HARTFORD — Under Connecticut’s new gun control law, gun owners who failed to register their now-banned assault weapons by a January deadline could face a misdemeanor charge if caught, not a felony as described by Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley during a debate.
The law, enacted after the 2012 Newtown school shooting, has become a major issue in the governor’s race between Foley, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and conservative petitioning candidate Joe Visconti, a gun rights advocate.
At Wednesday’s debate between Foley and Malloy, Foley called the legislation “overreaching” and claimed it turns “perfectly good law-abiding citizens” into “a felon” for something they did in the past — legally purchasing a weapon that now cannot be sold or purchased in Connecticut.
“It was grandstanding and it was unnecessary,” Foley said during the debate at Norwich Free Academy.
“I don’t think you turn perfectly good law-abiding citizens, who are responsible people, who believe in the Constitution of the United States, and flip something on them so that something they did in the past turns them into a felon,” said Foley, adding how he “would make sure they are not prosecuted.”
Michael Lawlor, Malloy’s criminal justice adviser, said the new law essentially mirrors language in the state’s 1993 assault weapons ban, which makes it a Class A misdemeanor for first-time violators who failed to register their now banned weapon — or in the case of the new law, also large-capacity ammunition magazines — with the state.
“If you fail to register a banned assault weapon and you can prove that you legally owned it before the ban took effect, the maximum penalty is a misdemeanor, not a felony,” Lawlor said.
A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in prison and/or up to $2,000 in fines. Lawlor said the offending gun owners would be eligible to apply for the special program known as Accelerated Rehabilitation. Assuming the offender has never been in trouble before, Lawlor said it would be very likely that program would be granted and the charges ultimately dropped.
A March 14 news release from the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection said a conviction for charges related to the possession of an unregistered assault weapon or undeclared large capacity magazines could also jeopardize a gun owner’s ability to possess a valid state permit or eligible certificate.
State officials are aware of about 66 assault weapons that were not registered in time by their owners, Lawlor said.
Those owners were notified that if the weapon is no longer in Connecticut, they are complying with the law.
They also were given the option of relinquishing the weapons and high-capacity magazines to the police or rendering the items permanently inoperable.