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Pro-gun coalition sues Connecticut over landmark gun legislation

A coalition of gun owners and gun rights groups are suing the governor of Connecticut and other state officials, contending that sweeping gun control laws passe
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signs new legislation at the Capitol in Hartford, Conn. on April 4, 2013, that includes new restrictions on weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, a response to last year's deadly school shooting in Newtown. ...
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signs new legislation at the Capitol in Hartford, Conn. on April 4, 2013, that includes new restrictions on weapons and large...

A coalition of gun owners and gun rights groups are suing the governor of Connecticut and other state officials, contending that sweeping gun control laws passed in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school are unconstitutional.

The new gun legislation, among the strictest in the country, requires universal background checks on all gun purchases, broadens the state’s ban on assault weapons and expands the list of banned weapons, including the Bushmaster AR-15, the semi-automatic weapon used in the Sandy Hook killings.

It also prohibits the sale and purchase of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The state will also create a dangerous weapon offender registry and has implemented new registration procedures for people who already own large-capacity magazines and semiautomatic assault weapons.

“We feel that the law that was passed by the Connecticut State Legislature and then signed into law by Gov. [Dannel] Malloy is unconstitutional and we seek to have the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution supersede the law that was passed,” said Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a 7,600-member gun rights group, which is part of the suit.

When Wilson was 14 years old, he was accidentally shot by a friend of the family who was showing off his father’s handgun. The bullet struck him in the neck and then twisted through an artery until it lodged against his spine. He survived, but doctors said he nearly bled to death that day. And it took more than a year of painful rehab to regain his strength and to regain full use of his right arm.

“At the end of the day I never heard anyone say that they blamed the gun or that they hate guns,” Wilson told msnbc.

The plaintiffs in the suit filed on Wednesday are an intentionally if not unusually motley bunch. The group includes gun rights groups and gun sellers; an 80-year-old widow from a rural part of the state; a former Navy SEAL with Multiple Sclerosis; a woman who lost an arm to cancer; a rabbi whose synagogue was broken into.

“We wanted to find plaintiffs that exemplified the very different ways that this law is going to have a negative impact,” Brian Stapleton, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told msnbc. “We also wanted to find people from different walks of life to put as varied a face on our plaintiffs as we could. I think there’s a misconception that gun owners are a certain kind of person, and that’s not true.”

The state legislature passed the Connecticut law about 100 days after the mass killing in Newtown. Family members of the victims, gun control groups and law makers rallied to push through the legislation, fueled largely by the emotional surge and wide appeal for firearms restrictions in the aftermath of the shooting. Gun control advocates vowed to craft some of the toughest gun laws in the country, and succeeded in a bi-partisan effort

In addition to banning particular weapons, the legislation calls for $15 million to be allocated for school safety and mental health programs.

"Nobody will be able to say that this bill is absolutely perfect, but no one will also be able to say that this bill fails the test when it comes to being the strongest in the country and the most comprehensive bill in the country," Don Williams, president of the state’s Senate Democrats.

Provisions of the new law unfairly impact “women, the elderly, and anyone of a smaller physical stature--individuals who typically lack the strength to operate older style, heavier, or difficult to use firearms and yet who need to be able to protect themselves in challenging home-invasion and other self-defense situations,” the Connecticut Citizens Defense League argued in a statement.

Related: 'This is my life right now'; Grieving families join the gun-control fight

Last month, Disabled Americans for Firearms Rights filed what was the first lawsuit against Gov. Malloy challenging the new laws. "The AR-15, due to its ease of handling, low recoil, adjustable features and customizability, is particularly suited to disabled persons in order to engage in lawful use of firearms," the group said in a statement.

This week’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, accuses the legislature of rushing through the legislation without thorough examination or public hearings.

"The act irrationally bans pistols, rifles, shotguns, and magazines that are commonly used for lawful purposes by countless law-abiding citizens in Connecticut and throughout the United States. The act violates plaintiffs' fundamental rights under the Second Amendment and is unconstitutional," the suit reads.

Opponents of the new laws say the rush to ban weapons in the wake of recent tragedy is not only unconstitutional but impractical. Wilson said the state has blood on its hands, and blames it for “leaving people unarmed and unprotected.”

“I think everyone, gun owners and non-gun owners alike in Connecticut were really affected by the tragedy in Newtown. Sometimes people forget that just because you own guns and that’s a primary weapon of choice for mass murderers, we somehow must be oblivious or blind to what the family and the loved ones went through,” Wilson said. “It’s not lost on us."

The legal pushback in Connecticut is part of a larger wave of reforms in the states, both for the expansion of gun rights and for further gun control, born in the wake of the Sandy Hook killings.

Related: In the South, a love of guns and a loss of life

And as federal gun control efforts have largely failed in Washington, D.C., states including Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and New York have recently passed some of the strictest new gun laws in the country. A handful of other state legislatures, mostly in the South and Midwest, including those in Louisiana, Kansas and Missouri, have introduced legislation that would loosen firearms restrictions.

“The community of shooting enthusiasts, of gun owners, of law enforcement personnel, military persons, these individuals and these groups are outraged by this law,” said Stapleton, the lawyer. “Now, to be certain, Sandy Hook was a terrible tragedy, and it was an awful awful thing and everyone agrees to that, but this reaction to Sandy Hook is not the way to solve the problem that Sandy Hook presents…  I don’t know how you prevent a madman from going out and killing someone. I don’t know how you can prevent that.”