February 26, 2008
DESCRIPTION OF GUN PERMIT APPLICATION PROCESS
By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst
You want to know (1) the application process for a permit to carry handguns (gun permit) in Connecticut and (2) whether state law or regulations require applicants to undergo credit checks and provide recommendation letters and voter registration cards as part of the process.
For Connecticut residents, getting a gun permit is a two-step process.
They must apply to the local permit-issuing official (usually the police chief), who issues a temporary, 60-day state permit. The official forwards the application to the Department of Public Safety (DPS) commissioner who issues a five-year state permit. Out-of-state residents apply directly to the commissioner. The commissioner (1) may not issue a five-year permit to anyone denied a temporary permit and (2) must revoke the temporary permit if grounds for denial surface after it is issued.
The law lists specific criteria for obtaining a gun permit. In addition, the local permit-issuing authority must find that an applicant (1) wants the firearm for lawful purposes and (2) is a suitable person to get the permit. The law does not define suitability or specify any uniform standards, records, or documentation for making the determination. Court cases dealing with suitability define the term broadly. Based on feedback to this office, there is some variation in what officials require to make the determination. Some officials require credit checks, recommendation letters, and voter registration cards.
Ordinarily, each issuing authority (local official or public safety commissioner) has eight weeks to approve or deny a permit application. But the deadline may be extended if the officials do not receive the required FBI criminal history record report on an applicant. The applicant has 90 days to appeal a denial to the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners (CGS § 29-32b(b)). (OLR Report 2000-R-0856, attached, also discusses the suitability issue and how the board operates.)
PERMIT APPLICATION PROCEDURE
Temporary State Permit.
Any Connecticut resident seeking a gun permit must complete and submit a DPS permit application to his local police chief or, where there is no chief, to the borough warden or first selectman. The official must take a full description of the applicant as well as the applicant's fingerprints (unless satisfied that this was previously done).
Within five business days after the fingerprinting, the official must send the fingerprints to DPS for forwarding to the FBI with a request for a national criminal history records check. The official has up to eight weeks to either (1) deny or approve the application or (2) inform the applicant that the FBI report has been delayed. He may, in his discretion, issue the permit before receiving the FBI report and (2) must issue it within one week after getting the report. When he approves or denies a permit request, he must send a copy of the application to the commissioner, who may investigate new applicants and must investigate renewal applicants to ensure their eligibility (CGS §§ 29-28a and 28-29(d)).
Five-Year State Permit
The commissioner has eight weeks from the time he gets the documentation from the local official to inform the applicant in writing that he has either (1) denied the five-year permit application or (2) not received the FBI response (CGS § 29-29). He may not issue the five-year permit before getting the FBI report or to anyone denied a temporary permit (CGS §§ 29-29(e) and 29-28a(b)).
Out-of-state residents licensed or permitted to carry guns in another state must apply directly to the commissioner for permits (CGS § 29-28(f)).
PEOPLE WHO CANNOT GET A GUN PERMIT
The law prohibits issuing a gun permit to illegal aliens, anyone under age 21, and anyone:
1. discharged from custody in the preceding 20 years after a finding of not guilty of a crime by reason of mental disease or defect;
2. confined by the probate court to a mental hospital in the 12 months before an application;
3. convicted of a serious juvenile offense;
4. subject to a firearm seizure order issued after notice and a hearing;
5. prohibited by federal law from possessing or shipping firearms because he or she was adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution (except in cases where the Treasury Department grants relief from this disability);
6. under a protective or restraining order for using or threatening to use force and in the case of possession, the person knows of the order and, if the order was issued in-state, was notified and given a hearing opportunity; or
7. convicted of a felony or any of 11 specified misdemeanors (CGS § 29-28).
Disqualifying misdemeanors are:
1. criminally negligent homicide (excluding deaths caused by motor vehicles) (CGS § 53a-58);
2. third-degree assault (CGS § 53a-61);
3. third-degree assault of a blind, elderly, pregnant, or mentally retarded person (CGS § 53a-61a);
4. second-degree threatening (CGS § 53a-62);
5. first-degree reckless endangerment (CGS § 53a-63);
6. second-degree unlawful restraint (CGS § 53a-96);
7. first-degree riot (CGS § 53a-175);
8. second-degree riot (CGS § 53a-176);
9. inciting to riot (CGS § 53a-178);
10. second-degree stalking (CGS § 53a-181d); and
11. first offense involving possession of (a) controlled or hallucinogenic substances (other than a narcotic substance or marijuana) or (b) less than four ounces of a cannabis-type substance (CGS § 21a-279(c)).
