OLR Research Report


December 5, 2008

 

2008-R-0628

USE OF ASSAULT WEAPONS BY MINORS

By: Veronica Rose, Principal Analyst

You asked under what circumstances a minor may legally possess or use assault weapons, such as an Uzi, at a gun range in Connecticut. You asked this in light of a case involving of an eight-year-old who shot and killed himself at a “Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo” at the Westfield Sportsmen's Club in Massachusetts.

This office is not authorized to provide legal opinions and this report should not be construed as such.

SUMMARY

State law, with certain exceptions, bans assault weapons, including the UZI carbine, mini carbine, and pistol. This means only people exempt from the ban may possess them, and only under prescribed and limited circumstances. Minors are not exempt. And unlike the handgun (pistol and revolver) law, CGS 29-34, which allows temporary handgun transfers to minors at a gun range for target shooting, the assault weapons law contains no such provision. Further, a 2003 amendment that would have included a similar provision did not pass (LCO 7409, June 5, 1993). Thus, it appears illegal for minors to possess or use the weapons at a gun range. And it also appears illegal for them to possess them anywhere else. (We are awaiting the State Police interpretation of the law and will send it to you as soon as we receive it.)

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 anyone an assault weapon. An additional mandatory, minimum six-year term applies for selling, transferring, or giving the weapon to a minor under age 18.

The only people explicitly exempt from the possession ban are:

1. people who legally owned assault weapons before the ban and registered them with the Department of Public Safety (DPS);

2. members and employees of the DPS or Department of Correction (DOC), local police departments, and the state and U.S. military or naval forces who possess the weapons for use in the discharge of their official duties;

3. gun manufacturers; and

4. under specified and limited circumstances, licensed gun dealers, authorized gun smiths, and estate executors and administrators.

BACKGROUND

According to newspaper accounts, eight-year-old Christopher Bizilj, of Ashford, Connecticut, accidentally shot himself in the head while firing a 9-mm Uzi micro submachine gun at the Westfield (Massachusetts) Sportsman's Club on October 26, 2008. The fatal accident occurred at the club's annual Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo, an event organized by C. O. P. Firearms and Training. This is an Amherst, Massachusetts company run by Pelham, Massachusetts Police Chief Edward Fleury. The Pelham Board of Selectmen has stated that Fleury was not acting in his official capacity at the time of the accident, and that neither the town nor its police department sponsored or sanctioned the event.

The advertising flyer (copy attached) stated: “No age limit or licenses required to shoot machine guns, handguns, rifles, or shotguns!!!” and “you will be accompanied to the firing line with a certified instructor to guide you. But you are in control – FULL AUTO ROCK & ROLL. ” General admission tickets cost $ 5 each and were free for those under age 16, with additional rental prices depending on the type of firearm.

According to the Boston Globe, a professional instructor familiar with the weapon was beside Christopher when he pulled the trigger. The weapon, capable of firing 1,200 rounds a minute, apparently recoiled upwards and backwards, firing a single bullet that struck Christopher in the head. The boy's father, who had given him permission to fire the weapon, was standing behind his son when the accident occurred.

POSSESSION OF ASSAULT WEAPONS

State law, with few exceptions, bans the possession of assault weapons (CGS 53-202c). These include the UZI carbine, mini-carbine, and pistol. The law does not apply to (1) permanently inoperable weapons and (2) assault weapons legally manufactured before September 13, 1994 with certain characteristics (CGS 53-202a & 53-202m). The law does not define possession for purposes of the ban.

Exemptions

The law exempts anyone who registered a legally possessed weapon with DPS before 1994 and received a certificate of possession for it (or before 2003 for a few specified weapons purchased or obtained between October 1, 1993 and May 8, 2002) (CGS 53-202c & 53-202n). (An armed forces member (1) transferred to Connecticut in legal possession of an assault weapon or (2) who was on out-of-state duty and unable to register a legally owned weapon by the deadline has 90 days after coming or returning to Connecticut to apply to register the weapon.)

