Roughly 100,000 gunowners in an East Coast state are now considered felons under a new gun registration law. Why? They failed to apply for “assault rifle certificates” under a state law that went into effect on Dec. 31.
Only around 15 percent of Connecticut’s estimated gunowners have filed applications for the certificates, Hartford Courant columnist Dan Haar noted. The state has received 47,916 applications for certificates from owners of such rifles as AR-15s.
Nobody actually knows how many assault rifles there are in Connecticut. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates there could be as many as 350,000 such weapons in the state, with perhaps 100,000 people who own them.
“If you pass laws that people have no respect for and they don’t follow them, then you have a real problem,” State Senator Tony Guglielmo (R-Stamford) said of the Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Act passed in response to last year’s Newtown Massacre.
The law makes owning an unregistered so-called assault weapon a Class D Felony. In Connecticut a Class D felony is punishable by a sentence of up to five years in prison.
When registration opened last year, lines were long. The law actually bans the sell of weapons such as AR-15s in the state but allows those who already owned such firearms to keep them — if they are registered.
Will Law Be Enforced?
State officials have not figured out how to enforce the law, said Mike Lawlor, an undersecretary for criminal justice and policy management in the governor’s office. The Courier described Lawlor as Connecticut’s top official in criminal justice.
“Like anything else, people who violate the law face consequences. … that’s their decision. The consequences are pretty clear. … There’s nothing unique about this,” Lawlor said. “The goal is to have fewer of these types of weapons in circulation.”
There are no plans for a search for unregistered weapons and state enforcement efforts might consist mailing a letter to known owners of such weapons, Lawlor said.
Compared to Prohibition
The problem is that the law left no room for gunowners, after Dec. 31, to register legally. Haar of the Courier said the legislature “should reopen the registration period this year with an outreach campaign designed to boost the numbers.” Some residents simply don’t know about the new law.
Some Connecticut residents are deliberately violating the law, Guglielmo admitted. The senator said some gunowners had told him they would not register their weapons.
“He made the analogy to Prohibition,” Guglielmo said of one gun owner he met at a constituent meeting. “I said, ‘You’re talking about civil disobedience, and he said ‘Yes.’ ”
The senator was referring to the Prohibition of alcohol in the United States, which failed in the 1920s and 1930s because large numbers of citizens simply ignored the law. Guglielmo, who voted against the new gun law, seemed to be stunned by the number of people promising to violate it.
“I honestly thought from my own standpoint that the vast majority would register,” Guglielmo said. Failure to comply to with the gun registration in Connecticut is now so widespread that some legislators are considering creating an amnesty for unregistered gun owners, giving them more time to register.
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Some gunowners who tried to register had their registrations returned by the state because they were postmarked Jan. 2, 2014, State Senator John McKinney told the Courant. McKinney, the Republican minority leader, is promoting the amnesty to help those individuals.
What The Bill Does
The Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Act is considered one of the nation’s toughest gun control laws. Among other things it:
- Bans the sale of any weapon that has a magazine that contains more than 10 rounds. Existing owners of such weapons can keep them but they cannot resale them in Connecticut.
- Expands the designation of assault weapons to include any semiautomatic weapon with “military characteristics.” Military characteristics can include a pistol grip.
- Requires all gun buyers to get a criminal background check in Connecticut.
- Requires certificates for purchasers of guns and ammunition.
- Creates a database of persons convicted of weapons charges.
- Increases the penalties for gun-related crimes.