Christine Stuart photo
Reps. Joe Verrengia and Stephen Dargan and Sen. Tim Larson listen to the public testify (Christine Stuart photo)

Three years after strengthening Connecticut’s gun laws, some lawmakers expressed uncertainty about the bill that would let law enforcement ask a person to see their permit to carry a firearm, regardless of whether the person was suspected of criminal activity.

Sen. Ed Gomes, D-Bridgeport, said he worries that the bill could lead to racial profiling and police would use it to stop individuals who may or may not have a gun.

But Ricardo Lopez, vice president of the Bridgeport Police Union, told the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee on Thursday that most if not all of the Bridgeport Police Department have been “left with an uncertainty due to the fact that the current law seems convoluted.”

Lopez was one of three officers who responded to a sandwich shop in January after receiving reports about a man with a holstered gun. The man captured the incident on video and refused to produce his permit.

Lopez said his department often receives 911 calls from residents concerned about witnessing somebody carrying a gun. He said those calls can’t be ignored, but they place the officers in a dangerous situation. He said those individuals who are legally allowed to carry a firearm usually don’t hesitate to produce their permit.

Under the current law, officers can’t ask a person to see their permit if they don’t see the weapon and the person is not committing a crime.

Connecticut Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said the legislation strikes the right balance between protecting the public while considering the rights of the individual carrying the gun. He said he believes it would withstand a constitutional challenge.

But the National Rifle Association and the Connecticut Citizens Defense League said asking a gun owner to see their permit is a violation of their rights.

Christopher Kopacki, Connecticut liaison to the NRA, said the bill violates the U.S. Constitution by failing to protect people from the threat of unreasonable search and seizure.

“Stopping, detaining, or frisking a person is a seizure,” Kopacki said. “No matter how brief.”

He said there’s no evidence the law would make Connecticut residents safer. He said the relationship between police and the community is already strained, especially in urban areas, and this bill “would have dangerous consequences” that would further separate police from the community.

But groups who organized to support stronger gun laws following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting said the bill is necessary.

Marty Isaac, president of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said the debate is not about open carry. He said the discussion is about whether police should have the right to be able to ask people openly carrying firearms in public to produce their permit.

Po Murray, chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance, said there are a significant number of Newtown residents suffering from PTSD and many who lived through the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School are “afraid of guns” and should not have to encounter a person displaying a gun while they are shopping.

“Why have a permitting process if we’re not going to ask gun owners to produce it?” Murray said.

The Public Safety and Security Committee heard testimony on a handful of gun bills Thursday. The committee has until March 15 to forward legislation to the House or the Senate.