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OP-ED | Heritage Aside, Connecticut’s Not Gun-Shy Anymore

by | Oct 23, 2015 4:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Analysis, Civil Liberties, Congress, Courts, Opinion

They say Americans have a complicated relationship with their guns. And that goes double for Connecticut. The state is dominated by Democrats, most of whom are sympathetic to the cause of gun control.

But an industrial heritage that includes arms production might say otherwise. Names like Colt and Remington come to mind. And more recently, Sturm Ruger, O.F. Mossberg, and Stag Arms.

When I was a little kid growing up in Dallas, I had a wooden jigsaw puzzle of the lower 48. Each piece had an small icon on it that symbolized that state’s dominant characteristic. Connecticut’s had a pistol on it.

Perhaps for that reason and others, Connecticut’s gun laws were for awhile much more lax than one might expect — especially considering that it’s a blue state in southern New England. Until the mid-1990s, for example, state residents — even those with criminal records — could freely buy and sell guns second-hand.

But that would soon change, as the state’s largest cities found themselves awash in gang violence that claimed dozens of lives each year. The carnage was perhaps best exemplified by the shocking death of 7-year-old Marcelina Delgado, who was caught in the crossfire between two of Hartford’s nastiest gangs on March 26, 1994.

So state and federal law enforcement went after the gangs as the General Assembly crafted legislation requiring permits and registration for most firearms purchases. One study estimated that over the next 10 years, gun killings in Connecticut decreased by 40 percent. Though the methodology of the study has been called into question by gun-rights advocates, there can be little doubt that gun deaths declined, whether because of the legislation or because of a subsequent drop in violent crime nationwide.

Then came a couple of mass shootings. A state lottery employee upset over a lost promotion stabbed and shot to death four senior lottery executives in 1998 before turning his gun on himself. And of course five years ago there was the Hartford Beer Distributors shooting, in which a fired employee used two Ruger SR9 semiautomatic pistols to kill eight of his former co-workers and then himself.

Then came the grandaddy of them all. Connecticut and the nation were horrified when 20 young school children and six educators were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. Only five months after the worst school-age mass shooting in the nation’s history, the General Assembly and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy acted quickly to enact some of the toughest gun control legislation in the U.S., so tough in fact that it banned certain types of assault weapons that were still being manufactured in the state, as well as large-capacity ammunition magazines.

The constitutionality of the law was upheld by a federal appeals court last week. And in the wake of an Oct. 1 mass shooting at a community college near Roseburg, Oregon, Connecticut’s congressional delegation called for more federal legislation, with Sen. Chris Murphy saying he and his colleague Richard Blumenthal “have become evangelical in our belief that this massacre has to stop.”

I agree that something must be done but remain skeptical that additional laws governing firearms will have much effect. Restricting high-capacity magazines, for example, might save some lives by limiting the number of rounds a mass killer can get off in a short period of time, but I’d hate for gun-control advocates to lull themselves into a false sense of security that such measures will make a big difference in the level of gun violence.

Still, it’s worth a try. My reading is that Connecticut’s new laws and other measures such as closing the so-called gun-show loophole do not run afoul of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The key words in that amendment are “militia” in the subordinate clause and “infringed” in the independent clause. When the Bill of Rights was drafted in the 18th century, the people WERE the militia. And the first word in the second clause is “the people,’ not “the militia,” as in “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” So it’s clear to me that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms.

In interpreting the Second Amendment and determining whether gun control laws pass constitutional muster, the operative word is actually “infringed.” Do Connecticut’s new laws passed after Sandy Hook really infringe on the right of its residents to keep and bear arms? Does requiring registration and background checks infringe on that right? Not as I see it.

But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this will even come close to solving our gun violence problem. We banned illicit drugs and it did little to keep people from killing themselves and ruining their lives with them.

