Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
Chris Kopacki of the NRA and Scott Wilson of CCDL (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Gun owners and legislators from both parties Friday criticized Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to increase the state portion of the pistol permit fee from $70 to $300 and the initial 5-year pistol permit fee from $140 to $370.

The increase in fees for gun owners will bring in another $9 million to the state annually, according to the governor’s budget estimates.

“Supporters of this massive tax increase claim that it would bring Connecticut in line with fees in neighboring states. Don’t buy their lies,” Christopher Kopacki, National Rifle Association liaison for the state of Connecticut, said at a press conference in the Legislative Office Building.

“Here’s the truth,” Kopacki continued. “Under Malloy’s tax hike, Connecticut residents would be paying more than nine times what our neighbors in Rhode Island pay for a permit. Nearly three times what residents in New York State pay and 37 times what residents in New Hampshire pay.

“Our neighbors in Vermont and Maine don’t pay anything – as permits are not required in those states,” Kopacki said.

Kopacki and Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, both made the point that there is only one other place in the country where it would cost more than Connecticut for a gun permit if Malloy’s plan wins approval – New York City.

“And last I checked New York City is not a state,” Candelora said, making reference to Malloy’s rationale that he was trying to bring Connecticut permit fees in line with other states.

Questioned about the gun permit fees issue later in the day, Malloy defended his plan but added that he said when he proposed his budget “I had no anticipation that it would be adopted in its entirety.”

“We have $1.7 billion issue with which to deal with,” Malloy said, referring to Connecticut’s budget deficit, adding that he and legislators have a “full boat of big and important issues” in front of them such as major cities such as Hartford facing fiscal crisis that involves much more money than gun permit fees.

Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, said Connecticut is moving in the wrong direction when it comes to gun laws.

“In the last few years 11 states have enacted Constitutional carry where people don’t need to ask the government for permission to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights,” Dubitsky said.

“Governor Malloy is on the wrong side of history, and frankly on the wrong side of the Constitution,” Dubitsky said.” “It is unconstitutional to raise money by charging a fee on a Constitutional right. It’s not just me saying it and it’s not just gun advocates that are saying it,” Dubitsky added, saying recent court rulings have ruled that way.

Malloy answered: “New York City has substantially higher permit fees for a shorter period of time than we and and no successful (court) challenge has been brought.”

When Malloy proposed the fee increase in his budget on Feb. 8 word of the gun fee hikes spread quickly over the Internet and an action alert was included in the NRA’s daily newsletter.

Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Dora Schriro told the Appropriations Committee Tuesday that they anticipate 45,326 permits will require renewal in 2018 and the increase is necessary because “many of our offices are understaffed and have been understaffed for quite some time.”

She said meeting all the registration deadlines is a challenge for the department.

Schriro also said the money from the increased pistol permit fees will go into the general fund and will be dispersed by the governor’s budget office “back to us or elsewhere.”

Malloy said that wasn’t necessarily so – that if the fees went through he believes a portion of the funds should be used to “modernize’’ the transaction and background check system and possibly “hire more people” to maintain it.

“It’s obvious that the governor’s drastic fee hike is not about administrative costs,” Senate Republican President Pro Tempore Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said.

“This is about the governor plugging a budget hole by targeting gun owners for political reasons. And no matter where you stand on the state’s gun laws, I think all people can agree that pricing out the poor on something that all citizens have an equal right to is just wrong no matter the issue.”

It wasn’t only Republicans who spoke out against the governor’s plan to hit gun owners in their wallets and purses.

Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said what bothers her about Malloy’s proposal is that is goes after one group.

“I’m going to propose that we don’t target one particular fee,” Osten said.

“This is a non-partisan issue,” Rep. Patrick Boyd, D-Pomfret, added. “The governor has proposed this as part of his budget. Now it is onto the legislature as with everything else that is in this budget.

“I would urge residents to contact members of the General Assembly, let them know your feelings,” Boyd said.

Connecticut Citizens Defense League President Scott Wilson said there are other reasons – besides the big hike in permits fees – that the governor’s plan is a bad idea.

“When you have a firearm and you shoot it, you want to train to be responsible with it, you’re going to buy ammunition – that’s tax revenue for the state,” Wilson said.

“If you do not have a pistol permit, you cannot buy a gun, you cannot buy ammunition, you cannot train with it. The loss of ammunition tax revenue, the loss of firearm tax revenue, the loss of revenue from gun shops that could potentially close if there is a severe fall off of pistol permit holders would impact Connecticut even more,” Wilson said.