Gov. Lamont proposes limit on handgun purchases and ‘open carry’ ban
Gov. Ned Lamont proposed the most sweeping gun control plan in a decade on Monday – including a strict limit on handgun purchases, expanded “ghost gun” registration and a ban on openly carrying firearms in public. But the proposal faces an uncertain future, after fellow Democrats watered-down a less ambitious plan last year.
Fresh off a double-digit re-election victory, Lamont appears willing to spend his political capital on the issue.
"We have more illegal guns on the street today than ever before,” he said at a press conference at the Waterbury Police Department, surrounded by police chiefs and several Democratic mayors.
Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, the city’s former police chief, said bulk handgun purchases are his biggest concern.
"There's too many people on these 'straw purchases,'” said O’Leary. “’Straw purchases’ meaning they come in, they buy a dozen guns – for, say, $500 a gun – and then they sell them on the street for $1,500.”
HANDGUN PURCHASE LIMIT
Lamont’s proposal would limit buyers to one handgun purchase per month. Currently, only four states have a similar limit, according to the Giffords Law Center – and one of them includes major exceptions.
The limit in New York state is five handguns per year. South Carolina repealed its one-per-month restriction, and federal courts struck down a ban in Washington, D.C.
The governor’s plan is already facing pushback. The state’s largest gun rights group, Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said it does little to keep illegal firearms off the streets.
"These offenders are not buying guns in a gun store. They're simply not,” said CCDL president Holly Sullivan. "Straw purchases are already illegal. It's already illegal federally; it's already illegal at the state level. You cannot do that."
OPEN CARRY BAN?
Under Lamont’s proposal, openly carrying a gun in public would be banned. Right now, Connecticut residents can obtain a permit that allows for both concealed and “open carry.” Six states and the District of Columbia already have bans in place, although California and Florida have exceptions.
"This is their solution to end urban gun violence – is that they think we have a problem in the state of Connecticut where people are waving guns around?" said CCDL’s Sullivan.
In addition to the open carry ban, top Democrats said they will push to prohibit concealed weapons from bars and other establishments that serve alcohol.
GHOST GUN REGISTRATIONS EXPANDED
The governor also wants to require all "ghost guns" – those assembled from a kit – to be registered. Currently, only weapons made after 2019 must be registered, which some prosecutors have called a “loophole.”
"Under the law we passed in 2019, it's become almost unenforceable,” said state Rep. Steve Stafstrom (D-Bridgeport), co-chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. “Because that law basically said ghost guns manufactured after 2019 were illegal; everything before that was legal.”
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker told reporters that his city seized 42 “ghost guns” last year – almost triple the number from 2021.
BACKLASH FROM REPUBLICANS
GOP lawmakers swiftly condemned the proposal.
"Missing from their news conference was any talk about focusing on the people who are squarely responsible for causing mayhem in our communities – whether car thefts and robbery sprees or even broad-daylight car-jackings at gas stations and ATMs," said state Rep. Vin Candelora (R-North Branford), the top Republican in the Connecticut House of Representatives.
Another conservative lawmaker, who’s currently challenging Connecticut’s AR-15 assault weapons ban in court, accused Lamont of “coddling violent offenders.”
“If enacted, these new proposals will do more to harass and restrict law-abiding citizens from exercising their Constitutional rights, and little to curb the increased violent crime sweeping through our state,” said state Rep. Craig Fishbein (R-Wallingford).
MORE MONEY FOR GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION
One part of the governor’s proposal appears more popular: additional money for community violence intervention programs. Lamont said his new budget will nearly double their funding by $2.5 million. The current budget allocates almost $3 million.
“This program is bringing together communities, hospitals and law enforcement to stop the cycle of gun violence through diverse partnerships and a rigorous evaluation of proven strategies that prevent violent crime,” Lamont said.
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED
Despite earlier pledges, Lamont’s proposal does not include a total assault weapons ban. Connecticut outlawed AR-15 rifles in 1993 and expanded the ban after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting – but guns made before both laws passed were “grandfathered” in.
Previously, the governor pledged to outlaw all AR-15s. But on Monday, he said police chiefs told him illegal handguns are a more immediate threat.
LEGAL THREAT LOOMING?
Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer, CCDL and other groups are suing Connecticut over its strict gun laws.
The court limited where states can set up “gun free zones.” But proponents believe an “open carry” ban would survive constitutional scrutiny.
"You're not making the entire state of Connecticut a ‘gun-free zone,’” said Stafstrom. “You are still saying somebody could carry a handgun, they just have to conceal it."
Lamont’s office said he will propose additional gun proposals later this week.