Firearms Owners Against Crime

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Federal Judge Blocks Most New Jersey 'Gun-Free Zones,' Upholds Permitting Requirements :: 05/16/2023

Many of the carry restrictions New Jersey passed in response to last year’s landmark gun-rights ruling by the Supreme Court are unconstitutional.

That’s the decision released by U.S. District Judge Renée Marie Bumb on Tuesday. She found most of the state’s new “sensitive place” gun-carry restrictions, its automatic private property gun restrictions, and its gun insurance mandate can not be enforced. She ruled they were not backed up with the kind of historical tradition required under the test laid out by the Supreme Court in 2022’s New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.

“The Constitution leaves the States’ some measures’ to combat handgun violence. But what the Second Amendment prohibits the States from doing, and what the State of New Jersey has done here with much of Chapter 131, is to ‘prevent[] law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms,'” Judge Bumb wrote in Koons v. Platkin. “That is plainly unconstitutional.”

At the same time, she found many of the permitting requirements for both buying and carrying firearms are constitutional for the same reasons.

“[T]his Court finds that most of Chapter 131’s firearm permitting requirements are consistent with the Second Amendment,” Judge Bumb wrote. “This Nation has historically disarmed dangerous individuals or individuals who could endanger the public with a firearm. With some exceptions, Chapter 131’s firearm permitting scheme generally adheres to that historical tradition and aims to keep firearms out of the hands of those who could harm the public.”

The ruling is another win for gun-rights advocates and a loss for the states that have passed strict new gun-carry restrictions in response to Bruen. It is the latest in a series of rulings that have found New York and New Jersey’s new gun-carry restrictions unconstitutional. It also sets up a potential showdown at the Supreme Court over how far states can go in restricting where law-abiding adults can carry guns for self-defense.

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin (D.) made that possibility even more likely by announcing he plans to appeal the ruling shortly after the decision, which he called “devastating for public safety,” was handed down.

“Over and over, the evidence has shown that keeping firearms out of sensitive places will keep our residents safe, and our elected officials passed sensible laws to do exactly that. But the court now insists that we are powerless to protect New Jersey residents, and proclaims that the Second Amendment requires allowing guns at parks and beaches, in libraries, at public gatherings, in zoos, and even in bars, among other sensitive places. This decision is bad constitutional law and bad for New Jersey,” he said in a statement. “We will be appealing immediately.”

The case was brought by the Second Amendment Foundation, Coalition of New Jersey Firearm Owners, New Jersey Second Amendment Society, Firearms Policy Coalition, and three private plaintiffs. The gun-rights groups celebrated the decision as a reaffirmation that “the rule of law is alive and well” and promised to continue the fight at the appellate level.

“After the Supreme Court decided Bruen last summer, the State of New Jersey enacted a series of restrictions that were wholly incompatible with the Constitution and disregarded the Supreme Court’s directive,” Adam Kraut, the Second Amendment Foundation’s executive director, said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that a lawsuit was required in order to force the State to respect its residents constitutional right to bear arms. We look forward to continuing to litigate these issues in New Jersey, and across the nation, to ensure constitutional rights are not meaningless words on paper.”

As Platkin alluded to in his statement, the law repealed the state’s unconstitutionally subjective gun-carry permitting process but instituted a slew of new restrictions on where permit holders can legally carry. The ban on guns in most public places and publicly-accessible private businesses made it nearly impossible to carry a firearm, even with a permit. Judge Bumb, a George W. Bush appointee who previously blocked several parts of the law, said that effect violates the rights of legally-armed New Jersians.

“Since Chapter 131 became law, Plaintiffs have resorted to leaving their handguns and Second Amendment rights at home because they may otherwise face significant criminal sanctions and jail time,” she wrote. “This result is plainly inconsistent with Bruen, which affirmed the right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense. Unlike the exercise of other constitutional rights, the inability to exercise one’s Second Amendment right when needed could be a matter of life or death.”

Judge Bumb argued the legislative record demonstrated lawmakers “paid little to no mind to Bruen and the law-abiding New Jerseyans’ right to bear arms” when crafting their Bruen-response law. She said the state simply can’t “disobey the Supreme Court by declaring most of New Jersey off limits for law-abiding citizens who have the constitutional right to armed self-defense.” She noted the state didn’t have concerns about the “sensitive places” until after they were forced to issue permits to those who qualify for them.

“It is noteworthy that Chapter 131 is in sharp contrast to the Carry Permit laws that New Jersey had on the books before,” she said. “In fact, most Plaintiffs successfully obtained a Carry Permit from the State giving them express permission to carry a handgun for self-defense purposes, including most of the areas the State has now declared to be gun-free ‘sensitive places.'”

Ultimately, she said, New Jersey overstepped the boundaries of its power to regulate gun carry.

“Bruen required the State to bring its firearm laws in compliance with the Second Amendment,” Judge Bumb wrote. “Chapter 131 was the State’s response, but it went too far, becoming the kind of law that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson would have warned against since it ‘disarm[s] only those who are not inclined or determined to commit crimes [and] worsen[s] the plight of the assaulted, but improve[s] those of the assailants.'”

New Jersey’s law also raised the concealed carry permit application fees and required applicants to provide new documentation and references. Judge Bumb upheld those sections of the law.

“In Bruen, the Court found New York’s ‘proper cause’ requirement to obtain a carry permit troubling because, among other reasons, the state left aggrieved applicants’ little recourse if their local licensing officer denies a permit,'” Judge Bumb wrote. “New York courts would defer to a licensing official’s decision ‘unless it was arbitrary and capricious.’ Unlike New York’s law, Chapter 131 provides meaningful appeal rights to aggrieved applicants.”

She did block the requirement that people who provide references for applicants go to police stations for in-person interviews, though.

She also upheld the state’s new gun-free zones at playgrounds, youth sporting events, certain health facilities, and certain parts of airports or other transportation hubs. Judge Bumb upheld new gun regulations on what kind of guns and ammunition could be used for hunting. However, she struck down bans on carrying firearms in a permittee’s car during hunting trips and under other circumstances.

Judge Bumb’s order was issued without a stay and goes into effect immediately. New Jersey has already filed a notice of appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which may grant the state a stay in the coming days.

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