HARTFORD, CT – Allowing police officers to ask gun owners to show their permits if they are openly carrying their weapons isn’t an infringement of their rights in the eyes of Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane.
But it’s currently the law. One that some police officers are looking to change.
“It’s a limited intrusion that would pass constitutional muster,” Kane testified during Wednesday’s public hearing.
Second Amendment groups like the Connecticut Citizens Defense League are opposed to it because, they say, it is a constitutionally protected right.
Similar legislation passed the Public Safety and Security Committee last year, but was never called for a vote in the House.
Kane said currently a police officer can only request to see a gun owner’s permit if there is a “reasonable articulable suspicion that the person is committing a crime or has committed a crime – not just that something’s wrong here, or what’s going on.
“That’s a legal standard that’s recognized by the courts. It’s not just a gut feeling that’s something wrong here,” Kane added.
The legislation being debated by the Judiciary Committee Wednesday removes the language about “reasonable articulable suspicion.”
Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said the legislation poses a dilemma for him “because I am a very, very strong advocate for the 2nd Amendment but also very pro law enforcement.”
He added, however, that he didn’t think passing the legislation “is going to make one bit of difference” and he was having a hard time getting past the constitutional concerns.
“The law gives the state the authority to regulate firearms,” Kane said. “The law permits the state to require people if they are going to carry a pistol or a revolver to require them to have a permit. And the constitution allows the state to require them to carry that permit on their person,” Kane added.
He said the mere intrusion of asking to show a permit is “not the type of intrusion” that would be prohibited by the constitution.
A court decision clarified that gun owners only have to carry their permit. They don’t have to show it.
The decision put police chiefs in a tough spot. Police officers will receive calls about a person carrying a gun and they will have to respond to the location, but once they find the person carrying the weapon they can ask to see a permit to find out if the person is carrying the gun legally. However, that person doesn’t have to produce a permit for the officer.
Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, has said the issue is straightforward and not complicated. He said it makes all the sense that if you’re openly carrying, a police officer should be able to ask you to present your permit.
It’s not a gun bill and it’s not about gun owners, “it’s about police safety,” Tong said.
The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association are strong supporters of the legislation.
“This bill will increase safety to the public by enabling law enforcement officers to properly identify law abiding pistol permit holders who openly carry a firearm,” said the police chief association in written testimony.
“A small number of pistol permit holders have purposely engaged in open-carry behavior and used the current language to create situations in which an officer cannot request their permit,” the police chiefs’ statement continued. “These situations are unnerving to the public and have the potential to escalate into confrontations.
But the legislation has plenty of detractors, including members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.
Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said she fears this bill would lead to racial profiling and give officers an excuse to stop a person in the community she represents.
“It translates totally different in different communities,” Porter said.
Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said he’s been struggling to understand the purpose of the legislation if it doesn’t stop the proliferation of guns.
It doesn’t get rid of people’s sense of alarm that someone is carrying a gun, Winfield added.
“This is a bill that simply profiles gun owners,” E. Jonathan Hardy, a member of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said in written testimony.
“This bill allows police to stop, seize, and question people for no other reason than doing that is lawful. A person carrying a holstered handgun that may be seen, in and of itself should not be interpreted as a person that is dangerous.”
He likened carrying a firearm to driving a motor vehicle.
“Both activities have the potential to be dangerous, both are heavily regulated and require a permit/license to engage in,” Hardy continued.
He said a police officer cannot lawfully stop a motor vehicle just to ask to see a person’s license.
“Therefore, a police officer should not be allowed to lawfully seize someone for merely observing them carrying a gun to determine whether that person has a pistol permit,” Hardy said.