SUITABILITY AND PERMIT DENIALS
In addition to prohibiting the issuance of a temporary or state gun permit to anyone in the above categories, the law requires the local permit-issuing official to find that an applicant for a temporary permit (1) wants the firearm for lawful purposes and (2) is a suitable person to get a gun permit (CGS § 29-28(b)). The law does not define suitability, and it does not provide standards for making the determination. Thus, officials set their own standards, which appear to vary from town to town. Some towns appear to follow the State Police policy.
According to the State Police website:
[t]he suitability clause applies both to the issuance of new permits and revocation of existing permits. Applicants must provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, voter registration card or U.S. Passport. Legal Alien Residents must provide Alien Registration numbers and 90-day proof of residency. Naturalized citizens require proof of citizenship (http://www.ct.gov/dps/cwp/view.asp?a=2158&Q=294502&dpsNav=|#instructions).
THE COURTS AND SUITABILITY
In a recent Superior Court case, the court quoted an 1882 Connecticut Supreme Court opinion stating that suitability “is not defined by the law so that its application can be determined as mere matter of eye-sight, but it is left necessarily to be determined solely by the judgment of the commissioners based upon inquiry and information. And that the particular manner of exercising such judgment cannot be controlled by any court is too obvious to require the citation of any authorities” (Lepri v. Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, No. CV 96-0055714, Sept. 29, 1998, citing Batters v. Dunning, 49 Conn. 479 (1882)).
Many court opinions dealing with suitability for gun permits cite an 1894 Connecticut Supreme Court decision which involved liquor licenses for the definition of suitability.
The word “suitable” as descriptive of an applicant for license under the statute, is insusceptible of any legal definition that wholly excludes the personal views of the tribunal authorized to determine the suitability of the applicant. A person is “suitable” who by reason of his character — his reputation in the community, his previous conduct as a licensee — is shown to be suited or adapted to the orderly conduct of [an activity] which the law regards as so dangerous to public welfare that its transaction by any other than a carefully selected person duly licensed is made a criminal offense. It is patent that the adaptability of any person to such [an activity] depends upon facts and circumstances that may be indicated but cannot be fully defined by law, whose probative force will differ in different cases, and must in each case depend largely upon the sound judgment of the selecting tribunal (Smith's Appeal from County Commissioners, 65 Conn. 135, 138 (1894)).
One court dealing with suitability stated that the government's interest “is to protect the safety of the general public from individuals whose conduct has shown them to be lacking the essential character or temperament necessary to be entrusted with a weapon” (Rabbit v. Leonard, 36 Conn. Sup. 108, 115 (1979)). Another court stated that the “personal views of the agency members are necessarily a factor in the decision, and similar facts and circumstances will have varying probative force in different cases” but the facts found by the board should provide a logical inference that the person poses some danger to the public if allowed to carry a weapon outside the home or business (Nicholson v. Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, No. CV 940541048, Sept. 28, 1995).
BOARD OF FIREARMS PERMIT EXAMINERS
The Board of Firearms Permit Examiners hears appeals from permit denials and revocations. Phil Dukes, chairman of the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, discussed the variations in suitability determination for gun permits in a 2001 hearing before the Judiciary Committee. Excerpts of the testimony are below.
REP. LAWLOR: So it seems like really at the heart of the problem here is there is no standard that the towns are held to when it comes to defining what suitability [for a gun permit] is or isn't. I mean, how do you guys define it on the Board?
PHILIP DUKES: It's a very - it means whatever — sadly, it means whatever you want it to mean. Does this person, in your opinion — are they suitable to be carrying something in their pocket that could kill somebody? That's the test I apply.
