Court Upholds Post-Newtown Gun Laws in Connecticut and New York

by | October 20, 2015

By Ken Dixon

Gun-rights advocates vowed to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday after a federal appeals court upheld the gun-control laws Connecticut and New York established after the Newtown school shooting.

If the high court agrees to take the case, Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said it would likely be heard next year, during a presidential race in which gun safety has become a major issue.

"We knew all along that we would end up appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn this clear injustice of our Second Amendment rights," Wilson said in a statement. "We know that we are on the right side of this matter, and Connecticut gun owners will not surrender our constitutional rights."

Connecticut, which first banned military-style weapons in 1993, drew up some of the toughest gun-safety laws in the nation following the Dec. 14, 2012 shootings in Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 first-graders and six adults were killed.

New York, too, enacted prohibitions on military-style rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Second Amendment advocates in the two states quickly sued, calling the laws unconstitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit linked the two cases and issued a joint ruling.

"This appalling attack, in addition to other recent mass shootings, provided the immediate impetus for the legislation at issue in this appeal," Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote, citing the Newtown shooting. "Because the prohibitions are substantially related to the important governmental interests of public safety and crime reduction, they pass constitutional muster."

The suit, filed by groups including the CCDL and the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, lost in U.S. District Court in Connecticut in January 2014, and was appealed.

Connecticut's law includes a ban on the sale and importation of military-replica weapons, the most popular of which is the AR-15. Ammunition magazines containing 10 or more bullets were outlawed, although owners of prohibited weapons and magazines were allowed to keep them if they registered the equipment with State Police. Other restrictions include mandatory criminal-background checks and permits before all firearm and ammunition sales.

Gun-control advocates applauded the court's decision.

"We know that smart gun laws work and that common-sense laws do not interfere with Second Amendment rights," Connecticut Against Gun Violence Executive Director Ron Pinciaro said in a statement.

The court struck down one section of the law, removing a pump-action rifle -- the Remington 7615 -- from the list of 183 banned semi-automatic weapons.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said that weapon should not have been on the list and was most likely a "typographical" error. He recalled the tough legislative battle fought to adopt the gun laws.

"I think that law has made us safer in this state," Malloy said. "And, quite frankly, if other states would adopt similar legislation, we'd all be safer in every state."

Prohibited assault-style weapons include features such as a telescoping stock, a mount for a bayonet, a pistol grip and a flash suppressor.

Connecticut's 2013 law was a tough redrafting of the 1993 state law that withstood a state constitutional challenge in 1995. A similar 1994 federal law that won similar appeals in federal court was allowed to lapse by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2004.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, whose staff successfully defended the law, noted the state's response to the Newtown killings restarted a gun-control debate in Washington, where Republican majorities in the House and Senate have been reluctant to enact stronger safety regulations.

"At a time when many Americans have abandoned hope of government's ability to address gun violence in our schools and on our streets, Connecticut's laws -- and today's decision -- demonstrate that willing states can enact meaningful reform to improve public safety without violating the Second Amendment," he said.

(c)2015 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.)