Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
October 11, 1991
The Honorable Nicholas A. Cioffi
Commissioner of Public Safety
100 Washington Street
Hartford, CT 06106
Dear Commissioner Cioffi:
By letter dated March 14, 1991, you request our advice on the accuracy of certain guidelines issued by the Department of Public Safety concerning the provisions of Connecticut General Statutes §§ 29-37a, 29-37b and 29-37c. The statutes in question deal generally with the waiting period and paperwork applicable to the purchase of a firearm other than a pistol or revolver, the provision and use of trigger locking devices at the time of purchase of a firearm, and the proper storage of loaded firearms at the home or business of the owner. The Department of Public Safety has published the guidelines for the benefit of retail firearms dealers in the State of Connecticut. Following a thorough review of the statues under consideration, and of the extensive legislative histories associated therewith, it is our opinion that further clarification or modification of the subject guidelines is necessary.
We begin our review with a brief summary of the applicable rules of statutory construction by which we have been guided in our response to your inquiry. It is a cardinal rule of construction that statutes must be construed so as to give effect to the intent of the legislature. State v. Parmalee, 197 Conn. 158, 161, 496 A.2d 186 (1985), quoting, State v. Campbell, 180 Conn. 557, 561, 429 A.2d 960 (1980). Where the language of the act is plain and unambiguous, legislative intent must be ascertained from the language incorporated into the act alone. Beloff v. Progressive Casualty Insurance Co., 203 Conn. 45, 54, 523 A.2d 477 (1987). Thus, "[w]here the language of the statute is unambiguous, we are confined to the intention expressed in the actual words used and will not search out any further intention of the legislature not expressed in the statute...." Harris Data Communications, Inc. v. Heffernan, 183 Conn. 194, 198, 438 A.2d 1178 (1981).
Where the language of the statute is of doubtful or uncertain meaning, however, we must look beyond the words of the statute in order to ascertain and give effect to the legislature's actual intent. See State v. Kozlowski, 199 Conn. 667, 667, 509 A.2d 20 (1986). A statute is ambiguous where the language of that statute is of doubtful meaning, or contains a word or phrase which is not denied within that statute. See Link v. Shelton, 186 Conn. 623, 627, 443 A.2d 902 (1982). Ambiguity may further be established where a common sense interpretation of the statutory language leads to an "unreasonable result." State v. Delafose, 185 Conn. 517, 522, 441 A.2d 158 (1981). When confronted with such an ambiguous statute, we must look to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding the enactment of the statute as well as the purpose or objective with the legislation seeks to accomplish in order to find its true meaning. See State v. Campbell , 180 Conn. 557, 563, 429 A.2d 960 (1980). "Identifying the societal problems which the legislature sought to address may be particularly helpful in determining the true meaning of the statute." State v. Parmalee, 197 Conn. 158, 161-62, 496 A.2d 186 (1985).
With this framework in mind, we now look to the specific statutory provisions the meaning of which you have requested us to interpret herein.
Public Act No. 90-340, now codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-37a (1991), provides as follows:
No person, firm or corporation may deliver at retail, any firearm, as defined in section 53a-3, except a pistol or revolver, to any person unless such person makes application on a form prescribed and furnished by the commissioner of public safety, in triplicate, one copy of which shall be mailed by first class mail on the day of receipt of such application to the chief of the police department of the municipality within which the applicant resides or, where there is no chief of police, the first selectman or warden of such municipality as the case may e, and to the commissioner of public safety, and no sale or delivery of any firearm shall be made until the expiration of two weeks from the date of the mailing of such copies. Any such municipal authority or said commissioner, having knowledge of the conviction of such applicant of a felony, shall immediately notify the person, firm or corporation t o whom such application was made and no such firearm shall be sold or delivered to such applicant by such person, firm or corporation. When any firearm is delivered in connection with the sale or purchase, such firearm shall be enclosed in a package, the paper or wrapping of which shall be securely fastened, and no such firearm when delivered on any sale or purchase shall be loaded or contain any gunpowder or other explosive or any bullet, ball or shell. Upon the delivery of the firearm, the purchaser shall sign in triplicate a receipt for such firearm which shall contain the name, address and occupation of such purchaser, the date of sale, caliber, make, model and manufacturer's number and a general description thereof. Two of such triplicate receipts shall, within twenty-four hours thereafter, be mailed by first class mail by the vendor of such firearm to the commissioner of public safety and the other, together with the original application, shall be retained by such vendor for at least six years. The waiting period herein specified during which delivery may not be made shall not apply to any federal marshal, sheriff, parole officer or peace officer. The provisions of this section shall not apply to the delivery at retail of (1) any firearm to a holder of a valid state permit to carry a pistol or revolver issued under the provisions of section 29-28, (2) any firearm to an active member of the armed forces of the United States or of any reserve component thereof, (3) long rifles or shotguns to a holder of a valid hunting license issued pursuant to chapter 490, or (4) antique firearms. For the purposes of this section, "antique firearm" means any firearm which was manufactured in or before 1898 and any replica of such firearm provided such replica is not designed or redesigned for using rim fire or conventional center fire fixed ammunition except rim fire or conventional center fire fixed ammunition which is no longer manufactured in the United States and not readily available in the ordinary channel of commercial trade.1
The guideline which you have promulgated states, in pertinent part, that
Public Act 90-340 refers, in part, to a two week waiting period for all rifles and shotguns sold at retail. Though there are a number of exceptions to the Act, these special groups are exempt only from the waiting period. The appropriate forms, to include the SP-67 [application] and SP-3 [receipt], will be filled out completely and legibly on all firearms sold at retail and forwarded to the State Police Weapons Unit. This includes those persons hold a valid Connecticut State Permit to Carry Pistol or Revolver; a valid Connecticut Hunting License; active members of the armed forces; antique firearms, as well as those holding police officer status.
