Three Firearms Ordinances Being Pitched For Council Consideration
The question of constitutionality and enforceability are both on the table Wednesday, December 2, as the Legislative Council gathers at 7:30 pm to consider whether to take up a trio of firearms ordinances that were reportedly crafted by the Newtown Action Alliance (NAA).
According to Council Ordinance Chairman Ryan Knapp, the proposed language originated from the locally based organization.
The NAA website states the group welcomes advocates, along with families of victims and survivors of gun violence, who are working to transform the tragedy of 12/14 into meaningful action to end gun violence through the introduction of smarter, safer gun laws, and broader cultural change. A draft document with possible ordinance language states its language is derived from similar ordinances as well as proposed model laws.
A call requesting further comment from the NAA was not immediately returned.
In the process of reviewing the draft language, both independently and with members of the Police Commission, Newtown Police Chief James Viadero told The Newtown Bee ahead of the meeting that a suggestion was made to pursue changes through statewide legislation versus at the local level.
Viadero said current statutes permit the town from limiting the open carrying of firearms in town buildings and on town properties, but he was not sure any of the collateral proposals were viable and he was awaiting the outcome of council action on the matter. He also mentioned the issue of enforceability, since any attempt to discern whether someone was in possession of a concealed firearm is not permissible under state law unless criminal intent is clearly established.
“My threshold is whether there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” Viadero said. “Right now, cops aren’t even allowed to ask someone if they have a [firearms carry] permit.”
Knapp said based on the work the ordinance committee did when working up a 2015 firearms ordinance, he was unsure whether any of the suggested proposals would withstand a legal challenge, "as the state has taken sole authority over regulating this area and deciding who is and who isn't permitted to carry in public spaces and how."
While private entities can do as they please, Knapp said the state — having a process for permitting individuals following training and background checks to carry — would likely preempt the new proposals.
A representative from the state Attorney General's Office said, however, that the question of how a local ordinance fits within state statute would be best addressed by local counsel.
The first of three proposed ordinances relates to possession of a firearm on town property. The draft language reads: “No person shall possess any firearm, air gun, air rifle, or crossbow, longbow or other weapon on any Town-owned property, except for federal, state or local law enforcement officers authorized to carry weapons or otherwise by authorization of the Board of Selectmen. This prohibition shall not apply to a person lawfully transporting any firearm, air gun, air rifle, or crossbow, longbow or other weapon in a vehicle.”
The second proposed ordinance relates to carrying firearms during public demonstrations. The draft states: “It shall be unlawful for any person, other than a law enforcement officer, to have in his or her possession or on his or her person or in any vehicle any firearm while participating in or attending any demonstration being held at a public place.”
A second part of the proposal states: “It shall be unlawful for any person, other than a law enforcement officer... to have in his or her possession or about his or her person or in any vehicle at a point within 1,000 feet of a demonstration at a public place, any firearm after having first been advised by a law enforcement officer that a demonstration was taking place at a public place and after having been ordered by such officer to remove himself or herself from the prescribed area until such time as he or she no longer was in possession of any firearm.”
That subsection would not apply to any person in possession of or having on his or her person any firearm within a private dwelling or other private building or structure.
The final item involves a proposed restriction on the open carry of firearms. The draft states:
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to carry upon his or her person an exposed rifle or shotgun outside a vehicle while in the Town of Newtown
(b) It shall be unlawful for any person to carry inside or on a vehicle an exposed rifle or shotgun while in the Town of Newtown. . .
(c) Exceptions to the prohibitions stated in Sections (a) and (b) above are as follows:
*By any duly appointed and acting federal, state, or municipal law enforcement officer, peace officer or investigating officer, or any military or militia personnel called out or directed by constituted authority to keep the law and order, or any park ranger while acting as such on the grounds of a public park and who is on regular duty, and any authorized messengers or bank guards when acting in the performance of their official authorized duties. Such term does not include a peace officer on strike or a peace officer not on duty.
*By the owner of land, or the tenant or authorized agent of the owner of land, while on the owner’s land.
*By a person legally authorized to hunt under the provisions of Connecticut General Statutes and the regulations issued here under, in such places and in such a manner as is set forth under such statutes and regulations; however, nothing herein authorizes hunting on any public beach, park or other land owned or leased by the Town of Newtown. Hunting is specifically prohibited on Town-owned or leased property, except when authorized by the Board of Selectmen upon the recommendation of the Conservation Commission and subject to approval by the Police Chief to ensure that public safety concerns are met, for the control of wildlife that threatens public health or safety or when wildlife threatens the ecological integrity of Newtown’s natural resources.
Ahead of the meeting, Council Chairman Paul Lundquist said this draft language does not represent consideration of a complete ordinance that would receive an up or down vote by the Legislative Council.
“Our potential action after considering these concepts would simply be an initial referral to the Ordinance Committee,” Lundquist said via an e-mail correspondence. “This does not signify an endorsement or approval of any specific language in the proposed ordinances, and the LC is not bound by any specific language contained in the draft proposal.”
If referred to the Ordinance Committee, Lundquist said the committee would then begin the process of further research, public input, debate/discussion, legal review, and writing any specific ordinance language.
Members of the public wishing to comment may dial in by phone at 646-558-8656, using the meeting ID number 981 8437 7007 — and the pass code: 295626