Third in a Series on Connecticut’s Gun Laws
The Connecticut Constitution’s Guarantee
Article First of the Connecticut Constitution is titled “Declaration of Rights.” Section 15 of Article First reads,
“Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the state.”
The annotations below § 15 identify the court cases in which the right to bear arms was at issue.
Two $64 Questions
- Is the right of Connecticut citizens to bear arms absolute? Or is it inherently limited? And
- Can the state legislature regulate that right?
The Courts’ Answers
In Benjamin v. Bailey (1995), the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the “limiting language” of § 15 “clearly indicates what purposes are not accorded explicit constitutional protection: the bearing of arms for any purpose other than defense of one’s self or the state” (emphasis added). In other words, the language of § 15 clearly confines citizens’ right to bear arms to defending themselves and the state.
A 2004 opinion of the Connecticut Appellate Court (State v. Abraham, AC 23690) declared, “Our courts have long recognized that the right to bear arms in self-defense or in defense of the state is subject to reasonable regulation. See Benjamin v. Bailey, 234 Conn. 455, 467, 662 A.2d 1226 (1995)…”
The plaintiffs in Benjamin v. Bailey—who included the firearms manufacturer Intratec—claimed that the state’s ban on assault weapons (General Statutes §§ 53-202a through 53-202k) “violate the right to bear arms guaranteed by article first, § 15, of the state constitution.” A lower court found against the plaintiffs, who appealed to the State Supreme Court.
The Connecticut Supreme Court emphatically upheld most of the lower court’s ruling in Benjamin. In upholding the lower court, the high court quoted from a 1988 ruling (State v. Bailey, 209 Conn. 346): “[I]t is beyond serious dispute that the legislature has the authority to place reasonable restrictions on a citizen’s right to bear arms.”
In its conclusion, the Benjamin court wrote, “…we hold that the ban on assault weapons…does not infringe on the right to bear arms in self-defense guaranteed by article first, § 15, of the Connecticut constitution.”
The opinion in Benjamin, which answers question 2, was unanimous.
If these court rulings have not been overturned by more recent rulings, then
- Connecticut citizens’ right to bear arms is limited to self-defense and defense of the state; and
- The General Assembly may reasonably regulate that right.
In the next post in this series we will look at the statutory ban on assault weapons which the Court upheld in Benjamin.
Sources and Notes
Connecticut was the second-to-last of the original 13 states to promulgate a state constitution, in 1818. (Rhode Island was the last, in 1843.)
Benjamin does not analyze the phrase “bear arms.” For more on that subject, see Garry Wills, “To Keep and Bear Arms.” The New York Review of Books, September 21, 1995.