Second Amendment Advocates Take Aim at New Jersey’s Strict New Gun Laws

Second Amendment advocates say New Jersey’s new gun law is even stricter than one passed earlier this year in neighboring New York that has already been declared by federal judges to be unconstitutional.

AP/Brittainy Newman
Handguns for sale at SP firearms, June 23, 2022, Hempstead, New York. AP/Brittainy Newman

Second Amendment advocates are gearing up for a legal battle in New Jersey over the state’s new restrictions on who can carry firearms, where they can be brought, and how much it costs to own one. 

Just before Christmas, Governor Murphy signed into law one of the country’s strictest gun laws, saying it is necessary for public safety. Second Amendment advocates, however, say it flies in the face of recent Supreme Court precedent. 

The law is a “big middle finger” to the Supreme Court, the executive director of the Association of New Jersey Pistol & Rifle Clubs, Scott Bach, says. That’s because the law was written in response to the landmark Second Amendment decision from June, New York Pistol and Rifle Association v. Bruen.

Mr. Bach’s organization is one of the groups suing in federal court, aiming for quick relief from the New Jersey law. “We’re hoping the lower federal courts stop this in its tracks, but we are fully prepared to take it back to the Supreme Court,” Mr. Bach told the Sun. “I mean, personally, I would like to give Justice Thomas the opportunity to say: ‘No, I really meant what I said in Bruen.’”

The Bruen ruling struck down regulations in New York — and by inference those of other states, including New Jersey — that allowed local governments to deny permits to applicants for subjective reasons.

“The Bruen decision establishes that states cannot deny permits to carry a handgun to otherwise-qualified citizens who fail to show that they have the ‘proper cause’ to carry a handgun,” the New Jersey law says, by way of explaining its intention to impose a new series of restrictions on gun ownership. 

The law also says that the Bruen decision, authored by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, permits states to ban firearms from certain “sensitive places,” so New Jersey has used that reasoning to ban weapons from public buildings, educational institutions, public transportation, and liquor stores, among others. 

The Garden State is following the lead of New York, whose new restrictions on guns in “sensitive places” are currently in dispute in the federal courts.  

New Jersey’s gun law has already begun its journey through the courts. Even before the law was signed, a group of Second Amendment advocates and individuals filed a lawsuit in an effort to block it. 

Before the Bruen decision, New Jersey required applicants to demonstrate “justifiable need” for carrying a handgun in public. After that policy was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, applicants say New Jersey simply replaced one unconstitutional standard with another. 

The New Jersey Second Amendment advocates also claim the law violates the historical analysis method of interpretation used in the Bruen decision, in which Justice Thomas explains firearms restrictions should be judged based on previous regulations and the history of the Second Amendment. 

“Notwithstanding the clear ruling of the United States Supreme Court, New Jersey simply does not want ordinary people to carry handguns in public — as is their fundamental right to do,” the gun rights advocates said. 

“New Jersey has shifted gears and has made a permit to carry a handgun utterly useless,” because of the numerous locations where legally owned handguns are banned, the advocates say.

At the bill-signing ceremony, Mr. Murphy said the state was ready for the impending court case. “The Attorney General and his team are fully prepared to forcefully defend the constitutionality of this bill,” he said.

The New Jersey law could follow a similar path to New York state’s gun law, also adopted in the wake of the Bruen decision. After the Supreme Court struck down New York’s demonstration of “proper cause” requirement — similar to the Garden State’s “justifiable need” — Governor Hochul signed the Concealed Carry Improvement Act. 

Many components of that New York law were found to be unconstitutional by two federal district judges in the state. The two decisions — one striking down New York’s “proper cause” requirement and another striking down the “sensitive places” regulation — have been appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Mr. Bach said New Jersey’s law is worse than the CCIA, calling it “more than a copycat.”

Another state, Oregon, has also moved to curtail gun rights in the wake of Bruen. Under a narrowly passed ballot measure, the state will ban the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and institute a more stringent background check regime. The measure is pending before a local judge. 

New Jersey is one exhibit of a nationwide effort to push the boundaries of the Bruen decision, likely returning the Second Amendment to the Supreme Court’s docket for another term. 

Second Amendment advocates in New York have already sought an emergency action from the Supreme Court regarding the CCIA provisions, which were left in place by the riders of Second Circuit at the request of New York’s attorney general, Letitia James.

The New York Sun

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