PA 01-130-SB 1402
Public Safety Committee
Planning and Development Committee
Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee
AN ACT CONCERNING ASSAULT WEAPONS, A SINGLE STATE HANDGUN PERMIT, A FIREARMS EVIDENCE DATABANK AND RESTRAINING AND PROTECTIVE ORDERS IN FIREARMS CASES
SUMMARY: This act expands the definition of assault weapons to include semiautomatic firearms with certain characteristics, banning any made after September 12, 1994 with those characteristics. With exceptions, it also bans .50-caliber armor-piercing and incendiary bullets.
The act also (1) requires the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to establish a firearms evidence databank to store ballistic data (discharged ammunition and the unique markings or impressions each gun leaves on bullets and bullet casings) that can be used to search for matching gun fingerprints, (2) creates a single gun permit system by abolishing the local permit to carry handguns and makes other changes to the gun laws, (3) tightens the controls over people possessing guns in family violence situations, and (4) makes technical and conforming changes.
EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2001
Prior law designated as assault weapons and, with some exceptions, made it illegal to sell, transport, or possess, any:
1. on a specific list of semiautomatic firearms;
2. selective-fire firearm capable of fully automatic, semi-automatic, or burst fire at the user's option; and
3. part or combination of parts in one person's possession either designed or intended to convert a firearm into an assault weapon or from which one may be assembled rapidly.
People who owned any of the above-designated weapons before October 1, 1993 can keep them under certain circumstances. They can sell, transfer, or relinquish them only under specified, limited circumstances.
The act adds the following to weapons designated as assault weapons-allowing the transfer and (implicitly) the possession of those manufactured before September 13, 1994:
1. semiautomatic rifles that can accept a detachable magazine if they have any two of the following features: (a) a folding or telescoping stock, (b) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, (c) a bayonet mount, (d) a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor, or (e) a grenade launcher;
2. semiautomatic pistols that can accept a detachable magazine if they have any two of the following features: (a) an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip; (b) a threaded barrel that can accept a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer; (c) a shroud attached to, or partially or completely encircling, the barrel that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the nontrigger hand without being burned; (d) a manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when unloaded; and (e) a semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm;
3. semiautomatic shotguns with any two of the following features: (a) a folding or telescoping stock, (b) a pistol grip protruding conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, (c) a fixed magazine capacity over five rounds, and (d) the ability to accept a detachable magazine; and
4. part or parts in one person's possession either designed or intended to convert any firearm into one of the newly covered assault weapons or from which one may be assembled rapidly.
The act bans any of the newly designated assault weapons manufactured after September 12, 1994. It allows the transfer and possession of those legally manufactured before September 13, 1994 by stipulating that it must not be construed to limit their transfer or require their registration. Existing law has a certificate of possession requirement (discussed below) but not a registration requirement for assault weapons. It is unclear whether "registration" refers to the certificate of possession requirement. (On September 13, 1994, Congress enacted the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, making it unlawful, with exceptions, to make, transfer, or possess any of these newly designated semiautomatic assault weapons. This federal law, which does not apply to weapons lawfully possessed on or before its enactment, is repealed, effective September 13, 2004.)
The act makes it a crime knowingly to distribute or give away; bring into the state; or keep, offer, or expose for sale .50-caliber armor-piercing or incendiary bullets. A first violation is a class A misdemeanor; any subsequent violation is a class D felony (see Table on Penalties).
The act defines "armor-piercing .50-caliber bullet" as any .50-caliber bullet designed for, held out by the manufacturer or distributor as, or generally recognized to be capable of penetrating armor or bulletproof glass. They include such bullets commonly designated as "M2 Armor-Piercing" or "AP," "M8 Armor-Piercing Incendiary" or "API," "M20 Armor-Piercing Incendiary Tracer" or "APIT," "M903 Caliber .50 Saboted Light Armor Penetrator" or "SLAP," or "M962 Saboted Light Armor Penetrator Tracer" or "SLAPT."
The act defines "incendiary .50-caliber bullet" as any .50-caliber bullet designed for, held out by the manufacturer or distributor as, or generally recognized as having the specialized capability to ignite upon impact. They include bullets commonly designated as "M1 Incendiary," "M23 Incendiary," "M8 Armor-Piercing Incendiary" or "API," or "M20 Armor-Piercing Tracer" or "APIT."