The law also exempts:

1. members and employees of the following entities who possess the weapons for their official duties: (1) DPS and DOC, (2) police departments, or (3) state or U.S. naval or military forces;

2. estate executors or administrators who possess registered weapons at legally prescribed places or as authorized by the probate court;

3. licensed gun dealers, who may accept registered weapons for servicing or repair;

4. authorized gunsmiths providing gunsmithing services for registered weapons; and

5. gun manufacturers, who may manufacture and transport the weapons for sale: (1) in-state to DPS, DOC, police departments, and the state or U.S. naval or military forces or (2) for sale out of state (CGS 53-202c & 53-202i).

Places Where People May Possess Registered Weapons

A person may possess his or her registered assault weapon:

1. at his or her home, property, or business, or on another person's property with express permission;

2. at a target range for target shooting or at a licensed shooting club;

3. at a gun display, exhibition, or educational project approved by, sponsored by, or conducted under the auspices of a law enforcement agency or a national or state-recognized entity that fosters proficiency in, or promotes education about, gun use; and

4. while transporting it, in accordance with the law, between any of the above places or to a licensed gun dealer for repair or service (CGS 53-202d(d).

Minors and Possession of Assault Weapons

Because minors are not exempt from the assault weapons ban, it appears that they cannot legally possess the weapons. Further, in debating the assault weapons bill, the House rejected an amendment that would have exempted minors “participating in a match or a sanctioned event” at a gun range under adult supervision (Emergency Certified Bill 7332, House Amendment K, LCO 7409, June 5, 1993).

In introducing the amendment, Representative Esposito told the House:

In section 2, it is unlawful for any person who transfers, sells or gives any assault weapon to a person under the age of 18. Any adult who goes to a range with anyone who is under 18 years of age and passes that weapon over to them in the course of any event would be in violation of this section. What the amendment does is it changes the language, rather adds this section, subsection 4, [exempting a person who] is a minor . . .

participating in a match or a sanctioned event and is given an assault weapon to be used for such purposes only, and supervised by an adult who lawfully possesses such assault weapon (House Session Transcript, June 5, 1993).

Representative O'Rourke opposed the amendment on the grounds that:

There are many, many rifles other than assault weapons that can be used in target practices and sporting events. We don't need to put military style rifles in the hands of our young people and I don't think it is much to ask for someone to reach the age of 18 before they are able to use one of these in a sporting event (Id.).

Penalty for Illegal Possession

Illegal possession of an assault weapon is a class D felony punishable by a prison term of one to five years, a penalty of $5,000, or both. One year of this penalty cannot be suspended. A first-time violation is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year imprisonment, a fine of up to $2,000, or both, if the person can prove ownership of the weapon before October 1, 1993 and has otherwise complied with the law (CGS 53-202c).

TRANSFER AND SALE OF ASSAULT WEAPONS

With limited exceptions, it is a class C felony (one to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both) with a mandatory, minimum two-year sentence to illegally distribute; transport; bring into the state; keep, offer, or expose for sale; or give or sell assault weapons (CGS 53-202b). An additional mandatory, minimum six-year term applies for selling, transferring, or giving the weapon to a minor under age 18 (CGS 53-202b).

The law exempts (1) sales and transfers of the weapons to DPS, DOC, police departments, and the state or U.S. naval and military forces to use in carrying out their official duties: (2) the transfer of registered weapons by bequest or intestate succession; (3) the disposition of registered weapons by estate executors or administrators; and (4) the transfer of registered weapons to licensed gun dealers for repair or servicing (CGS 53-202b & CGS 53-202f).

The law also allows the temporary transfer and possession of registered weapons for the purpose of transporting them to out-of-state shooting competitions and other specified events approved by a law enforcement agency or a national or state recognized entity that fosters proficiency in, or promotes education about firearms (CGS 53-202h).

Other than rendering an assault weapon inoperable, the only way for a person, other than a licensed gun dealer, to dispose of a registered weapon is to sell it to a licensed gun dealer, surrender it to DPS or a police department, or take it out of state (CGS 53-202d & 53-202e). Gun dealers may transport the weapons (1) to other gun dealers, authorized gunsmiths for servicing or repair, and out-of-state locations, (2) display them at gun shows licensed by a state or local government entity, or (3) sell them to out-of-state residents (CGS 53-202f).