REP. LAWLOR: Okay. So with that in mind, would it be useful to you for us to define a clear (remainder of this question not recorded)
PHILIP DUKES: Any of these crimes, you can't get your permit back. But then there's that bucket that suitability fills when this person hasn't been convicted for anything. But we get called to his house three times a month because he's beaten his wife and she won't press charges. We do get cases like that and there are points at which you ask yourself is this person suitable to have a gun? Probably not. Do we want to add a gun to the mix of things that are happening in that household?
REP. LAWLOR: No, I understand. I'm just talking about — I mean, you're the Chairman of the Board, how can you define the standard itself? Can you define what suitability means to you?
PHILIP DUKES: Again, I'll almost repeat what I just said is that, is this person really competent enough? Has he shown the level of responsibility complying with the laws that he's currently bound by? Is this somebody who has demonstrated that he really doesn't have the personal responsibility to carry something that could kill his wife, children, and anyone else that might be walking down the street?
When somebody gets caught coming outside of a bar so blotto that they can't tell you their name right, but they've got their pistol in their pocket, which means they were liquoring it up all night long in a bar with that gun on. To me, yeah, that person probably has demonstrated he isn't suitable, but can you put that in legislation?
REP. LAWLOR: Well, I mean for example, we could say history of abuse of alcohol, for example. Would that be an objective standard that you could rely on to determine someone's not suitable?
PHILIP DUKES: That would certainly be helpful to some extent, but . . [w]hen the Legislature engages in doing check lists of these five things or ten things, make you unsuitable or make you a dishonest person, etcetera, what ends up happening is the second you adopt that, somebody comes in with number eleven. We covered domestic abuse. We covered drug abuse. We covered this and we covered that. And then someone else comes in who is not on that list. And sometimes we do legislation that is “including, but not limited to the following” and then you're kind of relying on that open ended not limited to the following section.
The problem becomes is that for every mouse trap that we build legislatively, sometimes, to catch the mouse, society just builds a better idiot to come along and find a way around it. And that's what we sadly see. I wasn't expecting it when I took this position, but I have had the opportunity to see some of the most bizarre things in my life. Paraplegics driving to the supermarket in a non-retro fitted car which was a clutch so that he could buy cigarettes. He needed those cigarettes and the fact that he was putting everyone in front of him in danger, he didn't think that made him unsuitable to carry a gun. The fact that he'll ignore every other law when he needs a smoke, he didn't think that affected him. How do you get that guy?
REP. FARR: Let me ask you a couple of other questions. Is it your experience that there's no consistency from town to town as to denials and grantings?
PHILIP DUKES: I would agree with that 100%. Some towns don't even keep files. I'm struck by the same town and I won't name it, but it's the same town that gave my blind- in-one-eye, wheezing grandfather his gun permit and the same month denied some guy his permit for a misdemeanor he committed in 1972 where he was fined $35. But they couldn't explain the denial. They're assuming — that's what the first selectman came and testified. He goes, “Well, there's this arrest in the file from 1977. I think that's why they denied it, but I'm the new first selectman, I don't know why they denied it.”
We just kind of sat there dumbfounded. What are we supposed to do with that? Even under a UAPA standard, what am I supposed to do with towns that don't bother to put on a case? Somebody told us. We got that from the Town of Bridgeport. We called all of his references. His references wouldn't talk to us. Did they tell you he was a bad person? No. Does he have an arrest record? No. Does he have a mental health problem? No. Just nobody would talk to us about it. And, of course, all of these people were professionals. They were teachers. They were psychiatrists, who would be liable if they were to say, “sure, give him a gun” and he went out and shot somebody. So all of them just said, “I don't want to — on the record, I'm not going to talk about this.”
PHILIP DUKES: And sometimes there are also convictions, but again, going back to that other town, the person was convicted of getting into a public disturbance at a gas station in 1977 when he was 18 years old. He showed up 35 years old, 36 years old, the father of two with a good job, no police record since then. And the case was disposed in 1977 for a $15 fine and that was the sole basis for the denial.
They had never had a call to his house. His wife didn't have any problems with him. She showed up and said, “I don't have a problem. He wants to collect guns, that's fine with me.” They're arguing that that conviction in 1977 makes him unsuitable to hold a gun permit. He got into a fight when he was in high school. What do I do with that? (Testimony on SB 1404, An Act Concerning the Appellate Review of the Denial or Revocation of Firearm Permits, Judiciary Committee, March 19, 2001).