ORDERS CONNECTICUT OFFICIALS TO RESUME FINGERPRINTING FOR PISTOL PERMITS
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jun. 9, 2020) — On April 10, 2020, CCDL president Holly Sullivan sent a letter by certified mail to the office of Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) asking him to amend his Executive Order 7E issued March 17, 2020 in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
A week before on March 10, Lamont declared a statewide public health emergency. By March 17, most businesses in the state were shut down.
Other parts of the March 17 order dealt with the suspension of mandatory in-person social-service hearings, the mandatory 180-day school year, and expiration of permits which normally would have occurred during the 90-day period between March 1 and June 1, 2020.
“CCDL” stands for “Connecticut Citizens Defense League.” The organization states it is “a non-partisan, grassroots organization devoted to advocating rights affirmed by the Constitutions of the United States of America and the State of Connecticut. We are especially dedicated to protecting the unalienable right of all citizens to keep and bear arms, for the defense of both self and state, through public enlightenment and legislative action.”
In 2013, The Post & Email interviewed then-CCDL president Scott Wilson about proposed legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting which took the lives of 26 children and educators on December 14, 2012. The perpetrator, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, first murdered his mother and ended the siege by turning the gun on himself.
Item #2 of Lamont’s March 17 executive order suspended a Connecticut law “which prohibits employees of a municipal police department or the Division of State Police within the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection from refusing to collect the fingerprints of a person requesting such fingerprinting for the purposes of a criminal history records check.” As noted in CCDL’s complaint, fingerprinting is required by law for a Connecticut resident to begin the process of acquiring a permit to carry a handgun, referred to in the statutes as a “pistol” or “revolver.”
In addition to Lamont, named defendants were Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) Commissioner James C. Rovella and four town police chiefs who declined to fingerprint new pistol-permit applicants on the basis of Lamont’s executive order.
In her initial letter to Lamont, Sullivan asked “that the fingerprinting and permitting process be reinstated immediately. In the alternative, we ask that you temporarily waive the fingerprint requirement for firearms permit applications, substituting instead a sworn affidavit attesting that the applicant is not legally prohibited from obtaining such a permit.”
The CCDL was forced to bring suit after the Governor’s March 17, 2020 Executive Order 7E suspended Connecticut General Statute § 29-17c, the law requiring state and local law enforcement to fingerprint, and process the applications of, Connecticut residents seeking State-issued permits to legally purchase and possess firearms, ammunition and magazines. As a result of the Governor’s Executive Order, law enforcement throughout the state are refusing to collect fingerprints for firearms permit purposes, and are refusing to process firearms applications, even while fingerprinting and application processing continues for other purposes. Under Executive Order 7E, state and local law enforcement have effectively shut down the issuance of all firearm permits in Connecticut. The CCDL cannot allow such blatant disregard for its members’ rights to go unchallenged…
The CCDL wrote Governor Lamont on April 10, 2020 seeking reinstatement of the fingerprinting and application process, and offering alternatives to the process. Sadly, the Governor never responded to, nor even acknowledged, the CCDL’s letter, giving it no choice but to seek relief for its members in federal court.
The lawsuit requested “A preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting Defendants Rovella, Melanson, Cota, Gould and Kenny and their respective employees, officers, agents, representatives, and those acting in concert or participation with them, from refusing to accept and process firearms certificate or permit applications and from refusing to issue firearms certificates and permits to eligible applicants;” or to provide an alternate means by which Connecticut residents could apply for a pistol permit.
At the same time, CCDL announced that two Connecticut legislators who are also practicing attorneys in the state, State Rep. Craig Fishbein (R-District 90) and State Rep. Doug Dubitsky (R-District 47), would represent them in the civil action. Both legislators are members of the Connecticut General Assembly Conservative Caucus, which has called on Lamont to work more closely with the legislature in his “Reopen Connecticut” initiative.
[Disclosure: Dubitsky is this writer’s state representative, although we did not contact him for purposes of this article or the lawsuit.]
On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer, an Obama appointee, issued an opinion directing the state to resume fingerprinting by June 15. In the opinion, Meyer noted “several changed circumstances since the filing of this lawsuit,” the first of which was that the four defendant police chiefs had reinstituted fingerprinting and were therefore removed from the action.
The second and third changed circumstances, Meyer wrote, were that “DESPP has resumed its in-person processing of permit applications as of May 26, 2020, but it has not resumed fingerprinting” and “that Commissioner Rovella has announced that DESPP will resume its fingerprinting operations on June 15, 2020.“
The changes were posted on the DESPP website on June 5, 2020.
A fourth development, Meyer said, was that “counsel for the Governor has filed a ‘notice’ stating that the Governor “intends to repeal the provisions of Executive Order 7-E which suspended state statutes prohibiting law enforcement officials from refusing to take fingerprints for purposes of criminal background checks,” and that “[t]he repeal will be effective June 15 and will be reflected in an Executive Order, prior to that date.”
Despite those declarations, Meyer wrote on page 14, “I am not convinced that the stated commitments for the resumption of fingerprinting moot plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunctive relief against the Governor and the Commissioner.”
On page 16, he added, “…I am less than confident in counsel’s representation about what the Governor intends to do. Initially, the representation about the Governor’s intentions arrived by an email from counsel to chambers, and it was only because the Court entered an order instructing that any such representation must of course be formally filed on the docket that this representation is even a part of the record in this case. Doc. #68. In light of the rapidly shifting litigation maneuvers of counsel for the Governor and Commissioner, I decline to conclude that the representations about what the Commissioner and the Governor intend to do on June 15 offer sufficient assurance that the challenged conduct will be permanently discontinued, as would be required to moot plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief.”
Comparing the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it as “a state of war,” Meyer contended on page 22 that government officials are not permitted “limitless discretion to intrude on the rights of the people.” Countering that, Meyer claimed, is that “courts owe great deference to the protective measures ordered by government officials in response to the COVID-19 crisis, not simply because the virus has lethal consequences but also because the virus acts in unknown ways that engender uncertainty about what scope of protective measures are warranted.”
Nevertheless Meyer said, “the Governor and the Commissioner have not shown that there continues to be a substantial fit between the goal of protecting people from COVID-19 and a suspension of all fingerprinting collection requirements. The fact that the four police chief defendants have resumed fingerprinting activities and that the Commissioner has stated his intent for DESPP to resume fingerprinting activities on June 15 is powerful evidence that the ongoing suspension of fingerprinting has become needlessly overbroad—that it does not continue to be a reasonable and substantial fit to the necessity of protecting public health in light of alternative and available protective measures for the police to use when collecting an applicant’s fingerprints.”
On page 24 of the opinion, Meyer wrote that in his view, “a continuing categorical elimination of fingerprinting is not necessary” and allowed a week for the state to prepare “to be fully and safely prepared to resume fingerprinting activities” in light of an order he would issue to Lamont to modify Executive Order 7E.
The Post & Email contacted both Sullivan and Lamont for comment for this article but did not hear back from either by press time.