The Connecticut Bar Association is currently weighing a proposal to join in the defense of Connecticut gun control measures that were passed in wake of the Newtown school massacre in December 2012.
Mark Dubois, the president of the CBA, said the organization’s Human Rights and Responsibility Section has requested that the CBA join an amicus to support efforts to defend the constitutionality of the state’s recent ban on assault weapons, as well as new restrictions on large-capacity ammunition magazines.
Second amendment advocates argue in a lawsuit filed last year that the new law tramples on their right to bear arms and protect themselves. Back in January, U.S. District Judge Alfred Covello dismissed that lawsuit that had been filed by the Connecticut Citizen’s Defense League and Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen. In his ruling, Covello said the ban on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines “does not effectively disarm individuals or substantially affect their ability to defend themselves.”
Part of the judge’s reasoning was based on the fact that “a wide variety of non-assault weapons” are still available for protection and hunting under the law. The plaintiff’s quickly appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit arguing that the law puts an undue burden on gun owners. The Connecticut gun law is being defended on appeal by the Office of Attorney General.
Last month, attorneys general in 23 states – mostly in the West and South – joined the appellate challenge on behalf of second amendment advocates, facing off against their Connecticut counterpart, George Jepsen. In an amicus filed in the 2nd Circuit, the AGs say their states, including Arizona, Florida and New Mexico, have “a profound interest in protecting the fundamental rights of their citizens.”
After those developments, the question of whether the CBA should enter the fray was raised. Under the proposal of the section, rather than take on the onerous and costly task of hiring a law firm to draft an amicus brief in support of the Connecticut law, the idea is to join an amicus being prepared by advocates interested in preventing gun violence, led by the Brady Center.
The question of whether the CBA should join the amicus being drafted by the Brady Center will go to the CBA House of Delegates for a vote on July 21, said Monte Frank, vice president of the CBA and a lawyer with Cohen & Wolf. Frank said that the CBA has a “proud tradition of standing up for civil and human rights, and protecting human rights of its citizens.”
An email will be sent out to members of the CBA advising them to tell their representatives if they have concerns about the group getting involved in “a social or political matter,” he said.
Both Frank and Dubois said the CBA leadership is making every effort to have the decision discussed at length among its membership.
“My job is not to yeah or nay,” Dubois said, “but to make sure we have a neutral playing field where we have robust discussion and reach a good decision.”
Dubois was aware of the fact that he is facing what could be the first controversy since he was installed as president on July 1, when the term of immediate past president Kim Knox expired.
“There are two questions,” Dubois said. “Should the CBA get involved in matters that are social or political, or are we a professional organization only concerned with matters affecting the practice of law. This is more of a threshold issue. I think there are even people who believe in gun regulations who may not think it’s appropriate for the CBA to get involved in such things.”
While some people think the CBA should only get involved in puplic issues that expand “the good of the members and the courts,” Dubois said, the CBA constitution indicates amicus action should be considered “in matters of social or societal concerns.”
The last time the CBA got involved in joining a case of some controversy was in 2012, when it supported efforts in favor of extending federal benefits for same-sex couples, a decision that has drawn mixed reactions from CBA members.
In that matter, Barry Hawkins, then-CBA president, defended the decision to have the question of whether the CBA should join the DOMA case placed before the CBA’s Board of Governors, instead of the larger House of Delegates.
The reason the larger body was not called upon in that case, Hawkins said, was there was not enough time for the group to convene before the time frame for briefs to be filed had expired.
This time around, Dubois said the CBA leaderhip is going to the House of Delagates for review. If the measure is approved, a committee will be tasked with looking over the briefs being filed by the Collins Center “to make sure it doesn’t contain anything that’s going to give us shortness of breath,” Dubois said.
Dubois, for one, thinks the Connecticut gun law will stand on its merits. “My guess is the thing gets approved on the merits, because Judge Covello’s opinion was well reasoned and followed the law. You can do reasonable [gun] regulation,” Dubois said.
In Covello’s decision, the Connecticut judge wrote that even though the Connecticut legislation “burdens the plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights, it is substantially related to the important government interest of public safety and crime control.”
The lawyer who is appealing the decision, Brian Stapleton of White Plains, did not respond to a call seeking comment.