So much has happened since April 4 that it seems like more than four weeks since Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed the strict gun control bill into law. We had the showdown on background checks in the U.S. Senate, and of course, the Boston Marathon bombings.
One thing that hasn’t happened — and won’t happen until June 1 — is the state clearing up all the sales rules on military-style weapons and magazines larger than 10 rounds, for retailers and manufacturers. That’s a long time for an up-or-down answer on whether a merchant can sell his or her wares under a law that took effect upon signing.
Sure, the state has cleared up some of the obvious questions, like whether guns bought and paid for online before the law went into effect could be delivered later. (Yes.) But there are lots of fine points, and they matter a lot to the people trying to make a living in the firearms business.
For example, suppose a buyer put down a deposit but not the whole amount for a gun that now can’t be sold. Suppose someone took an AR-15-style rifle to a consignment shop, which didn’t sell it. What does the 139-page law say?
Retailers and manufacturers have been waiting for answers, some patiently, some not. The state police special licensing and firearms unit is charged with sorting through the law and coming back with answers, and the unit has been working diligently along with lawyers from the Attorney General’s office and from the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which includes the state police.
It’s not that the lawyers are arguing, said Mike Lawlor, Malloy’s chief of criminal justice policy. Rather, he said, “There’s like a million different scenarios.”
One of those scenarios is unfolding at Ammunition Storage Components in New Britain, one of the nation’s largest makers of bullet magazines — many of them now banned for sale in Connecticut. The company has 5,000 orders from Connecticut customers placed before 12:21 p.m. on April 4, when Malloy inked his name using two dozen pens.
And those customers agreed to put a hold on their credit cards to cover the cost of their orders, owner Jonathan Scalise said. Will they get their goods? Probably yes. But probably isn’t good enough. Stay tuned until June 1.
“It’s a significant amount of orders and business that we don’t have a definitive yes or no,” Scalise said. “I will err on the side of caution…most of them have opted to leave the credit card charge on, but basically I have told them that I will do nothing to put them in any type of a situation where they may have inadvertently violated the law.”
Scalise is a lawyer by training and a reasonable guy who understands that processes take time. But he’s also angry.
“That’s just despicable,” he said. “You’re going to interfere with people’s rights…without clarity. If a law cannot be interpreted by the general public as read, it’s not a good law…it’s unfair and I would argue it’s unconstitutional.”
Retailers are in the same position. Two that I spoke with Monday said they’re being patient, the delay is not a huge burden, but they’re already taking a hit to their business and the delay is at best an annoyance and probably an additional cost.
The June 1 deadline will not even include rules on how the state will issue permits for the purchase of rifles and ammunition, and for the registration of magazines and rifles that are now banned for sale. That will come by Aug. 1, or at least that’s when Malloy said it will happen, and those permits and registrations don’t take effect until Jan. 1.
The problem here is not the delay at the state police firearms unit, which is well regarded by people in the industry, and it’s not that lawyers need time to work their magic. Rather, it’s that lawmakers and Malloy insisted on rushing a vote on an emergency certified law hours after lawmakers agreed on its basic framework, before anyone had time to figure out what it actually said.
The added permitting and registration that takes effect Jan. 1 could save lives by limiting access. But it’s debatable whether the ban on sales of magazines holding more than 10 rounds and on some — but not all — semiautomatic rifles will save lives. With an estimated 8 million military-style rifles and millions more semiautomatic pistols in U.S. civilian hands already, would it have been so bad to give the law a June 1 start date?
Why make the Connecticut look like a chaotic place? New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did that with an even bigger rush, and the result was a mess.
“The goal was to stop immediately the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” Lawlor said. “There was a surge of purchases and the legislature wanted to put a stop to that…if you had given it another month, then you would have a lot more weapons sold.”
Lawlor said no one is hurt by the delay, and he and others are working hard to make the process as smooth as possible and, as he put it, “to reassure people that these policies, they may not agree with them, but these policies are reasonable and not arbitrary.”
The gun industry and the National Rifle Association have long said that this or that new regulation is unworkable, Lawlor said. “These laws are very complicated but it’s unfair to say that it’s not going to work.”
Complicated indeed. That’s why the start date should have been June 1. This isn’t a law setting up, say, medical marijuana, for which the state can take its sweet time writing rules. This is a ban that restricts rights and affects livelihoods. Taking a few weeks to make it more orderly would have helped the state’s argument that it’s reasonable and workable.