December 20, 2005
LEGALITY OF PEN GUNS
By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst
You asked if pen guns are legal in Connecticut and whether one needs a permit to carry them.
Pen guns, which are severely restricted under federal law, are legal in Connecticut. Under state law, these small-caliber, single-shot guns are subject to the permit requirements that govern handguns (pistols and revolvers), which state law defines as any “firearm having a barrel with less than twelve inches in length” (CGS § 29-27). This means a person (other than law enforcement officers) must get a permit to carry a pen gun or an eligibility certificate to obtain one. An applicant must meet certain standards to qualify. Among other things, people convicted of felonies or certain specified serious misdemeanors cannot get a permit or eligibility certificate. To get the permit or certificate, which the Department of Public Safety (DPS) issues, the applicant must undergo state and national criminal history checks.
Under federal law, pen guns, with the exemption of the Stinger pen gun, are NFA-regulated firearms, classified “as any other weapon” (26 USC 5845(e)). This means that they are severely restricted weapons, but not illegal. Among other things, a nonlicensee (a person not federally licensed to transact gun business) must undergo an extensive background check, register the gun with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), and pay ATF a $5 stamp tax. (Other weapons subject to the same NFA restrictions include functional machine guns; short-barreled rifle or shotguns; smooth-bore pistols; and destructive devices (e.g., certain shotguns, grenade launchers, hand grenades, bazookas, and mortars). When a person is buying a pen gun, he must complete both state and federal documentation, including an application for a tax stamp. According to a DPS official, the seller cannot transfer the pen gun until ATF approves the tax stamp application.
According to ATF, the Stinger pen gun, because of the way it functions, is not an NFA-regulated gun. Thus, the less stringent federal laws that apply to standard handguns apply to the Stinger pen gun. For example, a nonlicensee does not have to register this type of gun or pay a $5 stamp tax.
Under federal law, a person who possesses an NFA firearm that is not registered to him is subject to a fine of up to $250,000, imprisonment for up to 10 years, or both (26 USC §§ 5861 and 5872).