NEW HAVEN, CT — U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer provided injunctive relief to prospective gun owners Monday, ruling that the indefinite length of Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order suspending fingerprinting for firearm licenses violated the Constitution.
Meyer further ordered the state to take any necessary steps to resume fingerprint collection by June 15, 2020.
“All in all, I can well understand why the Governor’s order and [the public safety] Commissioner’s actions were justified at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Meyer wrote. “But with the passage of time it is clear that a categorical ban on the collection of fingerprints no longer bears a substantial relation to protecting public health consistent with respecting plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”
During a press briefing at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, Lamont said they were about to lift the ban “anyway.” He said every executive order he’s done has been in the name of public health.
Lamont added that the state’s rate of new infections is low and they’re opening “most of these things in the next eight days.”
The process of collecting fingerprints for handgun permit applications – which is required by law in Connecticut – was deemed unsafe in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic based on the highly infectious nature of the virus between people in close proximity to each other.
However, according to the decision issued Monday at federal court in New Haven, the law says employees for the local police and state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) “may not refuse to collect the fingerprints of a person who seeks to apply for a handgun permit or certificate.”
Meyer wrote that the governor’s March 17 executive order indefinitely suspended the law for as long as the COVID-19 emergency may continue. Based on that, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL), a nonprofit grassroots group in support of gun rights, and several of its members sued Gov. Lamont and DESPP Commissioner James Rovella, claiming that the indefinite suspension of fingerprinting violated their rights.
The lawsuit sought a preliminary injunction to require the resumption of fingerprinting “or some alternative means of acquiring a handgun permit” pending the final resolution of their constitutional claims.
Lamont’s order left it to the discretion of state and local police whether to conduct fingerprinting, “thus empowering the police to functionally deny the right of new applicants to acquire, carry, and possess a handgun,” Meyer wrote, adding that the state DESPP and an “unknown number of municipal police departments” had suspended all fingerprint collection activities.