The law contains no provision for “transferring” assault weapons to minors under any circumstance, even for a brief period. In this respect, the assault weapons law is unlike the handgun law, which allows temporary transfers to minors at a gun range. Under the handgun law, a person may not “sell, barter, hire, lend, give, deliver, or otherwise transfer” handguns to anyone under age 21. But the law allows temporary transfers to anyone under age 21 “only for use by such person shooting or on a firing or shooting range, provided such use is otherwise permitted by law and is under the immediate supervision of a person eligible to possess a pistol or revolver” (CGS 29-34(b)).

For the record, Massachusetts law prohibits the furnishing of a machine gun to anyone under age 18 (Mass. Gen Laws Ann. Ch. 140 130). Like the Connecticut law, which contains no exception for transferring assault weapons to a minor, Massachusetts law contains no exception that would allow a machine gun to be furnished to an eight-year-old, with or without parental permission. The Hampden County Grand Jury has found probable cause to indict three people and the Westfield Sportsman's Club for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the incident that resulted in the death of the eight-year-old. One of them and the club were also indicted for furnishing a machine gun to a person under age 18 (a copy of press release attached).

VR:ts

Attachment 1

Extract from House Debate on Assault Weapons Bill (Public Act 93-306) June 5, 1993

LCO7409, House "K" offered by Representative

Esposito and Representative Fusco.

REP. ESPOSITO: (116th)

Mr. Speaker, what this amendment

attempts to do is to clear up what was probably an

oversight in the original bill. In section 2, it is

unlawful for any person who transfers, sells or gives

any assault weapon to a person under the age of 18.

Any adult who goes to a range with anyone who is

under 18 years of age and passes that weapon over to

them in the course of any event, would be in violation

of this section.

What the amendment does is it changes the language,

rather adds this section, subsection 4, if the person

is a minor which is participating in a match or a

sanctioned event and is given an assault weapon to be

used for such purposes only, and supervised by an adult

who lawfully possesses such assault weapon.

I move for the adoption, Mr. Speaker.

DEPUTY SPEAKER COLEMAN:

The question before the chamber is the adoption of

House "K". Will you remark further? Will you remark

further? Representative Fusco.

REP. FUSCO: (81st)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would rise in favor of

this amendment. What the amendment simply says is that

if you are at a match and an adult legally has

possession of a described weapon, then that adult can

supervise the use of that weapon by a minor under 18.

Now, Representative Lawlor indicated that he had

experienced with an AR-15 and he had the opportunity to

shoot that and I sure, under arranged condition, he was

satisfied with the way that weapon was handed to him

and the instruction he go on firing it. Well, they do

that with young people too and young people are in

match competition all over the Country and this would

help that situation and I would urge acceptance.

DEPUTY SPEAKER COLEMAN:

Will you remark further on House "K"? Will you

remark further? If not...Representative Kirkley-Bey.

REP. KIRKLEY-BEY: (5th)

Mr. Speaker, to the maker of the amendment. Is

there anything currently in Connecticut statutes that

would prohibit this from going on?

DEPUTY SPEAKER COLEMAN:

Representative Esposito.

REP. ESPOSITO: (116th)

Through you, Mr. Speaker, not to my knowledge.

DEPUTY SPEAKER COLEMAN:

Representative Kirkley-Bey.

REP. KIRKLEY-BEY: (5th)

Then it seems unnecessary to me. Thank you, Mr.

Speaker and we should vote it down.

DEPUTY SPEAKER COLEMAN:

Thank you, Representative Kirkley-Bey. Will you

remark further? Representative Fusco.

REP. FUSCO: (81st)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Representative

Kirkley-Bey's analogy that there is nothing in the

current statute that would prevent this, but if we

adopt this legislation, Ma'am, that won't be allowed

and it is a current practice that children under --

minors under eighteen that are fifteen, sixteen and

seventeen that are already competing in competition

would not be allowed to continue that.

Thank you.

DEPUTY SPEAKER COLEMAN:

Will you remark further? Representative Esposito.

REP. ESPOSITO: (116th)

Well, Mr. Speaker, seeing how there is some

opposition to it, I would ask the Chair to order a roll

call vote, please.

DEPUTY SPEAKER COLEMAN:

The question is for a roll call vote. All those in

favor of a roll call vote, please indicate by saying

aye.

REPRESENTATIVES:

Aye.

DEPUTY SPEAKER COLEMAN:

In the opinion of the Chair, for the members

present are in support for the request of a roll call

vote. When the vote is taken, it will be taken by roll.

