Two recent federal rulings have left both anti-gun lawmakers and gun rights activists concerned about the future of gun laws in the state.
In a ruling last Thursday, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a federal law prohibiting people subject to domestic violence restraining orders was unconstitutional.
The ruling came during the appeal of Zackey Rahimi, a Texas resident who was indicted for possessing firearms despite being under a restraining order following the alleged assault of his ex-girlfriend. Rahimi had been involved in five shootings in Arlington, Texas between December 2020 and January 2021. These included incidents where he fired his weapon in the air after his friend’s credit card was declined, and fired at multiple vehicles following a car accident.
Rahimi was arrested and convicted for possessing firearms under a restraining order. The court ruled that Rahimi suffered an undo burden on his Second Amendment rights and reversed that conviction.
Connecticut has a similar law on the books, and this ruling raises concerns for some lawmakers and domestic violence advocates that there might be further challenges here. During a press conference on Monday, Attorney General William Tong called the ruling a “tragic” and “radical” decision.
“What the 5th Circuit is saying is that even though this is a good idea to protect victims of domestic violence, we are powerless to protect them,” argued Tong. “We are not powerless, not by a long shot. Our laws are strong and constitutional, and they will keep people safe. Tonight they will save lives and here in Connecticut we are going to fight tooth and nail against any challenge to protect Connecticut families, victims of domestic violence, and to protect our very strong gun laws here in Connecticut.”
“I’m going back to Washington today to ask the Department of Justice to seek immediate, expedited review before the United States Supreme Court,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “To go to court right away and seek a stay, which will hold its effect. It cannot be allowed to go into effect because it will be devastating, catastrophic to women across the country and the rule of law.”
Both Blumenthal and Tong said that Connecticut’s law remains in effect and enforceable, regardless of the ruling. Earlier this month, Gov. Lamont also proposed additional restrictions to firearm ownership for domestic abusers in the state. Under the proposed law, anyone convicted of family violence would be unable to possess a state firearm license.
Meanwhile, a separate federal decision has pro-gun activists worried that Connecticut laws are about to get more restrictive without intervention from lawmakers. In January, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) updated definitions of “rifles” to any weapon which uses a stabilizing brace, arguing that “rifle” refers to any firearm intended to be fired from the shoulder.
This new definition, which went into effect on January 31st, brings additional “other” weapons under the definition of “assault weapon” and could make them illegal under Connecticut’s current ban.
The Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL), along with the Second Amendment Foundation, has filed a temporary restraining order in federal court in an effort to stop the motion. The CCDL argues that such changes to definitions would mean that “tens of thousands” of Connecticut residents could suddenly find themselves breaking the law “through no fault of their own.”
“Until Tuesday, the firearms at issue were entirely lawful, owned by people who may now face detrimental personal damage due to state laws that are not only unclear and virtually impossible to comply with, but also in blatant and direct violation of the Connecticut and U.S. Constitutions,” said Holly Sullivan, President of the CCDL, in a statement released Monday. “As such, 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 egregious ban on so-called ‘assault weapons’ which are simply commonly owned modern sporting arms.”
If Gov. Lamont gets his way this session, these weapons could fall under the Connecticut ban anyway. As part of his wide-sweeping gun legislation proposal, the governor is asking legislators to further expand the state’s assault weapons ban to include “other” weapons that have previously escaped being defined as rifles due to certain design components. “While stabilizing braces were not among the elements listed, they could come up in the bill-writing process. “Pistol braces” were among the elements listed.
Under the governor’s proposal, however, the law would include a registration period that would allow current owners to allow them to keep the firearms while banning future sales.