Few topics are more hotly debated these days than Second Amendment rights, including in Connecticut where twenty first-graders and six adult educators were shot and killed on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. That timely topic was the focus of the Connecticut Law Review’s fall symposium – “Up in Arms: The Second Amendment in the Modern Republic” – an all-day event that drew scholars and practitioners from across the country to discuss the history of the right to bear arms, current legal trends regarding gun rights, recent legislative initiatives, litigation of gun control cases, and firearms and mental health.
Leading off the symposium was Governor Dannel P. Malloy, who spoke about Connecticut’s comprehensive gun control law – a law that bans the sale of more than 100 types of military-style rifles, establishes new registration requirements, limits large-capacity magazines to ten bullets, and calls for tougher penalties for non-compliance. “On April 4, 2013, I was proud to sign into law the Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Act, which passed with bipartisan support in both chambers of the Connecticut General Assembly,” said Malloy. “When proposing that law our priorities were clear: to adopt common-sense measures to improve public safety, while respecting the constitutional rights of responsible, law-abiding citizens to possess firearms…We knew that there were immediate…steps we could take to prevent another Sandy Hook, such as making sure dangerous weapons don’t fall into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them…The new law now requires federal background checks on the sale of all firearms in Connecticut, whether the gun is bought from a private individual or at a gun show…It also addresses expanding funding for mental health research and greater training on mental health issues for Connecticut’s teachers.”
Prior to the keynote address by Richard M. Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, a packed house of students, faculty, area attorneys, lawmakers and victim advocates heard from U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who has sponsored or co-sponsored a number of bills calling for increased background checks at gun shows, stricter regulation of assault weapons, restrictions on the sale of ammunition, and limitations on large-capacity magazines. In his remarks, Blumenthal expressed frustration with the 60-vote threshold required for passage of a law in the U.S. Senate, noting that common-sense reforms, including a mental health initiative, had garnered as many as 55 votes. “I think there is a real foundation for sensible measures supported by the vast majority of people in the United States, including a majority of gun owners and NRA members,” he said. “What prevented the Senate from successfully approving [these reforms] was the filibuster rule, which, as you lawyers know, is not in the Constitution…When it comes to “Up in Arms” (the title of the symposium), let me suggest we need a call to arms to make our democracy work better. Otherwise, the hope of common-sense gun violence prevention will remain a hope, not a reality…We in the United States Senate have to do better.”
In his keynote presentation, Aborn, whose career in criminal prosecution and litigation, policy development and government affairs includes serving as president of both Handgun Control, Inc. (now the Brady Campaign) and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, emphasized that the gun control movement is about illegal – not legal – guns. “I think, to use a famous phrase, it is a proposition too plain to be disputed that we have an issue with illegal guns in this country,” said Aborn, the managing partner at Constantine Cannon in New York City. “I hope that all of you will notice that every time I talk about the gun reform movement I focus on illegal guns, because that is what this is all about – trying to keep guns away from criminals and those with mental health issues sufficient to indicate that they shouldn’t possess a weapon. This is not about banning guns, no matter how many times you hear that…We have got to have that conversation if we are ever going to make any progress.”
In that context, Aborn sited several measures the gun reform movement wants enacted, none of which calls for the banning (which Aborn calls the “B-word”) of firearms. “The things we think would greatly reduce gun violence, break up the illegal markets…and [eventually] put the gun reform movement out of business – which I think is a very laudable goal – include a ban on assault weapons and large magazines…registration of guns so law enforcement knows where they are…a licensing requirement that includes safety training, including [learning] how to keep a gun in the home, and limitations on the number of guns you can buy at any one time. These are not outrageous propositions…but we can’t get there because of this deadlock we are in. We have to do better…We don’t want to be the America that stands in the face of Sandy Hook and says, ‘Sorry, there is nothing we can do.’ ”
FACT: The Connecticut Law Review symposium on the Second Amendment also included panel discussions on three topics: “Tragedy and Gun Control: The Legislative Process,” a discussion moderated by Associate Professor of Law Douglas M. Spencer, an election law expert who teaches Constitutional Law at UConn; "Mental Health and Firearms,” moderated by Professor Susan Schmeiser, who teaches a course on mental health law; and “Litigating the Affirmed Right to Arms,” with former Visiting Professor George A. Mocsary (currently assistant professor of law at Southern Illinois University School of Law) moderating.
"We support, in our state, the constitutional right to have firearms, but no right is without its limitations.” Governor Dannel P. Malloy
“I strongly respect the Second Amendment…and strongly support rights of gun ownership. But every right, as we know from law school and litigating, involves a potential balance against other rights. No right is absolute.” United States Senator Richard Blumenthal
“This issue is not about policy; it is about politics.” Richard M. Aborn, President, Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, and Managing Partner, Constantine Cannon
“We are proud as a law school to be able to convene a conversation about an issue of such importance, especially when there are such deeply held values on different sides.” Dean Timothy S. Fisher
"UConn Law Holds Panel on Second Amendment and Gun Control" (November 15, 2013, WNPR)
Connecticut Network (CT-N) recorded coverage of Governor Dannel P. Malloy's opening comments and the morning panels