A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Connecticut’s ban on handguns in state parks was dismissed by a federal court judge, who said plaintiff David Nastri of Cheshire lacked standing to bring the suit.
Connecticut allows hunters of small game, like rabbits, to carry .22 caliber rimfire handguns for hunting purposes, and allows other handguns to be carried on state park property for use at designated firing ranges. However, individuals visiting state parks cannot carry a handgun for self-defense, and violation carries a small fine and possible eviction from the park for up to one year.
Judge Janet Bond Arterton ruled that because Nastri did not intend to bring a handgun for personal protection into Connecticut state parks because it is illegal and has never been confronted by park authorities, he did not have standing to bring the lawsuit. The judge’s decision also noted that the statute is rarely enforced.
“Plaintiff admitted that he has never heard of this regulation being enforced against anyone, and Colonel Lewis testified that he could not recall a single circumstance in which an [Environmental Conservation] ranger or officer had been required to enforce the regulation during his time working with EnCon,” Arterton wrote. “Colonel Lewis (Director of the Environmental Conservation Police Division) testified that EnCon regularly experiences staffing challenges, and that EnCon does not have the capacity to station an officer at every one of Connecticut’s state parks and forests and the same time.”
The attorney representing Nastri, Cameron Atkinson, says the dismissal “disregarded multiple U.S. Supreme Court and federal appellate precedents and invented an unprecedented legal fiction to avoid reaching the true Second Amendment issues, which would have spelled the end of Connecticut’s unconstitutional law.”
“The district court acknowledged that the same director testified that, if he or his officers caught someone like Nastri in a state park or forest with a handgun, they would prosecute him for violating the law though,” Atkinson wrote in a statement posted to his website. “He also testified that any Connecticut police officer could prosecute someone like Nastri for violating the prohibition.”
In 2018, a bill was proposed to roll back the handgun restriction in state parks with proponents arguing it made little sense to restrict permitted gun owners to not carry in state parks, however, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) argued that allowing guns in state parks, particularly beaches during the summer, would only create more problems.
Connecticut’s law, however, is at odds with federal regulations for national parks which allows for permitted handgun owners to carry. Some parts of federal parks intersect with Connecticut’s state parks, at which point the state’s prohibition remains in effect.
Nastri’s lawsuit is not the only challenge to Connecticut’s gun laws, including challenges to Connecticut’s recently updated ban on “assault weapons,” part of a slate of new gun laws passed in 2023. Plaintiffs, including the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, filed a lawsuit challenging Connecticut’s ban on assault weapons based on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, saying the ban “cannot survive constitutional muster.”
The court complaint was recently amended to account for Connecticut’s latest legislation that expanded the definition of assault weapons to include firearms previously labeled as “other,” which, according to the complaint, constitute 7 percent of the firearms legally owned in Connecticut. That case is pending in federal court.
“We have already filed our notice of appeal, and we will seek speedy review from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. If the Second Circuit forces us to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, we will,” Atkinson said.
“As of now, we are currently evaluating our options for seeking emergency relief pending the resolution of Nastri’s appeal,” Atkinson wrote.