Will you remark further? Representative O'Rourke.

REP. O'ROURKE: (32ND)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Ladies and gentlemen. I

rise to oppose this amendment. We are giving assault

weapons now to kids to minors and I am glad

Representative Esposito asked for a roll call because

I intended to.

There are many, many rifles other than assault

weapons that can be used in target practices and

sporting events. We don't need to put military style

rifles in the hands of our young people and I don't

think it is much to ask for someone to reach the age of

18 before they are able to use one of these in a

sporting event.

I think it really goes against the whole purpose of

this bill that is before us. I would ask people to

oppose it.

DEPUTY SPEAKER COLEMAN:

Thank you, Representative O'Rourke. Will you

remark further? Representative Cutler.

REP. CUTLER: (51st)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise in favor of this

amendment. I think it is a great amendment. I have

kids in my district, kids that go to my church that

live in my neighborhood that shoot in supervised

matches. They use handguns, they use rifles, they use

match type semi automatic weapons that look like these

military assault weapons, but really aren't. They just

look like that. They are still semi-automatic weapons

like every other gun on the market today.

What do we care about these kids are going if they

are supervised in supervised matches for shooting? For

competition use? Do we want to ban that too? I don't

think so. I think this is a great amendment.

DEPUTY SPEAKER COLEMAN:

Thank you, Representative Cutler. Will you remark

further? If not, would staff and guests please come to

the well of the House? Would members please be seated?

The machine will be opened.

CLERK:

The House of Representatives is voting by roll

call. Members, please report to the Chamber. The

House of Representatives is taking its first roll call

of the day. Members, please report to the Chamber.

DEPUTY SPEAKER COLEMAN:

Have all members voted? Have all members voted and

is your vote properly recorded? Please check the

board. If all members have voted, the machine will be

locked. The Clerk will please take a tally.

The Clerk will please announce the tally.

CLERK:

House "K"

Total number Voting 144

Necessary for Adoption 73

Those voting Yea 70

Those voting Nay 74

Those absent and not Voting 7

DEPUTY SPEAKER COLEMAN:

House "K" is rejected.

Attachment 2

House Amendment Schedule "K" (LCO 7409):
   

Delete section 3  in its entirety and insert the following in
lieu thereof:
    "Sec. 3. (NEW)  (a)  Except  as provided in section 5 of this
act, any person  who,  within  this  state, possesses any assault
weapon, except as  provided  in  this  act,  shall be guilty of a
class D felony  and  shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment
of which one  year may not be suspended or reduced; except that a
first-time violation of  this  subsection  shall  be  a  class  A
misdemeanor if (1)  the  person  presents  proof that he lawfully
possessed the assault  weapon  prior to July 1, 1993, and (2) the
person has otherwise  possessed  the  firearm  in compliance with
subsection (d) of section 4 of this act.
    (b) The provisions  of  subsection  (a) of this section shall
not apply to  the  possession  of  assault  weapons by members or
employees of the department of public safety, police departments,
the department of  correction  or the military or naval forces of
this state or  of  the  United States for use in the discharge of
their official duties;  nor  shall  anything in this act prohibit
the possession or  use  of  assault  weapons  by sworn members of
these agencies when  on  duty  and the use is within the scope of
their duties.
    (c) The provisions  of  subsection  (a) of this section shall
not apply to  the  possession  of an assault weapon by any person
prior to July 1, 1994, if all of the following are applicable:
    (1) The person  is  eligible  under  this  act to apply for a
certificate of possession for the assault weapon by July 1, 1994;
    (2) The person lawfully possessed the assault weapon prior to
July 1, 1993;
    (3) The person is otherwise in compliance with this act; and
    (4) The person  is a minor who is participating in a match or
a sanctioned event  and is given an assault weapon to be used for
such purposes only  by  an  adult  who  lawfully  possesses  such
assault weapon.
    (d) The provisions  of  subsection  (a) of this section shall
not apply to  a person who is the executor or administrator of an
estate that includes an assault weapon for which a certificate of
possession has been  issued  under  section 4 of this act, if the
assault weapon is  possessed  at a place set forth in subdivision
(1) of subsection  (d)  of section 4 of this act or as authorized
by the probate court."