There is no ambiguity in Connecticut's constitutional right to armed self-defense. The right is explicitly stated as an individual right rather than a collective right. It has no connection to military service. Residents of The Nutmeg State have enjoyed an individual right to keep and bear arms (RKBA) long before the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Second Amendment that way in DC v Heller (2008).
“Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself [or herself] and the state” ---- Article I, § 15, Connecticut State Constitution
In this diary, we begin a group Study Hall series focused on the right to armed self-defense as articulated in state constitutions. Some states copied the Second Amendment of the US Constitution ver batim. Some states have language similar to the Second Amendment. And in some states the individual right to armed self-defense is explicit. The Connecticut constitutional right to arms was copied from
Louisiana Mississippi. Adopted in 1818, it has remained unchanged for 195 years.
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|Sidebar: The primary source for this diary is a report commissioned by the state legislature in 2013, Report No. 2013-R-0195, entitled RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS UNDER THE CONNECTICUT CONSTITUTION. The report provides brief summaries of the right to bear arms as addressed in the Connecticut Appeals Courts and the State Supreme Court.
The Connecticut Office of Legislative Research is a non-partisan resource and research service for state legislators in the Connecticut General Assembly. All their reports are free and available to the public. It is an excellent resource for non-partisan research on firearms law and policy.
The Connecticut legislature began major gun law reform in 1993. It was the height of the crack cocaine epidemic when cities in the state had soaring crime and high murder rates. They passed a law similar to the Brady Act that limited ownership of assault weapons and large capacity magazines. They required a permit for handguns and background checks for all gun purchases. During the past 20 years, Connecticut's gun laws and regulations have been challenged and upheld multiple times in state courts. Every time the legislature drafted or amended their gun laws they took their state constitutional right to keep and bear arms into consideration.
In recent years the Connecticut legislature has requested dozens of reports on various aspects of firearms law and policy. All of them are available online for free. For example, before they updated their law limiting high-capacity ammunition magazine they requested a review of other state laws that limit magazines.
Their commissioned reports on the seminal Supreme Court decisions are worth a careful read; Heller , 2008-R-0578; and McDonald, 2010-R-0314. In 2010, they specifically asked the Office of Legislative Research to review their assault weapons laws and magazine restrictions with respect to both decisions.
The Individual RKBA Under the Connecticut Constitution
This diary presents brief summaries of a few cases in which the right to bear arms was addressed in the Connecticut State Appeals Courts and the Connecticut State Supreme Court. Report No. 2013-R-0195 was written by Christopher Reinhart, the Chief Attorney at the Office of Legislative Research. Dated March 20, 2013, it was available to state legislators as they were drafting gun legislation and holding public hearings on proposed new gun laws last spring.
Generally, Connecticut courts have upheld reasonable restrictions on the Connecticut Constitution's right to bear arms. The cases in which restrictions or regulations have been allowed include those construing the state's authority to
(1) ban the sale of assault weapons,
(2) limit a person's right to carry a gun under permitting statutes, and
(3) limit the possession of guns by felons.
A Superior Court decided the oldest and latest cases in 1979 and 2011, respectively. The State Supreme Court decided two cases in 1988 and 1995.
- Report No. 2013-R-0195 [Lightly edited for readability].
Constitutional Restrictions on the Individual RKBA
In Connecticut state courts constitutional claims were analyzed using a two-step approach. This is the same approach taken in a majority of federal courts when they evaluate claims that gun laws violate the Second Amendment.
First, the Court asks a threshold question. Is the particular expression of the right to keep and bear arms a protected activity under the state constitution, Article I, § 15? If the answer is no, the inquiry is finished. If the answer is yes, the Court then evaluates the extent of the burden imposed on the constitutional right.
[In 1995 Benjamin v Bailey] The court found that the constitution protects each citizen's right to possess a weapon of reasonably sufficient firepower to be effective for self-defense but that it does not guarantee the right to possess any weapon of an individual's choosing for such use. Thus, the court held that as long as citizens have available to them some types of weapons that are adequate reasonably to vindicate the right to bear arms in self-defense, the state can prohibit the possession of others. The court next determined whether the weapons ban infringes on the constitutional right to bear arms. It concluded that the ban is not an infringement because it continues to permit access to a wide array of weapons.The bold text in the quote above is very similar to language in the majority Heller opinion.
According to the court, the facts as the trial court found them showed that assault weapons pose an increasing risk to society, including police officers and innocent victims. Thus, the ban serves a legitimate interest of the state acting pursuant to its police power. The court also noted the fact that the trial court specifically discredited testimony offered to establish that the weapons subject to the ban had legitimate self-defense qualities. Lastly, the court found that the ban does not cover a significant percentage of firearms that continue to be available for citizens to possess, thus, the ban is sufficiently circumscribed so as not to intrude upon the constitutional interests involved.
- Report No. 2013-R-0195 [my bold]
Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. See, e.g., Sheldon, in 5 Blume 346; Rawle 123; Pomeroy 152–153; Abbott333. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. See, e.g., State v. Chandler, 5 La. Ann., at 489–490; Nunn v. State, 1 Ga., at 251; see generally 2 Kent *340, n. 2; The American Students’ Blackstone 84, n. 11 (G. Chase ed. 1884).
[US Supreme Court Opinion - DC v Heller, my bold]
Discussion - Case Synopses and Holdings
What do you think?
Four cases are presented in the comments for further study and to get the discussion going. The holdings and legal reasoning are provided and each case is linked to the decision in Google Scholar. Geeks like me can use the "How cited" feature to find recent cases that have cited them.
Please feel free to comment in reply to each opening comment, or to start new threads. Since this is a study hall diary, feel free to post naive questions or tear into these court decisions, explaining why you believe what you do. Teach the rest of us what you know and why you know it.
Connecticut State Supreme Court
Source: RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS UNDER THE CONNECTICUT CONSTITUTION Report No. 2013-R-0195, dated March 20, 2013. Additional cases may be found therein.
This diary introduces important concepts in constitutional firearms law.
- An explicit right to armed self defense has been in force in the state of Connecticut since 1818.
- It is an individual right and is very similar to the core right defined in the Heller decision.
- For the last 20 years, state courts have upheld most of Connecticut's gun laws as constitutional restrictions on the individual RKBA.
- The new laws passed in 2013 have not yet been vetted in state court.
Since the Connecticut state legislature has a long history of vetting their gun laws with their state constitution and state court decisions in mind, I think the recent laws very well might survive their eventual review by the US Supreme Court.
This diary is intended as an introduction/foundation diary for the state constitutional right and the legal reasoning applied to evaluate constitutional claims in Connecticut state courts. The new laws passed in 2013 are complex and have not yet been vetted in Connecticut state court. I intend to write separately about those laws and the recent Federal Court decision rejecting constitutional challenges (Shrew v Malloy).