Gun Owners Victorious In Federal Court Challenge To CT COVID Restrictions

A U.S. District Judge in Connecticut has granted a temporary injunction requested by the Connecticut Citizens Defense League after Governor Ned Lamont and the state’s public safety commissioner halted new gun license applications as part of the state’s COVID-19 emergency measures. The decision, released on Tuesday afternoon, gives the governor one week to modify his order and instruct local police departments to once again begin accepting applications from prospective gun owners in the state.

In his 26 page decision, [U.S. District Judge Jeffrey A.] Meyer ruled that order, and law enforcement’s implementation of it, “plainly burdens conduct protected by the Second Amendment.” Further, that “they categorically foreclose a person who does not already have a permit or certification from acquiring a handgun if the person’s fingerprints are not already on file. One cannot exercise the right to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense if one is prevented from acquiring a handgun in the first place.”

According to the CCDL, the state argued Lamont and Rovella did not violate the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights because the “temporary” suspension was necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the federal court should not intervene.

Meyer dispelled that argument and wrote “If the governor and the commissioner were to issue a gag order barring plaintiffs from exercising their First Amendment free speech rights for the balance of the COVID-19 crisis, plaintiffs would surely suffer injury despite the ‘temporary’ nature of the crisis.”

Meyer was actually appointed to the bench by then-President Barack Obama in 2014, which makes his ruling a little surprising. Still, it’s obvious that the state was clearly infringing on the ability of residents to keep and bear arms by suspending all gun license applications. Connecticut’s license to own a pistol also serves as a license to carry that firearm, so not only have prospective gun owners in the state been denied their ability to keep a handgun in their home for the past few months, their right to bear arms has been curtailed as well.

The judge was also correct in noting that the “temporary” nature of the suspension of license applications has stretched on for months now, and there’s been no sign that the governor was prepared to reverse course anytime soon. As the judge noted in his decision:

As an initial matter, I find no merit to any of the Governor and Commissioner’s threshold jurisdictional arguments: that they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, that plaintiffs have no standing, or that plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief is moot. On the merits, I conclude that plaintiffs have demonstrated irreparable harm, that they have a clear and substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their Second Amendment claim, and that the balance of equities and public interest weighs in favor of a grant of preliminary injunctive relief.

All in all, I can well understand why the Governor’s order and Commissioner’s actions were justified at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But with the passage of time it is clear that a categorical ban on the collection of fingerprints no longer bears a substantial relation to protecting public health consistent with respecting plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

In other words, the legal system may have given the green light to suspend the ability of a Connecticut resident to acquire a handgun during the first week or two of the COVID-19 emergency as part of the state’s broader public health measures, but the longer that ban on collecting fingerprints and processing applications lasts, the less likely it is to be a legitimate exercise of emergency powers and the more likely it is to become just another way for anti-gun politicians to separate the People from a right that shall not be infringed.

So far, there’s been no word on whether Lamont will appeal the judge’s decision or simply revise his emergency order as the judge has mandated, but if the governor is smart, he’ll take the loss in district court and abide by the Constitution in the days ahead.