Connecticut's Gun Controllers, Deliberative by New York Standards, Still Produce a Puzzling Mess


Office of the Governor

As J.D. Tuccille noted yesterday, the Connecticut General Assembly is passing a new set of gun restrictions on an "emergency" basis, thereby avoiding the inconvenience and potential embarrassment of public hearings. Still, Connecticut's legislators are slowpokes compared to New York's, who managed to pass a gun control package demanded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo three months ago, on the first full day of their current session. (It helps if you don't bother to read legislation before approving it.) Did the people of Connecticut benefit from their legislature's comparatively contemplative approach? That depends on your perspective.

While New York reduced its magazine limit from 10 rounds to seven, Connecticut, which had no magazine limit until now, settled on 10 in its Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety. That might strike gun controllers as inexcusably lax, but it does have the advantage (or disadvantage?) of corresponding to magazines that actually exist. Cuomo, after realizing he had mandated magazines that are not available for most firearms, proposed changing the law so that people can still buy 10-round magazines, as long as they don't put more than seven rounds in them. I am totally serious. Connecticut's lawmakers liked that approach so much that they decreed something similar for currently owned (and properly "declared") magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds: You can keep them as long as you don't load them with more than 10 rounds. Except at home. Or the shooting range. Or on Tuesdays. OK, I a made up that last one. But Connecticut does cut gun owners a bit more slack than New York does when it comes to loading their magazines.

While Connecticut's legislators apparently can imagine self-defense scenarios where people might benefit from having more than 10 rounds in a magazine at home, they seem to think that possibility is inconceivable at a "place of business," where the 10-round limit applies even to magazines capable of holding more. Still, they treat adding an extra round as a less serious offense than their New York counterparts, making it a Class C misdemeanor (punishable by up to three months in jail), compared to a Class B misdemeanor (punishable by up to six months in jail) in New York. Possessing a previously owned "large capacity magazine" without declaring it is an "infraction" punishable by a $90 fine the first time around, after which it leaps to a Class D felony, punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years—the same as the penalty for possessing a "large capacity magazine" purchased after this section takes effect on January 1. Given the lenient treatment of a first offense by owners of previously purchased but undeclared "large capacity magazines" (a small fine rather than a prison sentence), why would anyone admit to obtaining one after the law took effect, especially since the government would have a hard time proving he had?

Connecticut's approach to broadening its "assault weapon" ban is similar to New York's: In addition to adding scores of models to its list of guns that are prohibited by name, Connecticut is reducing the number of tolerable "military-style" characteristics from one to zero. A semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine will henceforth be deemed an "assault weapon" in Connecticut, for example, if it has one or more of these features:  1) "a folding or telescoping stock," 2) "any grip of the weapon, including a pistol grip, thumbhole stock, or any other stock, the use of which would allow an individual to grip the weapon, resulting in any finger on the trigger hand in addition to the trigger finger being directly below any portion of the action of the weapon when firing," 3) "a forward pistol grip," 4) "a flash suppressor," or 5) "a grenade launcher or flare launcher."

New York lists seven features instead of five. One of the additional two is a thumbhole stock, counted separately from "a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon"; the other is a "bayonet mount," which Connecticut decided to drop because it was so fucking ridiculous the ability to skewer victims at close range has yet to prove decisive in a mass shooting. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also left "bayonet mount" out of her new, supposedly improved "assault weapon" ban, although she is still determined to ban the barrel shrouds that apparently do not trouble legislators in New York or Connecticut (except on pistols), and she upped the silliness factor by tacking on "rocket launcher." Then again, Feinstein dropped flash suppressors, which New York and Connecticut continue to view as an intolerable threat to public safety, from her list of forbidden features. (She does, however, include "a threaded barrel…designed in such a manner to allow for the attachment of a device such as a firearm silencer or a flash suppressor.") It's almost like these definitions are completely arbitrary.

Current owners of newly redefined "assault weapons" in Connecticut are required to register those guns with the state. Possessing a previously owned but unregistered "assault weapon" is a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to a year in jail) the first time around; then it becomes a Class D felony, punishable by at least a year and as much as five years in prison. That's the same as the penalty for possessing a newly acquired "assault weapon." In short, while you can slap as many barrel shrouds or bayonet mounts on your gun as you want in Connecticut, a flash suppressor or adjustable stock can send you to prison. For the children.