We have an entrenched history of violence in this country that will easily withstand the “evangelical” fervor of a Murphy or a Blumenthal. But changing the culture is much harder than passing a few laws or even strangling the NRA. It will require a frontal assault on American culture. And no politician really wants to go there.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(14) Archived Comments

posted by: CTtransplant | October 23, 2015  9:09am

A thoughtfully written column with some excellent points.

posted by: Stingy Blue | October 23, 2015  9:12am

The constitutional analysis in paragraphs 11-13 above is incorrect.  The proposition that the second amendment protects an individual’s right to own guns was invented in 1965 by Robert Sprecher, foreshadowing Clarence Thomas’ 1997 concurrence in Prinz and the “sea change” in Heller (2008).  Prior to these perversions of the framers’ intent, the second amendment was properly read as a collective right, not an individual right.  If you think that the second amendment was intended to or should protect an individual’s right to own guns, consider yourself the fruit of the Federalist Society’s labors.

posted by: JMacJR5150 | October 23, 2015  10:14am

Reality Check - a federal registry would systematically & incrementally dismantle the 2nd amendment with a president like Obama and more so, Clinton residing in the white house. CT. registration has had zero effect on reducing criminal firearms related offenses. More laws do not make an act illegaler. Murphy and Blumenthal aren’t smart enough to figure that one out. They are nothing but stool pigeons for disarmament. Murphy had admitted on camera that he knows nothing about firearms but spews the protectionist evangelical garbage just for his 15 minutes of political grandstanding.

posted by: Clean Agent | October 23, 2015  12:03pm

I think your last paragraph said it all. Guns are just an easy thing to go after for feel good legislation in blue states.

Does registration or background checks really “infringe” upon the right? Maybe, maybe not. This is a Constitutional right. It is not a “privilege.”  It is a right. That is a big difference. How many other Constitutional rights require asking the government for permission before you are allowed to exercise said right? How many other constitutional rights require paying a permit fee to the government before you exercise that right? Could you imagine having to run every op-ed by government censors before you are allowed to publish it? Could you imagine having to pay a fee for a voter registration card before voting? What if the government banned only some books or the internet? Using the logic that there are other guns which remain legal to own would dictate that since there are other forms of communication, it would not constitute an “infringement.” But, everybody in the free world would know that it was. Democrats would be screaming if that was the case. But when it comes to guns in a blue state, anything goes and they will take take take and we will argue whether this or that legally is an infringemnt.

The CT law banned certain firearms by cosmetic features only. Again, what if it were certain books? The appeals court upheld the law because there are other firearms which remain legal to own. They interpreted the “common use” clause from Heller to mean a whole class of guns such as handguns, not if a certain model was in common use. This may be the main point that the SCOTUS will have to decide if they hear the case.

posted by: Bluecoat | October 23, 2015  1:06pm

Here is a great read

posted by: Bluecoat | October 23, 2015  1:12pm

And when you list CT Gun manufacturers,
don’t forget Simeon North, From the American Precision Website:
“North is now generally credited with the invention of the milling machine-the first entirely new type of machine invented in America and the machine that, by re- placing filing, made interchangeable parts practical. In 1795, North began to produce scythes in a mill adjacent to his farm in Berlin, Conn. Four years later, he obtained a contract to make pistols and began to add a factory to the mill building. By 1813, he signed a contract to produce 20,000 pistols that specified that parts had to be completely interchangeable between any of the 20,000—-the first such contract of which any such evidence exists. The first known milling machine was in use by 1818. At about that time, North was sent to John H. Hall, superintendent at Harpers Ferry (Va.) Armory, to introduce his methods of achieving interchangeability. In 1828, North received a contract to produce 5,000 Hall rifles with parts interchangeable with those produced at Harpers Ferry. North had a 53-year contractual relationship with the War Dept. The report of Charles H. Fitch prepared for the 1880 Census credits North with a key role in developing manufacture with interchangeable parts.”

So in essence, North was considered the First Official Pistol Maker of the US
Interesting fact, He was born on the Same day as Eli Whitney - July 13, 1765

posted by: Truth_To_Power | October 23, 2015  4:34pm

Stingy Blue is incorrect. For the truth on what the framers of the constitution meant by the 2nd Amendment, read ‘The Founders Second Amendment’ by Stephen Halbrook. Through correspondence between the framers, it lays out the intent and purpose quite clearly.

