Cheshire resident David Nastri is a veteran, a financial advisor, an attorney, an active hiker, and a gun owner.
He says he wants to be in compliance with the law when he brings his weapon for self-defense to one of Connecticut’s 139 state parks and forests, just as hunters are permitted to carry lawful weapons “up to .22 caliber rimfire” during regulated hunting season. In January, Nastri filed suit in federal court, arguing that the DEEP (Department of Energy & Environmental Protection) statute that bans firearms from state parks, even legal weapons possessed for the purpose of self-defense, is violating his Second and 14th Amendment rights.
His suit asks the court to invalidate the rule.
In laying out the facts to support his lawsuit, Nastri emphasizes his compliance with Connecticut firearms laws as well as his military training, pointing out that his combat experience in Afghanistan means he is even more prepared than other certified gun owners to behave safely and responsibly with a weapon. However, most important for Nastri is the Constitutional principle at stake.
“When you enlist in the military, you take an oath to protect and defend, not the United States itself, but the Constitution of the United States. It’s much the same thing when you’re sworn into the bar, and I take both those oaths very seriously,” he said. “I think it’s my duty to challenge this (statute) because I don’t think it meets Constitutional standards.”
The penalty for illegal possession of firearms in a Connecticut park is $35, with a 24-hour ban enforceable “immediately upon their arrest or citation for the infraction,” and the possibility of a one-year ban upon conviction, per Nastri’s complaint. While the fines are not severe, Nastri does not wish to run afoul of the law for professional and personal reasons.
He also argues against what he describes as the “circular argument” the state is making, “That you’re allowing guns for hunting when you’re actually going to be firing one versus allowing firearms for self-defense when you do not plan to discharge the weapon.”
The suit is underway, with rulings from a two-day hearing in early May expected in the coming weeks. Nastri and his attorney, Cameron Atkinson, whom he met when they were students at Quinnipiac Law School, are confident that “the record that we developed for Judge Arterton to consider, and history and tradition, overwhelmingly favors us,” per Atkinson, a solo practitioner who focuses on constitutional law.
Atkinson adds, “The right to self-defense is as old as Eden’s apple. The state can’t deny us the means to defend ourselves simply because it claims that guns for self-defense are scarier than guns for hunting. We’re looking to keep more people from becoming statistics in another round of political BS about what’s scary and what’s not.”
A team of attorneys representing the state take the opposite view.
“The Office of the Attorney General will continue to defend our state’s commonsense gun safety measures and the state’s ability to protect its residents from gun violence,” said Attorney General William Tong. “More guns in more public places is not the answer.”
Nastri believes he has the Supreme Court of the United States on his side. In 2022’s case of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association vs. Bruen, the nation’s highest court ruled that a New York gun-control law “violates the 14th Amendment by preventing law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense.”
That ruling, coming on the heels of similar outcomes in two other cases — District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago — that also favored gun rights, has provided for a more liberal approach to the regulation of firearms in the United States, limiting the ability of governments to prevent citizens from carrying guns in public places.
While some applauded Bruen’s outcome, elected officials such as New York City Mayor Eric Adams, for one, condemned it, saying “This decision may have opened an additional river feeding the sea of gun violence, but we will do everything we can to dam it.”
Per Nastri, “What Bruen says is, there’s no balancing test when it comes to a fundamental right.”
While governments can restrict firearms in “sensitive places” such as schools, hospitals and polling places, the argument that a park where firearms are already allowed for hunting is one of those sensitive places falls short, in Nastri’s argument.
“There’s a logical disconnect with the argument that a park is a sensitive place,” he insisted, pointing out that the state is relying on a law that’s 105 years old. “Just because an unconstitutional law is old doesn’t make it any less unconstitutional.”
Nastri admitted, “I’m not making the argument that I need a gun because things have happened (in the park), but that the state can’t prevent me from having one just because they think it’s a good idea.”
For Nastri, it is the “plain text” of the Constitution, especially of the Bill of Rights, that makes his case for him. “It’s an amazing document to read. And it’s astounding to me how those words have rung through our history and provided for our governance for hundreds of years. And when we found something was missing from it, we changed it.”