When people debate the legality of gun control legislation, the focus is usually on the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.  What many people may not realize, however, is that state constitutions often contain a similar (but not identical) provision.  Thus, article first, § 15 of the Connecticut Constitution provides: “Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the state.”

Our state Supreme Court construed this provision in Benjamin v. Bailey, 234 Conn. 455 (1995).  The plaintiff in that case challenged a state law ban on assault weapons as violative of article first, § 15.

The Supreme Court disagreed:

To the extent that we previously have construed article first, § 15, we have indicated that it permits reasonable regulation of the right to bear arms. See State v. Bailey, supra, 209 Conn. 346 (“[i]t is beyond serious dispute that the legislature has the authority to place reasonable restrictions on a citizen’s right to bear arms”); see also State v. Banta, supra, 15 Conn. App. 184 (“similar constitutional provisions in other states have been repeatedly interpreted to be subject to reasonable limitation”). Our precedents, however, have not clarified what is protected by the right to bear arms in the first instance.

Both the explicit textual limitations and our precedents persuade us that the constitution protects each citizen’s right to possess a weapon of reasonably sufficient firepower to be effective for self-defense.[7] The constitution does not guarantee the right to possess any weapon of the individual’s choosing for use in self-defense. We conclude, therefore, that as long as our citizens have available to them some types of weapons that are adequate reasonably to vindicate the right to bear arms in self-defense, the state may proscribe the [466] possession of other weapons without infringing on article first, § 15. …
. . .
[W]e conclude that a statutory ban on assault weapons, because it continues to permit access to a wide array of weapons, does not infringe on the right to bear arms guaranteed by article first, § 15.

Benjamin v. Bailey stands for the proposition that article first, § 15 did not create an absolute right to own any type of weapon for any purpose.  Rather, it established a constitutional right to own certain types of weapons for specific purposes (self-defense and defense of the state), which right is subject to reasonable regulation.

Dan Klau is an attorney with McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP. His opinions are his own and not those of his law firm. 

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