A Second Amendment fight is brewing in Connecticut over new legislation that turned tens of thousands of gun owners into potential felons.
The law, passed last April in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, put in place bans on magazines that carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition and on many types of weapons, including those that simply have the cosmetic appearance of assault weapons.
The law also requires residents to undergo mental and criminal background checks and to register certain types of guns with authorities.
The pro-gun group Connecticut Carry "calls on every state official, every senator, every representative to make the singular decision: Either enforce the laws as they are written and let us fight it out in court, or else repeal the 2013 gun ban in its entirety. We say: Bring it on," the group said on its website in a memo intended to rally members.
A challenge to the law has already been shot down, although U.S. District Judge Alfred Covello acknowledged in his ruling that the text of the gun law was fuzzy and that legislators hadn't written it "with the utmost clarity."
But gun-rights groups aren't giving up the fight and are steamed that the law was passed as an emergency measure on the heels of a visit from White House officials who were using the December 2012 shooting in Newtown as a springboard for more gun-control laws.
"The administration played a role by visiting here and pushing for it," Connecticut Carry President Rich Burgess told Newsmax. "We were having public hearings, thousands were protesting."
Then Vice President Joe Biden delivered an emotional plea for more gun laws at Western Connecticut State University, taking the stage with Gov. Dannel Malloy and telling listeners, "We have to speak for those 20 beautiful children who died" at the elementary school.
"Then suddenly," Burgess said, "the bill passed with emergency certification. Nobody read it. [Lawmakers] got the bill and then overnight they passed it. A hundred thirty pages, nobody even had time to read it."
Ever since, the mood in the state between gun owners and law enforcement authorities has been tense.
The state has warned the estimated 325,000 to 350,000 residents who need to register their weapons that the penalty for noncompliance is arrest.
The Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection earlier this month sent a letter to gun owners who had failed to register the items by a Jan. 1 deadline, saying they faced charges of possessing an unregistered weapon or illegal magazines.
The letter further heightened concern among gun owners that the state was ready to seize the illegal items, but Dora Schriro, new head of the state police, told NBC Connecticut
that there are no plans for door-to-door gun confiscation.
"There's no plan in place, nor has there been any execution of a plan where we would, for example, go door-to-door and be actively involved in the confiscation of weapons," said Schriro, commissioner of the DESPP.
Connecticut Citizens Defense League President Scott Wilson said many in the state don't even know whether they're now deemed lawbreakers.
The gun law, "Public Act 13-3 . . . is vague in many instances, and hard to follow for a lot of people," Wilson told Newsmax. "Many that did not register simply are unaware that they had to. Still, those individuals fall under the classification as criminals. Very simply, the lawmakers in Connecticut have disenfranchised ordinary people that own guns."
"They were wrong to punish us for the acts that were committed by a mentally deranged individual," Wilson said, referring to Adam Lanza, 20, who killed the children and school staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Police, meanwhile, are pressing forward with their enforcement efforts — in some cases with responses to residents that are shockingly forceful.
In one recorded telephone call to Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance, a woman who gave her name only as Ashley is heard asking for clarification about the fate of her husband, who failed to register his weapon by the deadline.
The conversation spanned about seven minutes and ended abruptly when Ashley said, "You're the servant, we're the master," and Vance cut her off, saying: "I'm the master, I'm the master, Ma'am."
Another policeman, Branford officer Joseph Peterson, was placed on paid leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation about Facebook postings he made in response to citizens who wanted to know what he'd do if they didn't turn in their guns.
Replying to a resident who asked if police would confiscate weapons from homeowners, Peterson replied on Facebook: "It's not a Nazi policy, you thick-headed idiot, it's a state statute, OK, I don't come to your job [to] tell you how to do yours."
The Hartford Courant added to gun owners' fears with a February editorial that called for lawbreakers to be punished.
"The state must try to enforce the law. Authorities should use the background check database as a way to find assault weapons purchasers who might not have registered those guns in compliance with the new law. A Class D felony calls for a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine," it said.
"Even much lesser penalties or probation would mar a heretofore clean record and could adversely affect, say, the ability to have a pistol permit," the newspaper said. "If you want to disobey the law, you should be prepared to face the consequences."
The Citizens Defense League has planned a rally — the third at the Capitol in Hartford in the last few months — for April 5. This one is drawing attention from gun-rights activists in other states who see the potential for Connecticut's crackdown to hit in their own backyards.
"We will be hosting contingents and individuals from as far away as Michigan and Texas," Wilson said. "We know for a fact that people from New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and other Northeast states will be joining us."
Members of the group "are seeking office and have joined town political committees" in hopes of beating back the state law, he said. The National Rifle Association has issued a rallying cry, calling for constituents to boot from office lawmakers who had a hand in pressing the new law.
NRA Connecticut state liaison Anna Kopperud said on a recent broadcast of NRA News' Cam & Co. that her group will be "holding folks accountable for those votes they took last year" and that Second Amendment supporters should "help get rid of the folks that were true enemies and will be true enemies" of the constitutional right to bear arms.
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