Your interpretation further provides that
[a] single SP-67 [application] and SP-3 [receipt] is sufficient for the needs of the State Police Weapons Unit. The original form, typed or printed legibly in ink, filled out completely should be forwarded of the Weapons Unit in Meriden. The SP-3's should not be forwarded to the Weapons Unit until after the sale is completed and the purchaser actually takes possession of the firearm.
The first question raised thereby is whether the groups identified above are merely exempted from the two week waiting period, or whether they are exempt from all of the provisions of the statute, including those requiring that purchased firearms be enclosed in a package at the item of purchase, that purchasers complete certain paperwork to enable local and state authorities do a background check on the prospective purchaser, and that purchasers sign an appropriate receipt for the purchase of their firearm. It is our opinion that Conn. Gen. Stat. § 2937a does not limit the exception to the two week waiting period.
The language of the statute is not ambiguous in any way. As a result, "the intent of the legislature is to be found not in what it meant to say but in what it did say." State v. Rogue, 190 Conn. 143, 150, 460 A.2d 26 (1983) (citations omitted). specifically, the two-week waiting period specified in the statute shall not be applied to any federal marshal, sheriff, parole officer or peace officer. However, the provisions concerning the completion of the required application and receipt, as well as all other provisions of the statute, apply to such law enforcement personnel. On the other hand, none of the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-37a (1991) apply to holders of valid state permits to carry a pistol or revolver, to active members of the armed forces of the United States or of any reserve component thereof, to holders of a valid Connecticut hunting license when purchasing long rifles or shotguns, or to the purchase of antique firearms. The statute must be applied as its words direct. See Muha v. United Oil Co., 180 Conn. 720, 730, 433 A.2d 1039 (1980). Therefore, we have no choice but to conclude that the guideline concerning § 29-37 a should be modified consistent with the above.
The last question regarding § 29-37a simply concerns the number of copies of each form; i.e. the SP-67 (application) and the SP-3 (receipt), that the retailer is required to forward to the State Police at the time of purchase of a firearm. The provisions of the statute are clear and unambiguous in this regard. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-37a provides with regard to the application that "one copy ... shall be mailed by first class mail on the day of receipt of such application to the chief of the police department of the municipality within which the applicant resides ... and to the commissioner of public safety ...." Id. (emphasis supplied). With regard to the receipt, the statute provides, in pertinent part, that "[t]wo of such triplicate receipts shall, within twenty-four hours thereafter, be mailed by first class mail by the vendor of such firearm to the commissioner of public safety...." Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-37a (1991) (emphasis supplied). To the extent that the guideline differs from the above requirements, it should also be amended.
Public Act No. 90-144, now codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-37b (1991), states, in pertinent part, that "[e]ach person, firm or corporation which engages in the retail sale of any firearm, ... at the time of sale of any such firearm, shall provide to the purchaser thereof...a trigger lock, gun lock or gun locking device appropriate for such firearm...." Id. The statute does not define the terms "trigger lock, gun lock or gun locking device," nor does it define the precise meaning of the term "appropriate." However, the guidelines state, in pertinent part, that
The appropriate locking device may, in fact, be a nylon or wire tie. However, only a reusable tie will be acceptable and considered appropriate. the device, in all cases, must be installed prior to the weapon leaving the retailer's facility.
(Emphasis in original). Two questions are raised thereby; first, whether a nylon or wire tie, reusable or otherwise, can be considered an appropriate gun-locking device; and, second, whether the locking device must be installed prior to the weapon's leaving the retailer's facility. Addressing the first question, it is our opinion that a nylon or wire tie, reusable or otherwise, is not an appropriate gun locking device within the meaning of Conn.. Gen.. Stat. § 29-37b.
Since the statutory language is not clearly defined, resort to legislative history is necessary to determine the type of safety apparatus the legislature contemplated by the phrase "trigger lock, gun lock or other gun locking device appropriate for such firearm."
