A trade group representing the firearms industry filed a federal lawsuit Monday using legislative procedural grounds to attack the lawfulness of the Connecticut gun-control law passed in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is based in Newtown near the elementary school where 20 children and six educators were shot to death Dec. 14, accuses the General Assembly of bypassing normal legislative procedures in passing the emergency-certified bill.
“A 139-page bill was assembled behind closed doors, bypassing both the public hearing and committee processes, and quickly sent to floor votes on the same day in both the House and Senate where legislators did not have adequate time to even read the bill,” said Lawrence G. Keane, the foundation’s senior vice president and general counsel.
The 11-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court takes issue with an increasingly common legislative tactic: designating a bill as “emergency certified,” which only requires the consent of the two top leaders, House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn.
An emergency-certified bill can go directly to the floor, bypassing a review by committees or the necessity for a public hearing. The foundation notes in its suit that under state law Sharkey and Williams were supposed to attest to the facts that, in their opinion, necessitated an emergency vote.
“Our suit focuses on this abuse of process that has resulted in enacted law that does nothing to improve public safety, while resulting in adverse effects on law-abiding citizens, manufacturers, retailers and sportsmen’s organizations,” Keane said.
The foundation conceded in the suit that the leaders have broad leeway over what constitutes an emergency, since it is not defined by statute. But the failure to state any reason still leaves the law defective, it said.
With emergency certification, a bill must be available for review by legislators for at least two days. Getting around the two-day rule is a common reason for emergency certification of a bill that leaders wish to call for a vote.
If successful, the suit would call into question a broad range of laws passed, including the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 and jobs legislation passed in special session in 2011. If nothing else, the suit could make the leadership less willing to so easily rely on the so-called “e-cert” process.
While the emergency process bypasses the need for public hearings, often the emergency-certified bills contain provisions that were subject to hearings as elements of other bills.
In the case of the gun-control bill, a bipartisan task force held lengthy public hearings on the broad subject matter, though not the specifics of the bill.
The suit names Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Sharkey and Williams as defendants for their roles in passing the measure. It also names Attorney General George Jepsen, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane and Reuben Bradford, the commissioner of the Emergency Services and Public Protection.
“We’ve known for some time that groups opposed to the new gun violence prevention law would be filing suit against it,” said Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy. “We believe the bill improves public safety, and we will work with the Attorney General’s office to defend it.”
The retail sale of military-style semiautomatic weapons and large-capacity magazines became illegal in Connecticut the moment Malloy signed the bill April 4. Universal background checks also were immediately required for firearms purchases.
Other provisions, such as requiring permits to buy long guns and ammunition, took effect July 1. A gun-offender registry for use by law enforcement is expected to be in place by Oct. 1.
“Let’s not forget that this has happened before,” Doba said. “In prior instances where Connecticut has passed common sense restrictions on firearms, there have been challenges. They have all been unsuccessful.”
One of the challenges was to Connecticut’s original ban on weapons defined as assault weapons, which passed in 1993. It focused on the provisions of the law, not the legislative process.
The 1993 gun bill also was emergency-certified, but the legal challenge was on broad grounds under the Connecticut Constitution. A trial judge upheld the constitutionality of the law, while striking down portions as too vague to be enforced.