Opinion by: Attorney Cameron Atkinson

“Tell Uncle Ned I’ll be waiting for him,” I quipped when asked to comment on the Connecticut House’s passage of HB 6667 – Governor Ned Lamont’s gun safety bill. HB 6667 is virtually certain now to become law, and many portions of it will be subject to an immediate Second Amendment challenge. 

HB 6667 largely delivers on the dreams of the gun control movement. It bans the open carry of handguns in public. It will expand the definition of prohibited assault weapons to include many more popular semi-automatic firearms and firearms known as “others” (firearms that are currently not considered rifles, pistols, or shotguns). It will prohibit the sale or transfer of more than three handguns per month to a single individual. 

At what price? 

The U.S. Supreme Court put gun control laws under the microscope after its 2022 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. BruenBruen requires states to prove that their gun control measures have a well-established basis in our nation’s history in order for courts to declare them constitutional. States have struggled mightily to meet their burden of proof in federal courts since Bruen.

HB 6667 will face similar difficulties in many aspects. For example, Bruen requires states that enact an assault weapons ban to demonstrate that assault weapons are “dangerous and unusual weapons.” Data produced by the Connecticut State Police in January 2023 shows that HB 6667 will criminalize the possession of approximately 88,766 firearms (“others”) currently legally owned by Connecticut citizens on the basis that they are now assault weapons. Those weapons comprise approximately 6.8% of the 1,306,867 firearms that Connecticut citizens possess – a percentage that greatly exceeds the percentage that the federal appellate court responsible for Connecticut previously found to constitute evidence of a firearm being common or not unusual. 

There is little doubt that HB 6667’s expansion of Connecticut’s assault weapons ban will not survive a Second Amendment lawsuit. 

Other aspects of HB 6667 face other constitutional problems too. The bill’s ban on the open carry of handguns in public implicates people’s free speech rights. Guns and gun control are hotly contested political issues in Connecticut and nationally. Proponents of gun rights make open carry a central feature of some of their political rallies, and other proponents open carry handguns as a form of political speech in their daily lives. Since political speech receives the highest form of protection under the First Amendment, federal courts are likely to declare HB 6667’s prohibition on open carry a violation of the First Amendment. 

Flying under the radar in HB 6667 is its targeting of so-called “ghost guns” or firearms that do not have serial numbers. HB 6667 will criminalize the possession, manufacture, or sale of “ghost guns” in Connecticut. Since the Supreme Court decided Bruen, serial number laws have become a target of opportunity for Second Amendment litigants, and law after law has fallen as states fail to mount a persuasive response to the argument that there were no serial numbers on muskets in the Founding Eras. HB 6667 will meet a similar fate. 

While the legal and policy issues underlying HB 6667 are fascinating, the fiscal issues will tap the taxpayers’ wallets. HB 6667 will unleash a torrent of Second Amendment litigation against the state of Connecticut, and Connecticut taxpayers will be on the hook for funding the state’s defense of the lawsuits. 

More importantly, Connecticut taxpayers will be responsible for paying the costs and attorney’s fees of the plaintiffs who bring the Second Amendment cases against the state. Because the state will defend HB 6667 to the bitter end, it is entirely reasonable to conclude that the cases will last 2 to 3 years and may involve multiple appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The bottom line will not be pretty. Attorneys’ fees add up in a hurry, and, when the dust settles on the state’s losses in these cases, they will have spent millions of dollars to defend the cases and will pay out millions of dollars in plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees. 

Connecticut’s taxpayers will pay a lot for their politicians to pander to the gun control movement, but HB 6667’s key provisions will not survive constitutional scrutiny. Hartford has decided that the political optics are worth the cost though. 

Mark my words. The taxpayers’ bill will be a large one. 

Cameron Atkinson is a criminal defense and civil rights attorney based out of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the views of Connecticut Inside Investigator.

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