislation than an executive order.
But some of his Republican colleagues in the House and the Senate disagree and have taken a hard line against the proposal.
“No individual, the governor himself included, has the right unilaterally to deny due process to the people,” Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said. “The use of a secret list obscurely compiled to decide whose rights will be respected runs against good sense and our national principles.”
Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, said Congress refused to pass a similar proposal because “it was clearly unconstitutional. I suspect the governor realizes his executive order will be overturned, but he can’t resist scoring his political point.”
Malloy was recently sworn in as head of the Democratic Governors Association, and some believe he’s using his new national platform to push for more gun control.
Frantz said he could see court challenges to Malloy’s executive order go all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Connecticut Citizens Defense League, which lost its court challenge of a 2013 Connecticut law that limited access to assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, said it would consider a legal challenge if Malloy moves forward with an executive order.
Malloy is still waiting on word from federal officials about whether Connecticut could gain access to these lists or whether federal officials would add the information to its background check of Connecticut purchasers.
It’s likely the state can and will be able to access the list for use in gun permitting, because New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is still among the group of Republicans vying for the party’s nomination for president, signed a similar law following the Sandy Hook shootings.
According to Bloomberg, Christie signed a package of 10 bills “that among other things upgraded some penalties for arms trafficking, required the submission of some mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check system, and created a study commission on violence. Tucked in that package was a bill (A3687) that read ‘the inclusion of a person on the Terrorist Watchlist is of such a serious and potentially threatening nature that it warrants a separate statutory provision denying that person’s capability to lawfully obtain a firearm in this State’.”
Bloomberg reports that Christie released a statement following the bill signing: “These commonsense measures will both strengthen New Jersey’s already tough gun laws and upgrade penalties for those who commit gun crimes and violate gun trafficking laws.”
Malloy said he was aware of New Jersey’s legislation, but to the “best of our knowledge the system is currently not operational in New Jersey.”
However, New Jersey State Police Captain Stephen Jones confirmed that they are using the information. A person applying to purchase a gun in New Jersey would be denied a permit if their name is on a federal watch list, Jones said.