Federal Court Case Offers Clues on Rumored Connecticut Gun Ban

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/08/30/federal-court-case-offers-clues-on-rumored-connecticut-gun-ban/

Rumors of a pending new interpretation of state gun laws have led several Connecticut firearms dealers to dump their inventory of so-called “pre-ban” weapons, but state officials have thus far remained mum regarding any new developments.

A federal civil case involving a Coventry resident who alleges that police in 2011 illegally confiscated a cache of registered firearms may shed more light on the direction that state officials intend to go, however.

Court records show that 86-year-old Joseph Kaminsky sued Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Dora B. Schriro after he claimed that local police illegally seized several registered machine guns and additional firearms from him. Attorneys representing Schriro have argued that Coventry police officers seized Kaminsky’s registered firearms after a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives query discovered Kaminsky had been convicted in 1964 of unemployment fraud. Federal agents say it’s a felony, which necessitated the seizure — although Kaminsky has maintained that the state had viewed it as a misdemeanor up until police came to his door nearly 50 years later.

The case involving Kaminsky, who secured a state pardon for the decades-old conviction in 2013 with the hope that authorities would return his guns, is still active.

The focal point of the case now appears to be whether Kaminsky has a constitutional right to own the firearms in dispute.

The wrench thrown into the case, however, involves Schriro, who was appointed to the post in January 2014 and succeeded former DESP Commissioner Reuben F. Bradford, who stepped down in December 2013.

In April 2013, the Connecticut legislature passed a law banning assault weapons on the heels of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting a few months earlier.

Gun rights activists reading the new statute interpreted it as allowing so-called assault weapons manufactured before 1994, and they sought clarification from state officials. Bradford complied, issuing a memo in October 2013 stating that the gun-ban law “clarifies that it is the intent of the Legislature to exclude assault weapons manufactured before Sept. 13, 1994, from transfer restrictions and registration requirements.”

But as Connecticut-based lawyer Gregory J. Miller pointed out in a presentation he made in July at a Connecticut Citizens Defense League meeting, Schriro is apparently using the Kaminsky case, through the courts, to render Bradford’s memo null and void.

Miller noted that after Kaminsky secured a pardon for his 1964 unemployment fraud conviction, the state gave him back his gun permit, but not three of the firearms that police seized. Miller declined to comment when reached on Wednesday but made his opinion clear at the July meeting of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a pro-Second Amendment organization.

“The court discussed the Bradford letter, and State Police concede that before September 1994 it allows pre-bans, but what happened here is we have a new commissioner [Schriro], and she has taken a different position,” Miller said in July. “She goes in court and is arguing against the position of her own department.

“What happens next is the court comes in and says it agrees with new commissioner.”

The Kaminsky case, according to Miller, involves all firearms made prior to September 1994 — matching the same make and model as the 56 guns identified by the state when lawmakers passed the latest ban in 2013 — now being deemed as contraband, even though law enforcement authorities had previously declared the pre-1994 firearms legal.

“Now, if you have one of those 56 guns, it doesn’t matter when they were made, they were not pre-banned,” Miller summarized.  

Miller’s presentation came after a Connecticut Superior Court judge this past May reviewed arguments made by Schriro contending that Bradford’s memo should be discarded. Judge William H. Bright ruled in Schriro’s favor. It was Kaminsky, however, who brought the case before Bright in an effort to force the state to return his firearms to him. 

The move backfired on the Coventry resident.

“[Kaminsky] argues that the court should accept Commissioner Bradford’s statement as evidence of the intent behind [statute] 53-202m, as amended,” Bright wrote in his ruling. “In addition he argues that the court should defer to the commissioner’s interpretation of the statute because his agency was responsible for applying and enforcing it.” 

Bright then summarized Schriro’s argument, noting that she claims the “plain argument of the statute, as amended, only exempts specific categories of assault weapons from the restrictions on transfer and registration.”

“She also argues that because Commissioner Bradford’s interpretation of law is simply incorrect and inconsistent with the plain wording of the statute it must be rejected.”

The judge agreed with Schriro.

“The fact that Commissioner Bradford reached a different conclusion does not change the court’s analysis,” Bright wrote.”An agency’s interpretation is not entitled to deference if it is plainly inconsistent with the clear language of the statute.” 

Schriro is being represented by lawyers from Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen’s office. Earlier this week, a spokesman for Jepsen told New Boston Post that Jepsen’s office “is not working on any sort of interpretation or guidance regarding laws on semiautomatic weapons” and confirmed that “no announcement is imminent from our office.”

Records show that Assistant Attorney General Stephen Sarnosky submitted Bright’s ruling to federal court in June as part of a motion for summary judgment. As of Wednesday, Connecticut U.S. District Court Judge Michael P. Shea has yet to rule on the motion.

A source at the DESPP’s special licensing and firearms division told New Boston Post, however, that an announcement from state officials should be coming soon.

Reached Wednesday by telephone, Kaminsky said he was unaware that his particular case has likely affected the state’s interpretation of firearms licensing.

“To be honest, no, I’m not aware,” Kaminsky said. “I had no idea.”