Gov. Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong discuss a legal challenge to Connecticut's assault weapons law on Friday Nov. 4, 2022. The two Democrats held a press conference less than a week before the upcoming general election.

A national gun rights organization asked a judge this week to block enforcement of Connecticut’s ban on the sale of assault weapons, while the group continues to challenge that law in federal court.

The legal motion, which was filed by the National Association for Gun Rights Inc., would require a federal judge in the case to determine that potential gun owners in Connecticut face “irreparable harm” if the nearly decade-old law remains in effect while the lawsuit unfolds.

That is likely to be a high legal bar for the group to clear, and one that Connecticut’s attorney general argued is unlikely to succeed.

Even so, the legal challenge provided a ready-made opportunity for the state’s Democratic leaders to deliver speeches about their support for Connecticut’s gun laws ahead of the upcoming general election.

With less than a week before voters head to the polls, Gov. Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong convened a press conference at the state Capitol to condemn the individuals and groups that are challenging the assault weapons ban and to highlight their steadfast support for that law.

“I don’t have to tell you how extraordinarily dangerous this is, in this moment, to seek an immediate repeal of the assault weapons ban, and to put assault weapons — weapons of war — back on our streets here in Connecticut,” Tong said.

“I know I speak for the governor when I say that is not going to happen,” Tong added. “We are going to fight tooth and nail.”

There are two lawsuits pending in federal court that seek to overturn the state’s assault weapons law, which was first passed in the 1990s and strengthened after 20 children and six school officials were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.

The lawsuits, including another case filed by the Connecticut Citizens Defense League and the Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation, are relying heavily on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned part of New York’s gun regulations.

Tong argued during the press conference that the recently decided Supreme Court case is not applicable to Connecticut’s assault weapons ban, which outlawed the sale of long guns like AR-15s but allowed people who already owned those weapons prior to 2013 to register them with the state.

And he said he was confident the state would prevail in the lawsuits.

Officials with the National Association for Gun Rights, which based in Colorado, disagreed with Tong’s legal assessment.

The group’s president, Dudley Brown, issued a statement late Friday that said Connecticut’s law would not stand up in federal court.

“Today, the burden of proof is on the government to explain exactly how their gun ban is consistent with the plain text and historical context of the Second Amendment — which they cannot do,” Brown said.

“The day of reckoning for the State of Connecticut has come, and it’s time for them to answer to the Second Amendment for trampling the gun rights of their law-abiding citizens,” he added.

Lamont and Tong were asked during the press conference why the legal motion, which is not uncommon in such lawsuits, warranted a Friday afternoon news conference by two of the state’s top elected officials.

In response, Tong said his concerns were not about the election but public safety in Connecticut.

“This is so serious. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be having this conversation,” he said. “I didn’t pick this battle. I didn’t choose this fight. They did.”

Lamont, who is seeking his second term as governor, also made news recently when he was asked about the state’s assault weapons ban during a recent debate.

He suggested that he may ask the legislature to consider passing a new law, which would end the loophole that allowed some gun owners to keep assault-style weapons that were purchased prior to 2013.

According to reporting from Hearst Connecticut Media, that potential change could affect more than 80,000 weapons that were grandfathered in under the state law.

Lamont reiterated Friday that he would work with the legislature to “do more” to limit people’s access to such weapons, but he said his first priority is to protect the laws that are already on the books.

“First off, let’s protect these prohibitions that we’ve got from outside litigants,” he said. “I’ll work with William (Tong). I’ll work with the judiciary committee to see what we can do.”

“I do believe the more illegal guns and the more assault weapons we have on the street, the more dangerous it is for everybody,” Lamont added.

Avatar photo

Andrew BrownInvestigative Reporter

Andrew joined CT Mirror as an investigative reporter in July 2021. Prior to moving to Connecticut, Andrew was a reporter at newspapers in North Dakota, West Virginia and most recently South Carolina. He’s covered business, utilities, environmental issues, the opioid crisis, local government and two state legislatures. Do you have a story tip? Reach Andrew at 843-592-9958