- - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Laws are more than just symbolic gestures. Connecticut’s General Assembly must come to grips with this truth before its recent effort to “save lives” ends up destroying them.

State law enforcement officials are now in the difficult position of dealing with one of the most widely flouted laws since the end of the 55 miles-per-hour speed limit and Prohibition. If it’s really serious, the state will have to find space to imprison 300,000 residents for the next five years.

The first article of the Connecticut Constitution couldn’t be more clear. “Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the state,” it says.

Busybodies at the Capitol in Hartford decided that “every” doesn’t really mean every, and it banned the semi-automatic rifles that would be most useful in defense of the state. As of Jan. 1, owners of arms that have a menacing appearance had to submit registration paperwork to the state.

Only about 50,000 did so. There’s no way to know how many “assault rifles” remain unregistered, but the best guess is that the new “gun safety” law instantly created 300,000 felons.

Eager to exploit the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, easily frightened lawmakers rushed to add yet more hurdles to gun ownership in the state. Those wishing to possess a pistol already had to pay fees, take tests and fill out paperwork to obtain a firearms-purchase permit.

Separate permission from the state was required just to buy ammunition in a process that must be repeated every five years. Bearing arms outside the home requires another permit that the state may, or may not, issue at its discretion.

None of these hurdles prevent crime. The alleged perpetrator of the Newtown massacre obtained his weapons by murdering his own mother, in violation of the law. That’s what criminals do.

Reality is of little interest to Connecticut politicians when they’re intent on making a statement. They thought that they could compel everyone to think as they do about gun control by threatening those who disagree with a felony. It didn’t work.

Faced with 300,000 potential offenders, officials must decide whether to ignore the new law, or enforce it by sending SWAT teams to raid the homes of anyone suspected of owning the most popular rifle in America, the AR-15.

As author Radley Balko documented in “The Rise of the Warrior Cop,” sending squads crashing through doors unannounced in the middle of the night frequently results in death and injury for innocent bystanders.

Even family pets aren’t spared. Rampaging cops in Prince George’s County, Md., for example, killed Chase and Payton, the gentle Labrador retrievers belonging to Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo. The cops expected to find drugs in the raid; instead, they terrorized an innocent family.

Repeating similar scenes 300,000 times in Connecticut would create the very “gun violence” that the misguided registration law was supposed to prevent. Even if all of these citizens turned themselves in peacefully, it would bankrupt the state.

Currently, Connecticut’s 15 prisons hold 16,839 behind bars at an annual cost of $620 million. Full compliance with the gun law would exceed the entire state budget at $55 billion.

We hope that calmer heads prevail in Hartford. Respect for the law is essential for society, but this presupposes the laws themselves are worthy of respect.

The General Assembly must do what Congress did in repealing the speed limit in 1995 and the states did in ending Prohibition in 1933. If it saves just one life, it’s worth it.

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