A federal lawsuit filed Monday by the firearms industry to challenge the state's new gun-control law doesn't mention Second Amendment arguments by other gun-rights advocates — but instead alleges an abuse of "emergency certification" procedures that bypass the General Assembly's committee process and public hearings.
"There was no emergency other than one of political expediency" when legislative leaders used the emergency procedures on April 3 and 4 to push a 139-page bill through the House and Senate that legislators hadn't had a chance to read, said Lawrence G. Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Safety Foundation, the Newtown-based firearms industry group that filed the lawsuit.
The legislative session extended until early June, and there was plenty of time to follow the normal process, Keane said. But after a February visit to Connecticut by Vice President Joe Biden, pushing for gun control in the wake of the December Newtown school massacre, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy got impatient with a process that he'd begun himself, Keane said. Malloy pressed for legislative action, which was then negotiated by top Democratic and Republican legislative leaders and dropped on lawmakers, Keane said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Even if the emergency had been real, the leaders still violated the requirements for taking emergency legislative action because they failed to provide "any facts" to justify their bypassing normal procedures — as specifically required by state law, Keane said.
When Malloy immediately signed the bill into law on April 4, Keane said, the governor's action was just as illegal as it would have been in the case of a more obvious procedural breach — such as if only the House had passed it but not the Senate.
Under the new law, guns that have semiautomatic action, detachable bullet magazines and at least one military-style characteristic — such a pistol grip — are banned for retail sale in Connecticut. Among the law's other wide-ranging provisions is a ban on the purchase of magazines containing more than 10 rounds.
The foundation's lawsuit seeks a court injunction against the law's enforcement and a declaration that it is invalid. It names as defendants state officials including Malloy, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, Senate President Pro Tempore Don Williams and Attorney General George Jepsen.
Keane said that his organization's challenge to the procedures is based on a different issue than a Second Amendment-based federal lawsuit filed in April against state officials over the gun bill by a coalition of gun owners, gun dealers and gun-rights groups. And so, he said, even if the Second Amendment argument fails in the earlier-filed suit, his suit should prevail based on the argument that citizens' constitutional due-process rights were denied when the legislature violated its own procedures.
Malloy and other top officials have insisted the adoption of the new law was proper — and they've said that although normal legislative procedures weren't followed, there were several lengthy public hearings on issues covered by the law. This happened under a special, extensive "task force" process, they've said.
Malloy's communications director, Andrew Doba, said: "We've known for some time that groups opposed to the new gun violence prevention law would be filing suit against it. We believe the bill improves public safety, and we will work with the Attorney General's office to defend it. Let's not forget that this has happened before. In prior instances where Connecticut has passed common sense restrictions on firearms, there have been challenges. They have all been unsuccessful."
But Keane said Malloy and top lawmakers misused an exception to the normal legislative process — "emergency certification," commonly called "e-cert" — "to circumvent the safeguards of the normal legislative process" such as committee votes and public hearings. The "e-cert" process, once used sparingly, has been invoked increasingly during recent years.
The lawsuit cites a statute that says that, except in emergencies, "no bill shall be passed or become a law unless it has been printed in its final form … and upon the desks of the members at least two legislative days prior to its final passage."
The only exception to that two-day printing-in-advance requirement, according to the statute, is in cases where "the president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives have certified, in writing, the facts which in their opinion necessitate an immediate vote on such bill," according to the lawsuit.
That "emergency certfication" document, signed on April 2 by Senate President Pro Tempore Williams and House Speaker Sharkey, "failed to set forth any facts which necessitated an immediate vote," the lawsuit says.
The sort of facts that should have been listed might have involved public safety or some other imperative, Keane said, but all the emergency document cites as "reasons" were two general rules adopted by the legislature for adoption of bills — nothing specific.
"When they invoked that narrow exception, they didn't do what the statute required" because the document was "barren of any facts," Keane said, adding, "It simply says, 'We have to pass this law [immediately] because we have to pass this law.'"
Williams blasted the foundation over the lawsuit Tuesday, saying that it "cannot accept the fact that Connecticut responded to a horrific tragedy with common sense reforms that achieved broad bipartisan support. The gun manufacturers that support the NSSF apparently believe that the murders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School were not worthy of emergency-certified legislation after extensive public hearings and meetings."