Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Gov. Ned Lamont signaled a willingness Tuesday to revisit the assault weapons ban Connecticut policymakers adopted in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in order to make illegal weapons that had been grandfathered under that 2013 law. 

The governor made the remarks during the final televised debate in this year’s gubernatorial race in response to a question related to the October murders of two Bristol police officers, who were apparently ambushed by a man with an AR-15-style weapon.

Lamont accused his Republican opponent, Bob Stefanowski, of “grandstanding” when he used the police officers’ deaths as justification for repealing parts of a 2020 law on police accountability, then suggested firearm restrictions might be a more appropriate response to the incident. 

“If you want to do something serious about guns, there was a madman who was drunk with an AR-15-style assault weapon,” Lamont said. “That’s what happened there. Get those AR-15-style assault weapons off the streets if you really want to be serious about crime.”

He expanded on the comments during a Q&A session with reporters following the debate.

“I think those assault-style weapons that are grandfathered should not be grandfathered, they should not be allowed in the state of Connecticut,” Lamont said. “I think they’re killers and we found out they’re cop killers. I think they’re dangerous in our community.”

For his part, Stefanowski told reporters he would leave the state’s firearm regulations unchanged and resisted answering questions related to his endorsement by the National Rifle Association in 2018.

“[That was] four years ago. I didn’t seek their endorsement this time. Connecticut has very strict gun laws. They’re not going to change. We’re going to enforce the heck out of them. We need to start enforcing them,” Stefanowski said.

Connecticut’s current assault weapons ban was passed by state lawmakers in 2013, months after a gunman attacked the Newtown school and murdered 20 children and six adults with a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle. 

The law banned the sale and possession of more than 100 firearm models, but allowed residents who lawfully owned the weapons prior to April 2013 a window to register their now-prohibited guns with the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection in order to keep them. The law also made special exemptions for police and military personnel to register their weapons past the 2014 deadline. 

According to statistics provided Wednesday by the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, the state has issued nearly 82,000 certificates of possession for assault weapons, which includes registrations dating back to an earlier weapons ban that was adopted in 1994.

After the more recent law took effect in 2014, public safety officials reported that residents had registered roughly 50,000 firearms under its provisions.

New Haven University Associate Professor Michael Lawlor, a former criminal justice advisor to then-Gov. Dannel Malloy, argued Wednesday that the state could adopt a law making a previously legal product illegal.

However, Lawlor said an absolute ban was not seriously considered in part because it would have been difficult to pass.

“This grandfather clause, in every case, was a compromise with people who were objecting to the new law,” Lawlor said. “The argument that was persuasive to some people was, ‘They legally acquired these things and now you’re going to outlaw them. Isn’t that confiscating property without compensation?’ It’s not, but that’s what they were arguing.”

The state’s assault weapons ban has come under increased legal scrutiny this year as a result of a June decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in the New York State Rifle & Pistol v. Bruen case, which concluded that New York’s requirements for obtaining a handgun license were too restrictive.

Two organizations, the National Association for Gun Rights and the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, have since filed lawsuits challenging Connecticut’s law.