Connecticut Citizens Defense League Suing Over Permitting Delays

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

On August 30, 2021 a complaint was filed in the Connecticut US District Court over severe permitting delays when it comes to issuing municipal firearm permits. The litigants include the Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL), Orel Johnson, Shaquanna Willimas, Anne Cordero, and Jamie Eason. The filing also lists as defendants Chief of Police of the City of Hartford Jason Thody, Acting Chief of Police of the City of New Haven Renee Dominguez, Acting Chief of Police of the City of Bridgeport Rebeca Garcia, and Chief of Police of the City of Waterbury Fernando Spagnolo. The municipalities where the plaintiffs reside are Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, and Waterbury. Under Connecticut law, the issuing authority has eight weeks to make a determination on and issue these permits. From a press release:

The Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL) announced today that yesterday it filed a federal civil rights action in the United States District Court against the Police Chiefs of Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Waterbury to stop their blatant and ongoing violations of CCDL members’ right to keep and bear arms and other constitutional rights.

CCDL was forced to bring suit after learning that these cities are unjustifiably delaying law-abiding city residents’ applications for municipal firearm permits, the first step in applying for a state-issued pistol permit. The CCDL is bringing this action on behalf of its many members in each of Connecticut’s largest cities. CCDL is joined in this action by individual plaintiffs from each of the cities…

The compliant filed further discusses the delays, the onerous process to be able to purchase a firearm, and how the constitutional right to keep and bear arms is being chilled:

  1. Connecticut has enacted extraordinarily severe restraints on firearms ownership. To buy, possess, and carry a firearm for personal protection in Connecticut, an individual must traverse a dual permitting process: First, the individual must apply for and obtain a municipal firearm permit from their city of residence. Then, only after obtaining that municipal firearm permit, may the individual then apply for and obtain a second, state-issued firearm permit. Only with that state-issued firearm permit may a Connecticut resident lawfully obtain, possess, and carry a firearm for personal protection.
  2. Through this complicated, time consuming, and expensive dual permit regulatory system, certain cities, including Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Waterbury (the “Cities”) treat the people’s fundamental Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms as a mere governmental gratuity which can be delayed, ignored, infringed, and even disregarded and prevented altogether whenever convenient for the Cities’ regulatory bureaucracy.

The release highlights some of these delays such the time lines each applicant was given when their paperwork may be submitted. In the case of Williams, out of New Haven, she was given a March 2022 date to apply. In June Johnson from Hartford was directed to put his name on a list and wait to hear back from the department, and they have yet to respond to the request to process the application. Cordero and Eason, from Bridgeport and Waterbury respectively were told January of 2022 and 48 weeks. These permitting delays go against the statutorily mandated eight weeks the issuing authorities have to make their determinations.

Seeing antics like this out of Connecticut, unfortunately seems to be the rule, rather than the exception in some of these jurisdictions. Given the complex process for Connecticut residents to navigate in order to just own a firearm, these delays just highlight the problems with some of these “point of contact” states. Connecticut, along with 12 other states require residents to be vetted by a state system, rather than just the federal NICS system. These systems allow for extreme abuse and usurpation of Second Amendment rights of those who must jump through the states’ hoops when it comes to firearm purchase. Such laws, across the board, need to be reevaluated and it’s doubtful they’d pass constitutional muster under the Heller decision.

More directly, the complaint spells it out:

By administratively slowing to the point of an effective shutdown, the initial fingerprinting and processing parts of the state’s regulatory scheme, Defendants illegally deprive the Applicants, and similarly situated CCDL members, of their right to due process of law and right to equal protection under the law.

The filing does not target the statute directly, however specifically addresses the polices from these offending departments. In part, from the prayer for relief:

A preliminary and permanent injunction ordering the Defendants to change the rules, customs, policies, practices, and procedures at their respective police departments so as to provide for a process under which the Applicants and similarly situated CCDL members’ may timely obtain municipal firearms permits required to apply to lawfully obtain, possess, and carry firearms for personal protection;

A writ of mandamus compelling the Defendants to timely take the fingerprints and process the applications for municipal firearms permits of the Applicants and similarly situated CCDL members under the timeline set forth in state law or otherwise in a timely fashion;

I had a chance to catch up with Holly Sullivan, the President of CCDL about the case and this is what she had to say:

Connecticut state law is clear. Municipalities have a maximum of 8 weeks to process permit applications. There is no reason that residents in our cities should not be granted the same rights and opportunities as residents in other communities. There is absolutely no excuse for any constitutionally protected right to be hindered based on where an individual lives – not the right to vote, not the right to assemble and certainly not the right to keep and bear arms.

Sullivan had also made the following statements in today’s release:

In addition to violating these citizen’s constitutional right to access the permitting process, these cities are notorious for violating their resident’s constitutional rights by excessively delaying the application process. The CCDL is standing up for the residents of these cities, many of whom are minorities fighting for their right to keep and bear arms for personal protection. It is unfathomable that those charged with enforcing our laws would so blatantly violate them by delaying the process to exercise a constitutional right.

I reached out to Chief Jason Thody of Hartford and Chief Spagnolo of Waterbury about the litigation and delays, and neither replied with a comment. I did not expect one seeing how they allegedly are in gross dereliction of duty and coincidentally preside over two of Connecticut’s most dangerous cities. Should they reply after publication, I’ll issue an update to this piece, but I’m not hopeful.

I’ll be watching the progress of this case and report back as it continues to develop.