Law enforcement officers investigate the scene of a shooting near a baseball field in Alexandria, Va., where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana was shot at a congressional baseball practice. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Alex Brandon)
As FBI investigators sought to clarify the motive behind Wednesday’s brazen shooting attack on congressional Republicans during practice for a charity baseball game in Virginia, key voices in Connecticut’s gun-control debate sounded off Thursday, while the U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to confer over a challenge to concealed-carry restrictions in California.
Outgoing Connecticut Bar Association President Monte Frank, newly appointed to the American Bar Association’s Gun Violence Advisory Committee, expressed exasperation and outrage over the attack by a lone assailant armed with a semi-automatic rifle and pistol.
“I don’t know, from a policy standpoint, that yesterday’s event changes anything,” he said. “It’s another mass shooting in a string of mass shootings that have occurred almost on a weekly basis since Sandy Hook [School, Newtown, 2012]. This time it happens to have been directed at members of Congress, which is horrible, but it’s horrible whether it’s directed at kids in school, people going to movies or students going to universities. I think it just reminds Americans that no one is safe anywhere, and that there is a need for common-sense gun reform to occur at the federal level.”
Frank dismissed the notion that accused gunman James Hodgkinson, who was fatally shot by police after the attack, may have had a partisan motivation. Hodgkinson had been critical of President Donald Trump on social media leading up to the attack, according to reports.
“There is no place for gun violence in politics or anywhere else in our society,” Frank said. “When someone takes a gun into their hands and aims it at innocent people, it’s no longer a matter of politics. It’s a matter for the criminal justice system.”
Like Frank, Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said mass shootings underscore the fact that Connecticut ranks second in the nation for the strength of its gun laws, and that such concepts as universal background checks are important, widely supported measures that help to prevent mass shootings. But even as memories of the Sandy Hook massacre are churned up, getting legislation passed in today’s political climate is an uphill battle.
“We haven’t had a strong federal gun bill passed since the 1990 assault weapons ban, and that was overturned in 2004, so our Congress is incapable of standing up to the gun lobby and making stronger gun laws,” Pinciaro said.
“This was an atrocity,” Pinciaro said of Wednesday’s attack in Virginia. “It was awful that it was members of Congress, and it could have been much worse, but the fact is the ideology of the current Congress just trumps all things. They’re not going to do anything about it.”
In turn, lawsuits, including the Sandy Hook families’ claims of negligent entrustment by gun makers Remington and Bushmaster, have pushed the judiciary to the forefront in the national gun-control debate.
U.S. Supreme Court justices on Thursday reviewed Peruta v. California, a challenge to restrictions in California against carrying concealed firearms in public. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in June 2016 said there is no Second Amendment protection to such carrying of a gun.
Last June, the Orlando massacre at the Pulse nightclub, which killed 49 people and wounded 58, happened just days before the justices took their first look at a challenge to Connecticut’s ban on military-style firearms. The high court subsequently declined to hear the case, leaving in place restrictions adopted after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School killed 20 children and six teachers.
Whether Peruta will share the same fate as the Connecticut case is difficult to predict. The California case has been listed for the justices’ private conference 11 times and rescheduled four times since the petition, brought by Kirkland & Ellis partner Paul Clement, was filed on Jan. 12.
What is clear, however, is that the justices have been reluctant to step back into the Second Amendment debate over gun regulation. They have turned away at least 10 challenges to state and local gun regulations since their two landmark decisions in 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller and, two years later, in McDonald v. City of Chicago.
In Heller, a 5-4 court held that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to possess a handgun for self-defense in the home. The 5-4 majority in McDonald applied the Second Amendment to the states.
Only three justices have dissented when the high court has turned away new gun regulation challenges: The late Justice Antonin Scalia, and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito Jr.
In 2015, when the justices denied review of a challenge to Highland Park, Illinois’ ban on assault weapons, Thomas dissented. He wrote then: “Roughly 5 million Americans own AR-style semiautomatic rifles. The overwhelming majority of citizens who own and use such rifles do so for lawful purposes, including self-defense and target shooting. Under our precedents, that is all that is needed for citizens to have a right under the Second Amendment to keep such weapons.”
California regulates open carry and concealed carry of guns in public. Open carry is generally prohibited, with a few exceptions. Anyone applying for a concealed-carry license must show, among other requirements, that “good cause” exists for the license. The state’s counties may decide what constitutes “good cause.”
In Peruta, Clement argues that the San Diego sheriff’s interpretation of “good cause” is so restrictive that the typical law-abiding resident in the county cannot get a concealed-carry license. “And because California law prohibits openly carrying a handgun outside the home, the result is that the typical law-abiding resident cannot bear a handgun for self-defense outside the home at all,” he said.
The en banc Ninth Circuit narrowly examined “whether the Second Amendment protects, in any degree, the ability to carry concealed firearms in public.” It did not reach the question whether the right to bear arms existed outside of the home.
The justices also had under consideration a petition filed by the Trump administration’s Justice Department seeking to overturn a Third Circuit decision. The case, Sessions v. Binderup, was on the court’s Thursday conference list.
The Third Circuit last year said the federal ban on felons possessing guns violated the Second Amendment rights of two men convicted of nonviolent misdemeanor offenses. The case has been listed six times for the court’s private conference.