Note: The 2nd IS specifically for individual rights.

posted by: B Keck | October 24, 2015  6:54am

It heartens this English teacher, Terry, that you explain the 2nd Amendment from a grammatical perspective. I don’t think, however, that the first portion mentioning a “militia” is a subordinate clause; rather, it’s as an absolute clause. The difference is critical to the meaning of the Amendment:

A better grammarian than I explains that difference in a Denver Post op-ed:

“The ‘absolute’ clause construction of the Second [A]mendment was quite common at the time, and appears in many state constitutions and framing documents. The primary purpose in these constructions is to give the conditions under which the rest of the sentence is true or valid.”

Thus, “The Framers were clearly familiar with the ablative absolute and used it not as rhetorical fluff or flourish, but as a way of clarifying intent, in this case clarifying that the right to bear arms is granted in the context and within the scope of establishing a militia. Nothing more, nothing less.”

The unusual—some might now say “archaic”—construction of the Second Amendment has caused endless debate about its meaning; other grammarians, in fact, have derived other interpretations. (The placement of the commas, for instance, is problematic to a 21st century reader.) That said, I agree with your general premise, Terry, that—like the First Amendment, which SCOTUS has ruled does not guarantee unfettered and absolute freedom of speech—can remain lawfully open to certain restrictions without “infringing” the right to bear arms.

posted by: Terry Cowgill | October 24, 2015  7:29am

Terry Cowgill

@Stingy Blue: There are plenty of reputable constitutional scholars who disagree with you.

@Stingy Blue and Barth: It all depends on whether you think the subordinate (or even absolute) “militia” clause is proscriptive or descriptive. I think the latter because the independent clause that follows starts with the words “the people’s right ...” — not “the militia’s right.”

BTW, Barth: I am a former English teacher myself. As you will discover when you retire, you can take the English teacher out of the classroom but not vice versa. :-)

posted by: Clean Agent | October 25, 2015  7:30pm

Barth and Terry, very interesting grammar lesson. It has been a few years since I sat in an English class.

If I understand correctly, an absolute clause is the reason why the next clause exists.

In the SCOTUS Heller decision, they call this same “A well regulated militia..” clause a “prefatory”  clause and conclude: “The Amendment’s prefatory clause announces a purpose, but
does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative
clause. The operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it
connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms.”

To Terry’s point, they go further in the opinion and say that in any place that “The right of the people” is used there has never been any question that it meant the individual when used when referencing enumerated rights. However, they do recognize that with respect to the reservation of powers, “the people” used in the Constitution was meant collectively.

I think that some confusion is created as to who “the people” actually are because they used “We the people” then said, “the right of the people.” 

I think that the Supreme Court got this right and explained it in Heller.

The framers of the Constitution wrote the document for everyone to be able to read and understand. It seems to be only much later that someone needs an English degree to deconstruct what they meant or have a law degree to apply what was written.

posted by: Stingy Blue | October 26, 2015  2:53pm

Clean Agent, Truth, I’ll take Burger over Halbrook.  “The Gun Lobby’s interpretation of the Second Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American People by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.  The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that state armies - the militia - would be maintained for the defense of the state.  The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.”
Retired Chief Justice Warren Burger, “The Right to Bear Arms,” Parade Magazine, January 14, 1990.  I also note that no court in the US, at any time, for any reason, found the second amendment to guarantee an individual’s right to own guns until the Fifth Circuit’s Emerson holding in 2011 - prior to which there were a full 220 years in which this individual right did not exist.  I think we were doing just fine prior to this judicial innovation.

posted by: oldtimer | October 26, 2015  5:11pm

...And maybe “Freedom of Speech” doesn’t really mean freedom of speech…

posted by: Clean Agent | October 26, 2015  8:50pm

Stingy, I didn’t make anything up. I simply read the most current Supreme Court ruling and referenced it. I haven’t read anything written by Holbrook or Burger’s 1990 article. A “militia” is made up of individuals who bring their own weapons. Hence, they were allowed to “keep” and “bear” those weapons.  Many state constitutions including our own have much stronger wording. The majority of states include wording such as “Every Citizen” or “Individual” or “Person” when it comes to the right to bear arms. Perhaps when the state constitutions were written the states wanted to clear up the matter. But this is America and you have the right to believe that the big bad NRA invented the individual right.

posted by: oldtimer | October 28, 2015  4:50pm

Let’s pretend the Socialists get their wish and Malloy outlaws guns in CT. Exactly what do you think will happen???

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