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Long wait for appeal of gun permit denials in Connecticut

September 1, 2018

Those whose gun permits are denied or revoked in Connecticut often have to wait more than six months for a chance to appeal, despite a state law that requires such hearings within 10 days.

A state auditors report released last week found that the Board of Firearm Permit Examiners had a backlog of 649 appeal cases in June 2014 for gun permits that were denied or revoked, according to a report released Tuesday.

While the audit stopped measuring at 2014, the backlog continues to this day, Nancy Lotas, office manager for the board said. She is now scheduling hearings for April 2019, she said. When she explains the backlog via email to those who are appealing, some are surprised.

“I get a couple calls: ‘Is this a typo?’”

The answer is no.

“The number of appeals more than doubled, from 230 in the first half of the 2011-2012 fiscal year to 465 in the second half of the 2011-2012 fiscal year, resulting in an increased waiting period for a hearing,” auditors wrote.

The delay got longer after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

In 2013, in response to the school shootings, Connecticut changed its gun laws and required permits to legally purchase any kind of gun or ammunition. Previously, permits were only needed to buy some kinds of guns.

As a result, the number of people seeking permits — and the number of those having their permits denied, or later, revoked — skyrocketed, the auditor’s report said.

Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, the state’s largest gun group, lays the blame on towns.

“This has been a serious bone of contention for years,” Wilson said.

There are about a dozen factors — such as having a felony conviction or certain misdemeanors — that can automatically disqualify one from getting a gun permit. But local police departments, which issue the permits, can also disqualify someone on the basis of “suitability,” state statute says. “Suitability” is not clearly defined in the statute, however, and Wilson said some towns use it more than others as a basis to deny permits.

Kyle Overturf, one of the Board’s longest serving members, said in an interview Wednesday he remembers a large backlog existing when he joined the board in 2009. Since that time, the Board starts its meetings earlier so it can finish more hearings in a day and doubled the number of hearings it holds. The Board used to schedule a dozen cases per session; now they schedule 22.

“This month alone we cleared about 80 cases off the docket,” said Overturf, a former colonel with the state environmental conservation police who now manages a Wallingford gun range.

But the Board is limited in how much more it can do to reduce the backlog, Overturf said. The nine-member board was established in the 1970s decades before all Connecticut residents had to seek permits to buy a gun.

The board is comprised of unpaid volunteers: a few attorneys, representatives from gun groups like Ye Connecticut Gun Guild and the Connecticut State Rifles and Revolvers Association, and officials from various state Departments. They have a small budget and one full-time staff member. And they conduct their hearings in an informal discussion fashion, unlike regimented court-style hearings.

No other state agency uses the same appeal hearing format, said Michael Lawlor, under secretary for criminal justice policy and planning at the State Office of Policy and Management. The Department of Motor Vehicles, for instance, has full-time hearing officers who individually conduct hearings if a driver appeals their license suspension after a drunk driving incident. The officer renders their appeal decision; the driver the can appeal it further to court.

“Everybody would be a winner if they could make this a more efficient process,” Lawlor said Thursday. “You could eliminate the backlog overnight if you treated it like other situations.”

That change would have to be made by the next legislature or governor, though, Lawlor said. The legislature could also choose to define what factors make one unsuitable for gun ownership and that might simplify the process, Lawlor said.

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson

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