Gun advocates are seeking a preliminary injunction that would temporarily strike down Connecticut’s ban on assault weapons after the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reclassified some firearms that would now be prohibited in the state.
The injunction was filed Friday as part of a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Connecticut’s assault weapons ban, which was established in 2013, the year after 20 children and six educators were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
Calling the guns “modern sporting arms,” the group represented by two Republican lawmakers, state Reps. Doug Dubitsky and Craig Fishbein, is challenging Connecticut’s laws that have prohibited dealers or others from selling or possessing semiautomatic, automatic or burst-fire weapons.
The federal lawsuit was filed in September by the Southbury-based Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a non-profit with more than 43,000 members, the national Second Amendment Foundation and three individuals, including two former state correction officers.
The complaint was filed after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned a New York law requiring a license to carry concealed weapons. The ruling has sparked a handful of lawsuit in Connecticut, including recent litigation that would strike down the state’s practice of not allowing pistols for protection in state parks.
The ATF ruling published on Jan. 31 reclassifies “certain other firearms” as rifles, that are not rifles, shotguns or pistols, according to CCDL President Holly Sullivan.
“ATF’s new rule impacts thousands of Connecticut residents who are otherwise law-abiding, but who have now found themselves facing possible felony prosecution through no fault of their own,” Sullivan said Monday in a statement. “While residents of other states are able to register these firearms with the ATF or change the short barrels for longer ones to make them legal, the ATF has stated that it will not permit any such registrations from Connecticut residents due to Connecticut’s ‘assault weapons’ ban.”
The ATF will also not allow Connecticut residents to avoid “redesignation as banned assault weapons” under state law, Sullivan said.
“We are imploring the federal court to step in to protect these otherwise lawful gun owners from being arrested under the new application of Connecticut’s egress ban on so-called ‘assault weapons,’ which are simply commonly owned modern sporting rifles,” Sullivan said.
ATF officials said Monday the ruling clarifies the definitions of pistols and short-barrel rifles that need to be registered under federal law. “These are arms that people are calling pistols that are not really pistols,” said Erik Longnecker, deputy chief of public affairs for the ATF. “They are short-barreled rifles that need to be registered according to federal law.”
Longnecker said his agency would not register short-barrel rifles for residents of states where the weapons are banned.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seeking a declaratory judgement that Connecticut’s gun laws banning the sale or possession of “assault weapons” violate the Second Amendment and a permanent injunction barring the state from enforcing the laws. The state’s attorneys have been named in the lawsuit because they have the power to enforce the law through prosecution, Dubitsky said.
But Attorney General William Tong, whose office represents Connecticut officials in lawsuits, said in September he would defend the state’s gun laws.
“Connecticut’s gun laws save lives, and we are not going back,” Tong said after the lawsuit was filed. “This latest threat is disturbing, but not surprising.”
Gov. Ned Lamont, who is named in the lawsuit, recently announced a plan to reinforce the state’s longstanding ban on military-style weapons, including closing the loophole for firearms manufactured before 1994.
In addition to expanding the ban by adding new weapons, Lamont said he will ask lawmakers to raise the minimum age to purchase any type of firearm to 21, and toughen penalties on the possession of unregistered, large-capacity magazines, which is just $90 for a first offense.
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