The act exempts:
1. ammunition sales to DPS, police departments, the Department of Correction (DOC), or the Connecticut or U.S. military or navy for their official duties;
2. disposition of ammunition by estate executors or administrators as authorized by probate court; and
3. ammunition transfers by bequest or intestate succession.
Suspension of Prosecution for Minor Violations
The act allows the court to suspend prosecution for minor violations of the incendiary and armor-piercing bullet provisions if it finds that the violator (1) will probably not offend again and (2) has never been convicted or had a prosecution suspended before for violating these provisions. For suspension to occur, the violator must state that he understands the consequences, agree to the temporary suspension (tolling) of any statute of limitations, and waive his right to a speedy trial.
By law, when a court suspends prosecution, it must put the violator on probation for up to two years and may impose other conditions. It must terminate the suspension if the accused violates the conditions. It must dismiss the charges if it finds that the accused completes probation successfully and requests dismissal and may dismiss the charges without such a request after it receives a report from the Office of Adult Probation. A dismissal requires erasure of the charges. A court's decision to deny a motion to dismiss or terminate a suspension is final for appeal purposes.
FIREARMS EVIDENCE DATABANK
The act requires the DPS Division of Scientific Services to establish a firearms evidence databank to store data collected from test firing handguns. It defines "test fire" as a discharged cartridge case or bullet, or fragment of either, collected after a handgun is fired and containing sufficient microscopic characteristics to compare to other discharged ammunition or to determine the handgun from which it was fired. It defines "handgun" as any gun capable of firing rim-fire or center-fire ammunition and designed or built to be fired with one hand.
The databank is a computer-based system that scans and stores images of handgun test fires so they can be retrieved and compared to other test fire images and other evidence in a case. DPS forensic science laboratory personnel must enter in the databank, according to procedures in regulations the act requires the commissioner to adopt, test fire evidence submitted to them or that they collect from handguns submitted to them. DPS may (1) use the database to search for matching gun fingerprints, (2) share databank information with in-state and out-of-state law enforcement agencies, and (3) participate in a national firearms evidence databank program. If DPS conducts any search at a police department's request as part of the investigation of a criminal case, it must report the results. It must store for future searches any test fire image not matched by a databank search.
Local Police Role
With exceptions, the act requires police departments to give the laboratory all handguns that come into their custody as found property, for destruction, or as the result of a criminal investigation before they return or destroy them. The laboratory must test fire and collect ballistic data from a gun within 60 days of getting it. It must label the data with the gun manufacturer's name; gun type and serial number; date of the test; and the name of the person who collected the discharged cartridge case, bullet, or fragment.
DPS may allow a police department firearms section that complies with the commissioner's guidelines and regulations for operating a databank to (1) collect ballistic data from handguns that come into its custody and set up a remote terminal to enter test fire images directly into the DPS databank and (2) search the databank.
Starting October 1, 2001, police departments must collect test fire data from handguns before they issue them to employees, and by April 1, 2002 they must collect data from those they have already issued. They may ask the State Police to help them conduct the tests. They must (1) submit to the DPS laboratory the ballistic data from each test in a sealed tamper-evident package along with two intact cartridges of the same type of ammunition used in the test and (2) except for the date of the test fire, label the package with the same information that the laboratory must include.
CREATION OF SINGLE GUN PERMIT SYSTEM
Under prior law, anyone wanting to carry a handgun had to get a local (town) permit. The local permit allowed him to carry the gun in that town. A separate DPS (state) permit was required to carry the gun statewide. Both permits were valid for five years, but as long as the state permit remained valid, the local permit did not have to be renewed.
The act establishes a two-step, one-permit system by (1) eliminating the local permit-terminating renewals on October 1, 2001-and (2) requiring anyone wanting to carry a handgun to get the DPS state permit. It uses the same officials and maintains many of the elements of the prior system. Under the act, the local official issues a nonrenewable, 60-day temporary state permit, which is a prerequisite for the five-year state permit that DPS issues. The temporary state permit, unlike the prior local permit, is valid statewide.
Permit Application, Issuance, and Revocation
Temporary State Permit. The act requires Connecticut residents to apply for gun permits to the local official who previously issued local permits (the police chief, or if there is none, the borough warden or first selectman). This official may issue a temporary state permit after following basically the same process that he used for issuing local permits.
