Gun owners sue to overturn N.J.’s assault weapons ban
A group representing over a million New Jersey gun owners has sued New Jersey law enforcement officials in federal court to overturn the state’s ban on semiautomatic firearms and assault weapons.
The Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs Inc. filed the complaint Friday, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Maryland to reconsider a similar ban there in light of its ruling declaring a constitutional right to carry handguns in public.
Scott Bach, who heads the association, hopes the Maryland remand means New Jersey’s 32-year-old ban will fall too — like its “justifiable need” requirement did after the U.S. Supreme Court last month relied on the Second Amendment to overturn a concealed carry regulation in New York.
“We’ve been waiting decades for this moment,” Bach said.
New Jersey lawmakers in 1990 criminalized the possession of about 66 semiautomatic rifles and shotguns and those that have either a pistol grip, folding stock, or a magazine that holds more than six rounds, according to the complaint.
In 1996, the state Attorney General’s Office defined such guns assault weapons if they have a combination of things like a grenade launcher, flash suppressor, bayonet mount, or telescoping stock. In its complaint, the association challenged that definition too, calling assault weapons “a gross and misleading misnomer … developed by anti-gun publicists.”
Lawmakers made possession of such guns a crime of the second degree, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $150,000 in fines, according to the complaint.
But recent Supreme Court rulings have made such firearms constitutionally protected, and New Jersey should allow them for self-defense, hunting, and sport, the association argued.
The association also previously had challenged New Jersey’s ban on large-capacity firearm magazines. The U.S. Supreme Court last week ordered lower courts to reconsider that ban, too, in light of their ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen.
“Criminals don’t follow hardware bans. The magazine ban, like New Jersey’s infamous so-called assault firearms ban, accomplish very little in terms of preventing crime or punishing crime,” Bach said. “All they do is regulate law-abiding citizens, so they’re essentially useless, feel-good laws that make headlines for politicians, but in fact do very little to make anybody safer.”
The association’s complaint names Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin, State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan, and the police chiefs in Chester and Wall Township, where plaintiffs and association members Blake Ellman and Thomas Rogers live, as defendants.
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the complaint.
But in an op-ed published last week on NorthJersey.com, Platkin wrote: “The opinion in Bruen will encourage individuals to challenge other laws, ranging from our limits on who can buy guns, to our limits on the most dangerous kinds of guns New Jersey residents can buy. I will stand up for these critical safety measures, which find support in a long tradition of public safety measures in this country, and which continue to protect us in this era of gun violence and mass shootings.”
The Firearms Policy Coalition filed a similar lawsuit last week challenging New Jersey’s assault weapons ban, according to NorthJersey.com.
Jason Williams is an associate professor of justice studies at Montclair State University. He predicts more lawsuits will follow, setting the stage for New Jersey — with the second toughest gun laws nationally, according to the Gifford Law Center — to become a major battleground over Second Amendment rights.
“The game is pretty much up, as long as we have this current court ruling,” Williams said of gun control efforts. “I hate to sound so pessimistic. But under the current situation, we’re going to need federal intervention from Congress and/or a better Supreme Court.”