HARTFORD, Conn. – Citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year, gun rights groups and firearms owners have launched another attempt to overturn Connecticut's ban on certain semiautomatic rifles that was enacted in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
A new lawsuit was filed Thursday in federal court by three gun owners, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League and the Second Amendment Foundation. They are seeking to overturn the state prohibition on what they call “modern sporting arms” such as AR-15-style rifles like the one used to kill 20 first-graders and six educators at the Newtown school in 2012.
“We all deserve to live in safe communities, but denying ownership of the most commonly owned firearms in the country is not the way to achieve it," Holly Sullivan, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said in a statement.
“The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision ... has opened the door to this challenge, and we believe Connecticut will be hard pressed to prove its statutes are constitutional,” she said.
State officials vowed to defend the 2013 gun laws.
“Connecticut’s gun laws save lives, and we are not going back,” state Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. “We will not allow weapons of war back into our schools, our houses of worship, our grocery stores, and our communities. I will vigorously defend our laws against any and every one of these baseless challenges.”
In June, the Supreme Court broadly expanded gun rights in a 6-3 ruling by the conservative majority that overturned a New York law restricting carrying guns in public and affected a half-dozen other states with similar laws. After the ruling, New York and other states have moved to pass new gun restrictions that comply with the decision.
Gun rights groups had attempted to overturn Connecticut's ban on assault weapons before. But in 2016, the high court, with fewer conservative justices, rejected challenges to assault weapons bans in Connecticut in New York passed in response to the Sandy Hook shooting.
The plaintiffs in the new challenge include a female victim of domestic violence and two former state correctional officers who want to possess “modern sporting rifles for defensive purposes,” the lawsuit says. Their lawyers include two Republican state representatives, Craig Fishbein of Wallingford and Doug Dubitsky of Chaplin.
They say Connecticut's gun laws violate Second Amendment gun rights as well as 14th Amendment due process rights.
The lawsuit was filed against Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, public safety Commissioner James Rovella and several state prosecutors.
Lamont said Friday the state gun law was passed to prevent “needless tragedy," had bipartisan support when it was approved and is overwhelmingly supported by state residents.
“We will vigorously defend these commonsense laws that are seeking to reduce violent crime and mass shootings,” he said in a statement. “When it comes to the safety of the people of our state, we must stand up and do what is right.”
The 2013 state law added more than 100 firearms, including the rifle used in the school shooting, to the state’s assault weapons ban and prohibited large-capacity ammunition magazines.
The Newtown shooter, Adam Lanza, fired more than 150 shots within five minutes, using a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle and 30-round magazines. The rifle was legally owned by his mother, whom he killed at their Newtown home before going to the school. Lanza killed himself with a handgun at the school as police arrived.
The law also created what officials called the nation’s first dangerous weapon offender registry as well as eligibility rules for buying ammunition.