As with prior permit applicants, the temporary state permit applicant must complete an application, providing information on himself and his criminal record, and submit to fingerprinting, unless the official is satisfied it was done already. The official must determine that the applicant wants to use guns for lawful purposes and investigate his suitability to carry them.
The act conforms the law to past local permit-issuing practice by requiring the official, within five business days of taking the fingerprints, to send them to DPS for forwarding to the FBI with a request for a national criminal history records check. Prior law required the official to send the fingerprints directly to the FBI. DPS must send the local official a copy of the FBI response.
In a process paralleling the one that existed for local permits, the act (1) gives the official eight weeks to approve or deny the application and, if he does not get the FBI response in eight weeks, he must inform the applicant of the delay in writing; (2) requires him to issue or deny the application within one week after he gets the FBI response; and (3) allows him to issue the permit before getting the response. When he issues the permit, he must send the original application to the DPS commissioner. He must also send him (at some unspecified time) a copy showing whether he denied or approved the permit request.
Permit-Issuing Criteria. As in the case of state and local permits, the local official cannot issue a temporary state permit to anyone who fails to meet the criteria in law. He can issue a permit before he receives the FBI background check, but not to anyone whom he believes is a convicted felon or is otherwise barred from getting a permit to possess handguns under state or federal law. Prior law applied the prohibition only to people believed to be convicted felons.
Five-Year State Permit. The act allows the commissioner to issue the state permit to a person holding a temporary state permit. Within 60 days after getting the temporary permit, the applicant must go to a location the commissioner designates. The commissioner has eight weeks from the time he gets a temporary permit application to inform the applicant in writing that he has (1) denied or not approved his five-year permit application or (2) not received the FBI response.
The act eliminates the commissioner's discretion to issue the five-year state permit before getting the FBI response, and it bars him from issuing the permit to an applicant denied a temporary permit. When he issues the permit, he must send a record (instead of a copy of the permit) to the local official who issued the temporary permit and keep records of all applications.
The act allows, rather than requires, the commissioner to investigate first-time permit applicants, and it conforms the law to practice by requiring him also to investigate people renewing permits. It eliminates the description of the nature of this investigation.
Permit-Revocation Criteria. The act allows the commissioner to revoke the temporary state permit for cause, upon conviction for a felony or specified misdemeanors, or when any event occurs that would have disqualified the applicant from getting the permit under state law. These are the same grounds on which he can revoke the five-year permit. If grounds for denial become known after an applicant gets a permit, the commissioner must revoke it immediately, following the act's procedures. He can base the revocation on his own investigation or on any law enforcement agency's request.
Upon revocation, the permittee must surrender his permit to the commissioner within five days of notification in writing. By law, failure to surrender a permit is a class C misdemeanor (see Table on Penalties).
Application From Out-Of-State Residents
Out-of-state residents licensed or permitted to carry guns in another state must apply directly to the commissioner and are subject to the provisions governing resident applicants. The commissioner acts as the local official with regard to these applicants; in this case, it appears that he must conduct the investigations and issue temporary permits.
Gun Permit Fees
Under prior law, the fee for the local and state gun permit was $35 each. The act eliminates the local fee and increases the state fee to $70. It gives $35 of the fee to DPS and $35 to the local official issuing the temporary state permit, the same amount they received under prior law. In the case of nonresidents who must apply directly to DPS, it appears the entire $70 goes to DPS. The act requires applicants to pay an additional amount for the required FBI criminal background check (currently $24). Under prior practice, the permit-issuing authority paid for this investigation.
The local authority must send the fingerprints and money for the background check to the commissioner within five business days of getting an application. He must send $35 to DPS when he approves the application.
The act makes any portion of the fee used for the national background check nonrefundable. Under prior law, the entire fee was refundable if the permit was not issued or renewed.
The act retains the $35 fee for permit renewals.
Notification Requirements for Expired Permits
The act eliminates a requirement for the local official to notify anyone with a local permit at least 90 days before the permit expires. It eliminates the additional 90-day grace period for such permits.
MISCELLANEOUS CHANGES TO GUN LAWS
The act conforms the law to practice by explicitly requiring people to be at least age 21 to get a gun permit (the same age for getting an eligibility certificate to obtain handguns); (2) requires law enforcement authorities to confiscate illegal gun permits and send them immediately to the DPS commissioner, who may revoke them on his own investigation or at the authorities' request; and (3) makes it clear that when a handgun is being carried in a vehicle that does not have a compartment separate from the passenger compartment, the gun must be kept in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.
