Attorney General: Commissioner Larry Meachum, Department of Correction, 1991-028 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

August 2, 1991

Commissioner Larry Meachum
Department of Correction
340 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Commissioner Meachum:

We are in receipt of your letter dated January 2, 1991, wherein you request our opinion on two issues concerning a gun range located on the grounds of the Enfield Community Correctional Institution. The property in question is owned by the State of Connecticut. Specifically, you inquire:

(1) "Am I authorized to allow the use of this range by anyone other than for persons being trained pursuant to DOC policies and requirements in connection with their job assignment requirements?"

(2) "Am I authorized to permit the use of such range by employees whose job assignment requires certification in the use of a weapon and who simply wish to use the range for extra practice during their off-duty hours?"

The relevant facts which you and your staff have provided disclose that the range is utilized by correctional officers who require instruction and practice in order to obtain current certification in the use of firearms. This certification is required in order for the officer to fulfill his duties for the Department of Correction. In addition, a privately organized gun club composed of correctional officers utilizes the range for recreational shooting purposes. This private club has apparently been using the range for approximately twenty years. We have also been advised that, as a component of the range, the private gun club constructed a small cement block building at their expense. This building is, as previously stated, on State owned property. We have been informed that the construction of the building and private use of the range was initially authorized by a former Warden of the Enfield Community Correctional Institution. Apparently this arrangement took the form of a verbal understanding between the former Warden and the private gun club.

We believe that in order to respond to your inquiries, an initial distinction must be made between the issues of whether: (1) the gun club acquired some legally enforceable interest in the State property through its previous use of the land and construction of the building; (2) the Commissioner of Correction may authorize the future use of the range by the gun club if he desires to do so.

Clearly the answer to the first issue is that the gun club has not acquired an ownership interest or leasehold interest in Stat property. We are not aware of any legal authority which would authorize the former Warden to grant an interest in State property to the gun club. The manner in which the State acquires and conveys an interest in real property is especially set forth in the General Statutes. See, e.g., Conn. Gen. Stat. 3-14b; 4b-21 concerning sale or purchase of property; see, e.g. Conn. Gen. Stat 4b-35 - 4b-38; regarding lease of state-owned property. There may also be occasions in which this is accomplished through the passage of a special act of the legislature.

Regarding the second issue, our research indicates that there are two statutory provisions which permit private gun club use of state-owned rifle ranges under limited circumstances. Conn. Gen.. Stat. 29-10a, which applies to ranges "belonging to, or under the control of, the division of state police" provides:

Civilian rifle clubs affiliated with the National Rifle Association of the United States and members of organized police departments may be permitted to use the outdoor and indoor rifle and pistol ranges belonging to, or under the control of, the division of state police within the department o of public safety for practice with small arms in accordance with such regulations as the commissioner of public safety may prescribe, provided such use of any rifle or pistol range shall at no time interfere with the instruction or practice of members of the division of state police.

This statutory authorization would not apply to the present circumstances since the range in question is under the control of the Connecticut Department of Correction.

The other statutory provision is Conn. Gen. Stat. 27-36, which states:

Civilian rifle clubs affiliated with the National Rifle Association of the United States may be permitted to use the outdoor and indoor rifle ranges belonging to, or under the control of, the state for practice with small arms in accordance with such regulations as the adjutant general my prescribe, provided such use of any rifle range shall at no time interfere with the instruction or practice of members of the armed forces of the state.

While this statute generally refers to "ranges belonging to, or under the control of, the state ...." we believe for several reasons that a reasonable interpretation would limit its applicability to ranges owned or under the control of the State Military Department. These factors include the following:

(a) Conn. Gen. Stat. 27-36 is included with Title 27 of the General Statutes, Armed Forces and Veterans; chapter 504 Militia; Part III Operations and Training. Further, Conn. Gen. Stat. 27-35 entitled "Use of rifle ranges on Sunday" which immediately precedes the aforementioned statute, specifically refers to "rifle ranges under the control of the military department."

A recognized rule of statutory construction is "that statues are to be interpreted with regard to other relevant statutes because the legislature is presumed to have created a consistent body of law..." Beloff v. Progressive Casualty Ins. Co., 203 Conn. 45, 57, 523 A.2d 477 (1987).

(b) Conn. Gen. Stat. 27-36 specifically permits the use of the ranges "in accordance with such regulations as the adjutant general may prescribe, provided such use of any rifle range shall at no time interfere with the instruction or practice of members of the armed forces of the state." Applying these restrictions to a rifle range operated by the Department of Correction rather than the Military Department makes very little sense. "Common sense, after all, is a highly significant guide to statutory interpretation." Trumbull v. Sate, 206 Conn. 65, 80, 537 A.2d 431 (1988). In a rifle range operated by the Department of Correction, the critical factors would be whether the civilian use interfered with corrections instruction or practice and complied with corrections regulations on usage. See, e.g. Conn. Gen. Stat. 29-10a and discussion, supra.

(c) A review of the legislative history of Conn. Gen. Stat. 27-36 indicates that it was revised in 1957 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 365, 19. This public act dealt with a wide range of issues pertaining exclusively to the State Military Department. In speaking in favor of the proposed legislation, Senator Minetto remarked:

SENATOR MINETTO:

Mr. President, this bill is drawn and sponsored by the Military Department. Its main purpose is to repeal obsolete statutes and to consolidate insofar as is possible statutes relating to the various components of the armed forces of the State. The bill is also designed to clarify and make uniform terminology used in the statutes concerning the armed forces of the State, which include the organized militia, the National Guard and the Naval Militia. The committee believes this is a good bill. Therefore, I move the acceptance of the committee's favorable report and the passage of the bill.

7 Senate Proc. pt. 3, 1957 Sess. 50-51 (May 7, 1957) (Remarks of Senator Minetto).

In interpreting statues, the "statements of legislators often provide strong indication of legislative intent." State v. Golino, 201 Conn. 435, 445, 518 A.2d 57 (19896). It is clear from the remarks of Senator Minetto that the legislation was sponsored by the Military Department solely for purposes unrelated to any other state agencies.

Accordingly, based upon the foregoing analysis, we believe that neither the Conn. Gen.. Stat. 29-10a or 27-36 have application to a shooting range which is under the control of the Department of Correction. Therefore, we believe that if the Commissioner determines that it is in the best interest of the State of Connecticut to permit future use of the gun range by the gun club, there are two options: (a) seek a legislative enactment specifically authorizing such use or (b) consult with the Commissioner of the Department of Public Works for the purpose of exploring the possibility of entering into a lease arrangement with the gun club under terms and conditions agreeable to all parties. See Conn. Gen. Stat. 4b-38, which provides in part that "... the commissioner [of the Department of Public Works] may lease state-owned land or buildings, or both, and facilities to private individuals or concerns for private use when such land, buildings and facilities are otherwise not used or needed for state use and such action seems desirable to produce income or is otherwise in the public interest."

In view of the foregoing, it is our opinion that, absent the occurrence of the two aforementioned events, you are only authorized to permit the use of the gun range by public offices being trained for the purpose of fulfilling job assignment requirements.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Peter E. Wiese
Assistant Attorney General

RB/PW/br


Back to the 1991 Opinions Page
Back to Opinions Page 



Content Last Modified on 6/9/2005 10:06:25 AM