ccdl rally
Members of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League rally in Hartford on Sept. 30, 2023 Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Second Amendment advocates convened on the waterlogged grounds outside the state Capitol building Saturday to mark the final day during which openly carrying a gun in public was legal in Connecticut prior to the Sunday implementation of new firearm restrictions.

The event, organized by the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, was meant as a rally and call to action for gun rights advocates disheartened by sweeping new gun safety policies enacted this year by the state legislature.

About 150 people braved the rainy and bitter morning on the Capitol lawn, where umbrellas outnumbered openly displayed firearms. Standing at a podium under a pop-up canopy, CCDL President Holly Sullivan said it was important for members to realize they were not alone in their fight against the firearm policies embraced by Connecticut policymakers. 

“We have neighbors and friends, family members that feel the same way but there’s not enough of us here today,” Sullivan said. “I understand that there’s bad weather but this is our call to get out there. Find your friends that were not here today and get them to make a commitment that they will be with us, not just in the next session, but in the next campaign.”

Holly Sullivan
Connecticut Citizens Defense League President Holly Sullivan Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Sullivan estimated the gun rights advocacy group included around 43,000 members across the state. More than 4,100 of them submitted testimony to the legislature this session opposing firearm restrictions that were eventually passed, largely with support from Democratic lawmakers, and signed by Gov. Ned Lamont. 

The new law prohibits openly carrying a gun with the intent to display it in public, broadens the state’s post-Sandy Hook ban on certain assault-style semiautomatic weapons and extends to all gun owners a requirement that firearms be stored in a locked container. 

ccdl rally
Gun rights advocates display a Trump flag during a Sept. 30, 2023 rally in Hartford Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The law also raises the age to buy a semiautomatic rifle to 21 and caps at three the number of handguns most Connecticut consumers can purchase in a given month — a policy proponents argue will help curb straw purchases.

Other provisions included in the new law at the request of a coalition of city mayors will make it easier for state courts to revoke bail and probation from repeat gun offenders accused of committing another crime as well as judicial changes designed to speed up prosecution of gun violations.  

Proponents celebrated the new law on Thursday as helping to keep Connecticut among the safest states in the country. Asked about Saturday’s rally, Rep. Steve Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat who helped usher the bill through the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, argued that the gun rights group did not represent the majority of Connecticut gun owners.

“CCDL does not speak for all gun owners,” Stafstrom said. “There are a number of legal, lawful gun owners in this state, who have absolutely no issue with the provisions of this bill. I’ve gotten outreach from a number of my constituents… who are gun owners, who are friends, who are active huntsmen, who say these restrictions in this bill do not place any onus on them.”

On Saturday, Sullivan described her group as working to hold a line being quickly eroded by a growing list of restrictions. 

“We’re willing to put in the work and do what needs to be done to hold legislators accountable and, if they fail us, to take them to court,” she said.  

CCDL is among the 2nd Amendment groups that have recently challenged state gun laws through ongoing lawsuits. On Wednesday, lawyers for the organization and a handful of individual plaintiffs appealed a ruling by a federal court judge, declining to issue an injunction suspending Connecticut’s assault weapons and large capacity magazine bans. 

Cameron Atkinson
Attorney Cameron Atkinson addresses a rally on Sept. 30, 2023 Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The lawyers behind that lawsuit — Republican state representatives Craig Fishbein and Doug Dubitsky as well as attorney Cameron Atkinson — each addressed the rally on Saturday. So did its lead plaintiff, Eddie Grant. 

Atkinson assured supporters they would take lawsuits to the U.S. Supreme Court if it were necessary to reverse state gun laws. 

“We will get the right to open carry back again,” Atkinson said. Someone in the crowd responded by shouting, “We have the right!”

Several speakers urged attendees to stay engaged in both the legal and political processes that impact state laws. 

“Coming to a rally like this is great,” Dubitsky said. “We love having these rallies, it’s fabulous that you’re here in the rain. But rallies don’t win. Rallies won’t get you back your rights. What gets you back your rights is wins in court and wins in the legislature.”