Police believe it’s a simple request: if you are openly carrying a gun and an officer asks to see your pistol permit, you should show it.
But that seemingly simple proposition led to more than six hours of debate Wednesday at the state Capitol complex about Second Amendment rights and public safety.
Chief state’s attorney Kevin Kane, the state’s top prosecutor, testified that asking to see a permit is “a very limited intrusion” that would not be a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Kane said he believes it is more of an “intrusion” for drivers to be pulled over by police and asked for their license than for a person openly carrying a weapon to show their permit.
Currently, citizens can refuse to show their permit if they are not suspected of a crime. Police officers cannot force compliance unless they have “reasonable suspicion of a crime.”
But both Republican and Democrat lawmakers raised questions about the proposal.
“How can we ensure that the average individual is not going to be discriminated against?” asked Rep. Christie Carpino, a Cromwell Republican who is an attorney. “I’m not sure how showing or not showing a permit is going to increase public safety.”
Massachusetts, Texas and 13 other states have similar laws to the one being contemplated in Connecticut, said Rep. William Tong, the co-chairman of the judiciary committee who is among 11 co-sponsors of the measure.
“Our constitutional rights are not absolute,” said Tong, an attorney who studied constitutional law. “You don’t have the right to walk into the State Supreme Court with a firearm. You don’t have the right to walk into a public school in this state with a firearm. … If you go to a Starbucks in Newtown with a pistol on your hip, that’s going to cause a reaction.”
The current law applies only if the police officer actually sees the gun. For example, if five people called the police and said they saw a person with a gun, the officers could not ask to see the permit without seeing the gun themselves, legislators said.
The issue has prompted controversy in West Haven and Bridgeport, where gun owners refused to show their permits when requested. A dispute arose in June 2013 when two men were walking on the boardwalk in West Haven with their guns obvious to public view in hip holsters.
When stopped by police, one of them agreed to show his permit. The other did not and was charged with interfering with police. A judge dismissed the case, and a prosecutor said the arrested man, Scott Lazurek of Derby, had a permit but simply did not want to show it to police. Lazurek told police that he did not need to display the permit under the law — and the prosecutor and the judge agreed.
Ron Pinciaro of Bridgeport, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said the general public “can’t believe” the current law that police cannot force a law-abiding citizen to show their permit.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Pinciaro told lawmakers. “They just don’t understand how this could possibly be the case, and the result is you have to do something about it.”
Rep. Robyn Porter, a New Haven Democrat, said she agreed with Sen. Len Suzio, a conservative Republican from Meriden, that the proposed law could be misapplied by police officers based on the color of a person’s skin.
“We do know there is disparate treatment in different communities,” Porter said. “I call it profiling.”
Porter, who is African American, told a story of being pulled over by a police officer while driving her car that has special license plates that are reserved for state legislators.
“He had the audacity to say he needed to make sure that my license plate wasn’t stolen,” Porter said, describing the traffic stop.
Berlin Chief Paul Fitzgerald, representing the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said the new law would clarify the current situation in which some activists are looking for confrontations with the police.
“A small number of pistol-permit holders have purposely engaged in open-carry behavior and used the current statute language to create situations in which an officer cannot request their permit,” Fitzgerald said in written testimony. “These situations are unnerving to the public and have the potential to escalate into confrontations.”
When asked about potential profiling, Fitzgerald said that every police department in the state has anti-profiling guidelines so that citizens are not targeted due to race, sex, or other factors.
“We’re worried about the person who wants a confrontation, wants to get on Facebook” or file a lawsuit, said Fitzgerald, a former state trooper before he became a local police chief.
Jonathan Perloe, the communications director for Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said a person carrying a gun openly should not be treated “like someone carrying a book or smartphone.”
Citing the theatre shooting in Colorado, Perloe added, “My daughter doesn’t want to go to movies because she is scared.”
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