Photo: Hannah Dellinger / Hearst Connecticut Media
Image 1 1
GREENWICH — The recent shooting death of a Stamford teenager was on the minds of many of those who gathered in Greenwich to hear Connecticut’s assistant attorney general speak about legal challenges to gun safety legislation.
“We’re tired and frustrated with the cycle of shootings, followed by thoughts and prayers, followed by inaction,” said Jen Barro, group leader of the recently formed Greenwich chapter of Moms Demand Action, after referencing the murder of 16-year-old Marcus Hall. “I think we owe it to our community to change our culture and improve our gun laws.”
The death of Hall — the second fatal shooting of a teen in Stamford’s West Side neighborhood in the past several months — wasn’t the only tragedy that propelled the crowd to action.
Many of the dozen or so people who attended the Thursday night event, organized by Moms Demand Action and held at the YWCA Greenwich, indicated they had been directly affected by gun violence and most said they knew someone who had been.
Connecticut Assistant Attorney General Maura Murphy Osborne detailed the origin story of Public Act 13-3, legislation passed by Connecticut’s legislature shortly after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. And she recalled her fight in the U.S. Supreme Court to save it.
“We’re proud of a lot of the laws our office has defended,” Murphy Osborne said. “But we are especially proud of the post-Sandy Hook gun laws we saved.”
The law expanded the state’s ban on assault-style weapons and implemented a ban on high-capacity magazines. It also strengthened gun seizure laws and mental health provisions.
In Shew v. Malloy, the plaintiff, June Shew, claimed her Second Amendment rights were stifled by the law by preventing her from buying an AR-15.
In the case, Murphy Osborne argued the Constitution doesn’t afford the public the right to own extremely dangerous types of firearm. She drew on Antonin Scalia’s opinion in the landmark case District of Columbia v. Heller, which said though individuals do have the right to bear weapons that are commonly used, that right is not extended to all weapons.
Murphy Osborne said she demonstrated through expert testimony that assault rifles like the AR-15 are essentially as deadly as weapons of war.
“The Sandy Hook shooter went in with an AR-15 and had 10 30-round magazines and a Glock pistol with a 17-round magazine. In under five minutes, he fired 154 bullets,” she said. “For practical purposes, an AR-15 operates in much the same manner as an M16.”
Public Act 13-3 withstood the federal challenge, but it’s constitutionality is still being decided by the Connecticut Supreme Court.
“We’ve litigated it, and we’re hoping for favorable decision on that in the near future,” Murphy Osborne said.
Though the state’s gun laws are in “good shape,” Murphy Osborne said, she pointed to some developing national issues.
“A major question is: Do people have the right to carry a firearm outside of their home?” she said. “Connecticut does not restrict carry as long as it’s a suitable person. But federal courts all over the country are all saying different things. It will go to the Supreme Court in future, most likely.”
“Ghost guns” are another emerging legal issue, she said. The term refers to homemade or 3-D printed guns.
Few studies have been done on gun violence in America, Murphy Osborne said, so it’s difficult to measure its true impact on society.
“Congress passed law 20 years ago that prohibits the Centers for Disease Control from using any funding to study gun violence,” she said.
A focus on the midterms
Barro told the group Moms Demand Action is focusing its efforts for the first time on supporting political candidates who pledge to support gun safety laws.
“This year, for the first time, (Moms Demand Action’s umbrella organization) Everytown is awarding the ‘Gun Sense Candidate Distinction’ for candidates that have pledged to vote on the side of gun safety,” she said.
There are 97 candidates in Connecticut who earned the distinction, Barro said.