Attorney General William Tong said Thursday he expects that a “reckless” new Supreme Court ruling – which struck down a concealed carry gun law in New York – will result in a wave of new litigation challenging firearm restrictions in Connecticut.
Tong released a statement soon after news of the high court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol v. Bruen, which concluded that New York’s requirements for obtaining a handgun license were too restrictive.
Although the decision does not directly impact Connecticut’s handgun laws, Tong said it could undermine some of the state’s policies and he expected it would inspire lawsuits here. He called the decision a “radical” departure from prior rulings impacting states’ rights to adopt gun control policies.
“We should expect a wave of new lawsuits nationwide and here in Connecticut, coordinated by gun groups like the NRA, challenging our assault weapons ban, age restrictions on gun ownership, prohibitions on guns in sensitive locations like schools, and provisions enabling public safety professionals to review the suitability of an applicant before granting a gun permit,” Tong said. “This decision is reckless, and the consequences for public safety nationwide are dire, but it was not unexpected.”
Tong said his office would work with attorneys general in other states as well as advocates and lawmakers to defend Connecticut’s laws.
The New York case hinged on a challenge to that state’s concealed carry law, which allowed officials discretion over which applicants to issue gun permits to, even if the applicants met the requirements for a permit.
In its ruling, the court referred to the policy as a “may issue” licensing law as opposed to a “shall issue” law, in which officials must issue a permit to applicants who meet the requirements. While a majority of states have “shall issue” laws, six other states — including Connecticut — have given officials discretion.
However, in a footnote, the court suggested Connecticut’s policy functioned as a “shall issue” law.
“Three States—Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island—have discretionary criteria but appear to operate like ‘shall issue’ jurisdictions,” the decision read.
The National Rifle Association celebrated the court decision in a Thursday statement which suggested the ruling would prompt challenges to laws in states beyond New York.
“This is more than just a great day for New York because this ruling opens the door to rightly change the law in the seven remaining jurisdictions that still don’t recognize the right to carry a firearm for personal protection,” said Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.
However, Michael Lawlor, an associate professor of criminal justice at New Haven University and former legislator, said Connecticut’s law would withstand scrutiny in part because it requires officials to justify why they have opted not to issue a gun license.
“The Connecticut law is you can apply and you get the license unless we have a reason not to give it to you and if you disagree with that, you can appeal it,” Lawlor said. “My opinion is our laws are still fine. In fact, New York could do something as simple as copy our laws and they’re done.”
However, Tong was not the only Connecticut official worried Thursday about the decision’s potential impact on Connecticut’s gun laws.
In a statement, Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers would adjust Connecticut’s laws if response to the court decision made it necessary to preserve them.
“This case – and the ensuing lawsuits that will follow from it – threaten those protections,” Winfield said. “We remain steadfast in our efforts and will be ready with any necessary legislative responses to ensure that Connecticut remains at the forefront of gun safety and that our citizens remain safe within the boundaries of this state.”
Gov. Ned Lamont released a statement on the ruling, saying it would no prevent the state from enforcing its gun laws.
“However, we should all be concerned that today’s ruling heralds a newly aggressive effort to second-guess commonsense state and local policies that save lives while accommodating both gun rights and gun safety,” Lamont said. “One thing we know is true – more guns do not make us safer, and as governor I will continue to pursue policies that make our laws stronger to keep our residents out of harm’s way.”