During the debate over Senate Bill 307 (thereafter enacted into P.A. 90-144), the legislation was referred to as the "Kids and Guns Bill." Remarks of Senator Herbst, 33 S. Proc. Pt. 5, 1990 Sess., p. 1632. Throughout the debate over that bill in the Senate, and HB. 574, its counterpart in the House of Representatives, numerous legislators raised their concerns over the safety of young children who might gain access to unsecured firearms. The purpose of the bill was clearly preventive in nature; that is, to convey the message that "the State of Connecticut is serious about trying to prevent these senseless tragedies, loss of life, serious injuries to young children in the State of Connecticut, when gun owners fail to take the proper safety precautions to keep the guns out of the hands of children...." Remarks of Representative Jaekle, 33 H. Proc. Pt 21, 1990 Sess., pp. 7471-72.
Neither the Public Act, legislative history nor unrelated case law define the term "lock." However, Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language (Unabridged), 1971, defines a "lock" as "a fastening (as for a door, box, trunk lid, drawer) in which a bolt is secured by any of various mechanisms and can be released by inserting and turning a key or by operating a special device (as a combination, time clock, automatic release button, magnetic solenoid)". Id., at 1328.
While at least one representative remarked, in attempting to describe what should be considered to constitute a gun locking device, that "they can be something as simple as a strip of plastic, depending on its appropriateness for the firearm" (Remarks of Representative Godfrey, 33 H. Proc. Pt. 21, 1990 Sess., p. 7482), such remarks did not represent the intent of the legislature as a whole. The proceedings are replete with references to the fact that whatever gun lock might be provided at the time of purchase be necessarily operated by a key, a "conventional kind of lock" or "another type of device", Remarks of Representative Godfrey, 33 H. Proc. PT. 21, 1990 Sees., pp. 7536-37, that the owner should be required to buy a new trigger lock every time he purchases a gun, see Remarks of Representative Norton, 33 H. Proc. Pt. 21, 1990 Sess., p. 7479, that each firearm was to have its own trigger lock, see Remarks of Representative Godfrey, 33 H. Proc. Pt. 21, 1990 Sess., pp. 7481-82, and that owners might satisfy the law by using the device that was given them at the time of purchase, see Remarks of Representative Jaekle, 33 H. Proc. Pt. 21, 1990 Sess., pp. 7527, 7475. Such commentary leads us to conclude that a disposable type of plastic or wire tie that must be cut off a firearm using a knife or scissors, and thereafter discard, was not contemplated by the legislature as constituting an "appropriate" gun locking device. Similarly, we conclude from the legislative history that a reusable plastic or wire tie that can be removed and reapplied merely by depressing a plastic tab is not an appropriate gun locking device because it can be easily tampered with by anyone.
Therefore, it is our opinion, considering the legislative history as a whole, that only a lock which requires the use of a removable "device," i.e. a key, such that the lock could not be operated, and the firearm could not be discharged, in the absence of that "device," would satisfy the appropriateness requirement. It is also our opinion that a lock which could be operated by a combination such that, lacking knowledge of the combination the lock could not be operated, and the firearm could not be discharged, would constitute an appropriate "lock" or "locking device" within the contemplation of the legislature. As a result, it is our opinion that that portion of the guidelines which recommends the use of a reusable plastic or wire tie as an appropriate gun locking device within the meaning of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-37b is incorrect and should be revised accordingly.
The second question raised by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-37b, request hat the gun locking device be installed at the time of purchase. Because § 29-37b imposes the penalty of a five hundred dollar fine for violation thereof, it is a criminal statute, the interpretation of which is best left to the agency charged with he responsibility for its enforcement. Your questions concerning §29-37b were forwarded to the Office of the Chief State's Attorney on June 17, 1991, with this purpose in mind. By correspondence dated June 24, 1991, the Chief State's Attorney indicated that, in his opinion, § 29-37b required the lock to be physically installed on he gun at the time of purchase. Citing State v. Leary, 217 Conn. 404, 411, 587 A.2d 85 (1991), for the proposition that "[i]t is a well settled rule f statutory construction that the legislature intended to achieve a rational and sensible result," the Chief State's Attorney opined that requiring a gun locking device to be installed in a firearm at the time of purchase will give effect to the intent of the legislature to protect minor from injury of death caused by the discharge of a firearm which would not otherwise occur if a gun locking device was installed by the person who provided it. We defer to the opinion of the Chief State's Attorney in this regard. Consequently, the department's guidelines should be revised in accordance with the above. We hope that the foregoing advice has answered your concerns. Please do not hesitate to call upon us should additional questions arise.
Very truly yours,
Stephen R. Sarnoski
Assistant Attorney General
1 The underlined language was notably absent from the text of the original version of Senate Bill 305 as considered by the Public Safety Committee of the State Senate during February, 1990. The bill was thereafter designated as "Substitute" Senate Bill 305 when it became clear that the additional language would be required as a compromise measure to gain the needed support of the House Public Safety Committee. Substitute Senate Bill 305 was later enacted as Public Act No. 90-340 without further amendment on May 8, 1990. See 33 H. Proc. Part. 29, 1990 Sess. pp. 10211-212.