HARTFORD, Conn. – Key Connecticut legislators are calling for an expansion of the state's gun seizure law to allow relatives and medical professionals to report someone is too dangerous to possess firearms, a proposal coming under criticism from gun rights groups.
The Democratic co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Gary Winfield and Rep. Steve Stafstrom, have introduced a bill to revamp Connecticut's 1999 “red flag" law, which was the first in the country to allow judges to order someone's guns seized upon evidence they are a danger to themselves or others.
The current law allows only prosecutors and police to ask a judge to issue a risk warrant to temporarily seize a person's guns. The bill would add relatives, household members and medical professionals, including physicians, physician assistants, nurses and psychologists.
According to state Judicial Branch estimates, more than 2,000 gun seizure warrants have been executed since the law was passed in 1999 in response to the 1998 killings of four people at the Connecticut Lottery headquarters by a disgruntled employee with a history of psychiatric problems. Court officials say 186 executed seizure warrants were filed with court clerks' offices last year, compared with 268 in 2018.
Twelve states and Washington currently allow family members to petition courts for gun seizures, while only two states and Washington allow medical professionals to do so, Winfield and Stafstrom said. A total of 17 states and Washington have red flag laws.
The Connecticut legislation also could increase the time a gun owner's firearms could be kept from them, from up to a year under the existing law to “until such time that the court shall order the lifting of the risk protection order.”
Gun owners would be entitled to a court hearing within 14 days of when the seizure warrant was issued to determine whether the warrants should continue to apply. To get their guns back, they would have to prove they are no longer a danger to themselves or others.
“While Connecticut led the way with its own risk warrant law in 1999, numerous states have since passed stronger measures, and it is time for our state to do the same," Winfield, of New Haven, said when announcing the bill Wednesday. "Strengthening Connecticut’s ability to remove firearms from individuals who may harm themselves or others is an important piece of making our communities safer. Together we can save lives.”
Gun rights groups immediately opposed the Connecticut bill. Of particular concern to them is the lack of a requirement for a law enforcement investigation before relatives and medical professionals could file a court complaint seeking seizure of someone's guns. Prosecutors and police are required to investigate whether there is probable cause to seize a person's guns before asking a judge to issue a seizure warrant.
“All Connecticut residents who value any of their constitutionally protected rights should be concerned about the precedent being suggested and how far government overreach will be allowed to go,” said Holly Sullivan, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League.
“This bill is a phony solution created by the same politicians who fail to hold accountable actual violent criminals who steal guns and commit other crimes," she said.
The new legislation also would require judges, if they find gun owners pose a risk to themselves or others, to notify the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, which can seek involuntary hospital commitment.
Sullivan, of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, also said the bill includes no penalties if ex-spouses or estranged spouses falsely report that someone is dangerous and their guns should be seized. Many women, she said, legally have guns for self-defense.