CRIMINAL POSSESSION OF A FIREARM OR ELECTRONIC DEFENSE WEAPON
By law, a family violence offender cannot possess handguns if he knows he is subject to (1) a firearms seizure order issued by the court after notice and the opportunity for a hearing or (2) a restraining or protective order, issued after notice and an opportunity to be heard, for using, attempting to use, or threatening to use physical force against someone. If he was issued a permit to carry guns or an eligibility certificate to acquire them, the issuing authority must revoke it. Failure to surrender a permit or eligibility certificate within five days of notification is a class C misdemeanor. He must also transfer any handgun he possesses to the DPS commissioner within two business days of becoming subject to the order. If he fails to do so, he is guilty of criminal possession of a handgun-a class D felony.
The act creates a parallel provision for other guns such as long guns. Specifically, it makes it criminal possession of a firearm or electronic defense weapon (a class D felony) for the family violence offender to possess any of these weapons knowing that he is subject to any of the above-mentioned orders.
The act requires restraining order applications to have a space for applicants to indicate, at their discretion, whether the person subject to the order has a gun permit or any guns.
The act requires local family violence intervention units' family relations officers (courts refer family violence offenders to them for counseling and other services) to tell the court and prosecutors if a family violence victim has indicated that an offender has a gun permit or any guns. The requirement creates an exception to existing law, which generally requires family relations officers to keep information they receive from victims confidential.
The act requires the DPS commissioner, chief state's attorney, and Connecticut Police Chiefs Association to work together to update the protocol they developed to ensure that people who become ineligible to possess handguns either transfer them to someone eligible or surrender them to the commissioner.
Law Enforcement Officers Who Must Receive Orders
Under prior law, the court had to send a certified copy of any restraining or protective order to "the appropriate" law enforcement agency. The act requires it to send (1) copies of the restraining orders to the law enforcement agency in the town where the (a) restraining order applicant lives and, if requested, works and (b) family violence offender lives, if different from the applicant and (2) copies of the protective orders to the law enforcement agency in the town where the (a) domestic violence lives and, if requested, works and (b) offender lives if this is different from the victim's town. The court must send the orders within 48 hours after they are issued.
Assault Weapons Ban
With some exceptions, it is a class C felony, with a mandatory, minimum two-year sentence to distribute, transport, or bring into the state, keep for sale, offer or expose for sale, or give an assault weapon. An additional mandatory, minimum six-year sentence applies for anyone convicted of selling, transferring, or giving the weapon to a minor under age 18.
With some exceptions, it is a class D felony with a mandatory, minimum one-year sentence to possess an assault weapon without a certificate of possession. It is a class A misdemeanor if the violator can prove he possessed the weapon legally before October 1, 1993 and has otherwise complied with the conditions for legal possession.
Exemptions from Ban on Transferring Assault Weapons. The law exempts from the ban on sale or transfer of assault weapons:
1. sales to police departments, the DOC and DPS, and the Connecticut and U.S. military and navy for official use;
2. transfer by bequest or intestate succession of any assault weapon for which a certificate of possession was issued;
3. disposition by probate court, provided the law otherwise permits it; and
4. temporary transfer of any assault weapon for which a certificate was issued for purposes of transporting it to an approved out-of-state shooting competition or exhibition, display, or educational project about guns.
Exemptions From Ban on Possession of Assault Weapons. The law exempts from the ban on possession of assault weapons:
1. anyone who lawfully possessed a weapon before October 1, 1993 and applied by October 1, 1994 for a certificate of possession;
2. employees or members of police departments, the DOC and DPS, and the Connecticut and U.S. military and navy for use in official duties, and sworn members of these agencies who possess and use these weapons when on duty and in the scope of their duties;
3. an estate executor or administrator under certain circumstances; and
4. anyone who arranges in advance to relinquish a weapon to DPS.
Conditions Under Which Gun Dealers May Transfer Assault Weapons.
Licensed gun dealers may (1) transport assault weapons between dealers or out of state, display them at gun shows licensed by state or local government entities, or sell them to out-of-state residents; (2) accept them for servicing or repair from anyone with a certificate for them; and (3) transfer them for servicing to a federally licensed gunsmith employed by, or under contract to, them for gunsmithing services.
