Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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CT Gov. Wants Gun Ban for Those on Watch Lists

HARTFORD, Conn. (CN) - Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy wants the federal government to give him access to its watch lists so he can deny gun permits to people on those lists.

Malloy said so Thursday afternoon outside his office. The executive order he is hoping to sign once the U.S. Department of Justice gives him the green light would require those who apply for a gun permit to be checked against federal government watch lists.

Assault weapons are already outlawed in Connecticut, so Malloy's executive order would also prevent someone on the lists from purchasing a handgun, ammunition, shotgun or rifle.

Malloy said he's been in touch with officials at the White House and is in the process of getting access to federal watch lists. It's unclear when he might get an answer.

The governor, who was sworn in last week as the head of the Democratic Governors Association, said he started conversations with White House officials last week after Congress failed to act.

At an outdoor news conference on Thursday, Malloy said he was unaware of any other governor moving in this direction.

"If Congress will not act, we in the states will," the governor said, adding that it's "basic, common sense."

"If you cannot fly due to being on a government watch list, you should not be able to purchase a firearm while on that watch list as well," Malloy said.

There are an estimated 16,000 individuals on the no-fly list, which is one of the smallest of the government watch lists. Malloy said he was asking for access to a broad range of watch lists that include suspected terrorists.

According to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report, suspected terrorists tried to buy guns from American dealers at least 2,233 times between 2004 and 2014. And in 2,043 of those cases - 91 percent of the time - they succeeded.

"Connecticut, we are seizing this moment," Malloy said Thursday.

The governor said he believes the state government has the power to enact his plan because what is being denied is a permit, which can be appealed.

It's unclear how the appeals process would work if someone felt they should not be on a federal no-fly list.

"While the governor's proposal would infringe on some persons' constitutional right to obtain firearms, the Supreme Court has said specifically that some limitations on who may obtain guns and where they may be carried are permissible," William Dunlap, a professor at Quinnipiac University Law School, said Thursday.

The only problem with the proposal, Dunlap said, is that the federal watch lists "are notoriously inaccurate."

"They include many people who should not be on them. And they obviously leave off many dangerous people that we don't know about, which means the lists are not as effective as they could be," he said. "These inconsistencies matter when courts apply heightened scrutiny to state laws."

In Connecticut, someone who is denied a gun permit can file an appeal with the Board of Firearm Permit Examiners. It's not clear how a hybrid appeal process would work between the state and the federal government.

Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said that the criteria for ending up on the terror list are unclear and vague.

"Gov. Malloy is planning to take what is in our view unconstitutional executive action that would prohibit firearms purchases and seize firearms of individuals who have not been indicted or convicted for any crime," Wilson said. "While we are all concerned about terrorism, this approach is very un-American and shameful."

Wilson said his group will not rule out legal action if Malloy moves forward with an executive order.

But Malloy, who has challenged the gun lobby in the past, said he doesn't understand why anyone would protect a person suspected of being a terrorist.

"We have reason to believe there are people on the watch lists living in Connecticut," Malloy said. "There are a number of these lists, it's not just a no-fly list or a terrorism list, there are other lists. We'll apply whatever lists are being watched by the federal government."

The executive order is expected to be signed once Malloy gets the green light from the Justice Department.

"This is very scary to think that police will be showing up to houses to seize firearms from people that may have done nothing wrong," Wilson added. "It spells serious trouble."

However, Malloy's plan was applauded by members of Connecticut's Congressional delegation, who were frustrated last week when the U.S. Senate was unable to find enough support to debate the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015.

"Keeping guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists is just common sense, and it is crucial to keeping our communities safe," U.S. Rep. John B. Larson said.

The American Civil Liberties Union fought in Oregon Federal Court on Wednesday to make sure those who end up on a no-fly list are able to find out how they ended up there.

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