Certificate of Possession for Assault Weapon. The original 1993 assault weapons act allowed people who possessed assault weapons before October 1, 1993 to keep them if they applied for DPS certificates of possession for them before July 1, 1994. A 1994 act extended the application deadline to October 1, 1994. The certificate allows the owner of the weapon to possess it:
1. at his residence, business, on his property, or on someone else's property with permission;
2. at a target range to practice target shooting or licensed shooting club;
3. while attending a sanctioned exhibition, display, or educational project about guns; or
4. while transporting it between any of the places mentioned or to a licensed dealer for servicing or repair.
The owner cannot sell the weapon in-state except to a licensed gun dealer or otherwise transfer it except by bequest or intestate succession or to DPS or a police department.
Anyone who inherits an assault weapon for which a certificate was issued has 90 days to apply for a new certificate, sell the gun to a licensed gun dealer, make it permanently inoperable, or take it out of state. Anyone, other than a member of the military or navy, who moves into Connecticut in lawful possession of an assault weapon has 90 days to render it permanently inoperable, sell it to a licensed gun dealer, or remove it from the state. A member of the military or navy transferred to Connecticut after October 1, 1994 in lawful possession of an assault weapon has 90 days to apply for a certificate of possession.
Certificate of Transfer for Assault Weapons. When an owner sells or transfers an assault weapon to a gun dealer, the dealer must complete a certificate of transfer with specified information on the gun and seller or transferor and send it to DPS, which must keep all the certificates in a file.
Assault Weapon Crimes and Penalties. The law requires a mandatory, minimum eight-year sentence for anyone who uses, threatens to use, displays, or purports to have an assault weapon while committing a class A, B, or C felony. This is in addition and consecutive to any imprisonment for the felony.
The use of an assault weapon in a crime punishable by death is an aggravating circumstance justifying the death penalty.
It is illegal for anyone to (1) carry a concealed, loaded assault weapon or (2) knowingly have in a vehicle he operates, owns, or occupies (a) a loaded assault weapon or (b) an unloaded assault weapon that is not in the trunk or in a case or container inaccessible to the vehicle's occupants. A violation carries a $500 fine, imprisonment for up to three years, or both.
Theft of Assault Weapon Must be Reported. The law requires an assault weapon's lawful owner to report its theft to a law enforcement agency within 72 hours after he discovers or should have discovered the theft.
Manufacture of Assault Weapons Allowed. The law stipulates that its provisions should not be construed to prohibit manufacturers of assault weapons in Connecticut from manufacturing or transporting them for out-of-state sale or sales to agencies such as DOC, which are not prohibited from buying them.
People Who Cannot Get a Gun Permit Under State Law
Under state law, a person cannot get a permit to carry handguns if he:
1. has failed to complete successfully a DPS-approved handgun safety and use course;
2. was convicted of a serious juvenile offense;
3. was discharged from custody within the last 20 years after having been found not guilty of a crime by reason of mental disease or defect;
4. was committed involuntarily to a psychiatric hospital in the last 12 months;
5. is subject to a restraining or protective court order in a case involving the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against someone else;
6. is subject to a gun seizure order issued after notice and hearing;
7. is an illegal alien; or
8. was convicted of a felony or other specified, mostly violent misdemeanors.
People Who Cannot Possess Guns Under Federal Law
Federal law prohibits people from possessing guns on some of the same grounds that state law prohibits them from getting gun permits. The following are additional to those not covered in state law:
1. fugitives from justice,
2. anyone who uses illegally or is addicted to any controlled substance,
3. anyone dishonorably discharged from the armed forces,
4. anyone who has renounced his U.S. citizenship, or
5. anyone ever convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
FBI Fee for Background Checks
When the FBI instituted its $24 charge for criminal record checks, some towns required applicants to pay this fee. The Superior Court ruled that this exceeded their authority. It said legislative action-not unilateral action by a town or city-was necessary to change the gun permit fee structure and application process (Town of Farmington, et al. vs. Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, CV 95-0550258S, Judicial District of Hartford-New Britain, Feb. 13, 1996).
PA 01-175 slightly modifies the criminal record check procedure and mandates its use when any state statute requires such checks.