New Jersey officials fear more gun violence after Supreme Court ruling
After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York’s concealed carry handgun law Thursday, officials in New Jersey — where a similar state law is in place — scrambled to determine what that might mean for gun owners and gun control legislation in the works here.
Without restrictions on carrying handguns, some warned, all sorts of everyday encounters have an increased potential to turn deadly, from parking squabbles to police car stops to domestic disputes.
“It’s Texas all over the country now,” said Jason Williams, associate professor of justice studies at Montclair State University. “This is an incredible ruling.”
Gov. Phil Murphy and acting Attorney General Matt Platkin both issued statements within hours of the morning ruling, voicing similar fears about what Platkin called “bad constitutional law.”
“At a time when we are experiencing a nationwide epidemic of gun violence and all-too-frequent reports of deadly mass shootings, this dangerous decision makes it harder to combat the proliferation of deadly weapons in our communities and in our public spaces,” Platkin said in a statement. “Plain and simple, the majority’s decision disregards centuries of practice and recklessly enables violence.”
The court’s 6-3 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen comes as New Jersey legislators are advancing a legislative package that would strengthen the state’s already famously tight gun laws.
Legislators were in the Statehouse in Trenton Thursday hearing testimony on seven gun control measures at the same time the Supreme Court’s ruling was released. The news left some lawmakers musing aloud whether the bills would withstand a court challenge if they pass into law.
“I’m willing to vote for things that make sense and that will stand up rather than going through a motion that won’t make any difference and won’t stand out,” said Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth).
The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee advanced the seven bills anyway. None specifically address restrictions on carrying firearms.
Murphy seemed unsure of all of the ruling’s implications too, saying in a statement his administration is “carefully reviewing the court’s language and will work to ensure that our gun safety laws are as strong as possible while remaining consistent with this tragic ruling.”
It's Texas all over the country now.
Despite the ruling, Platkin said, anyone who wants to carry a gun anywhere outside of their home or business must still apply for a permit to do so.
Attorney Bill Castner, who advises Murphy on firearms, agreed Thursday’s ruling is “not an open invite for people to take all their firearms outside of their homes and to Six Flags Great Adventure.”
“You can’t just show up tomorrow at Walmart with your Glock,” Castner said. “There is a permit process that still has to be followed with other criteria that have to be satisfied in order to get a permit.”
That process is involved. A gun owner must apply for a carry permit with their local police chief or the state police superintendent, be endorsed by “three reputable persons,” and demonstrate safe firearm handling. Restraining orders, drug dependency, convictions for serious crimes like homicide and kidnapping, and a few other factors disqualify applicants from getting permits.
If local or state police approve the permit, the applicant then must go before the state Superior Court for approval before getting a concealed carry permit.
“To be clear: Carrying a handgun without a permit is still illegal in this state, and all other requirements for obtaining a carry permit still apply,” Platkin said Thursday.
But in line with the Bruen ruling, applicants will no longer have to prove an “urgent, justifiable need” to carry a firearm, as New Jersey law has required for the past century.
New York’s struck-down law required gun owners to show “proper cause” why they needed to carry a gun outside their home.
Six other states — Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, California, and Hawaii — have similarly restrictive gun-carry laws and face the same questions New Jersey is navigating now.
When the nation’s top court topples a state law, there’s little state legislators can do to reverse it, Williams said.
“This strips away the ability of local officials to determine what gun laws are most appropriate for themselves,” Williams said. “States like New York, New Jersey, and California have unique issues regarding gun violence, and they know which laws are best for their respective jurisdictions. But this court has ruled that the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms supersede whatever it is that you think that your state needs.”
He added: “I don’t see how New Jersey can counter this.”
Castner said he expects lawmakers still will try to counter it, as they look to discourage New Jerseyans from grabbing their guns every time they run to the store or post office.
“It’s a punch to the gut today. Without question in terms of this ruling, the best we can do on the permit issue is to mitigate against it — and I think we can,” Castner said.
Flurry of legislation coming?
Legislators in other states have forbidden gun owners from carrying firearms into “sensitive places” like entertainment and sports venues, public transit, schools and day care centers, hospitals, churches, and government buildings.
Gun control advocates also have called on legislators to expand what offenses disqualify an applicant from getting a permit, increase training requirements, and require permit carriers to purchase liability insurance.
“This is a ruling that will lead to a proliferation of gun violence in New Jersey. That’s not debatable,” Castner said. “I do think the challenge the state has right now is to identify the most aggressive, legal alternatives to make sure that these permits aren’t given out like baseball cards.”
One lawmaker wasted no time in using the Supreme Court’s ruling to push legislation. But Sen. Ed Durr (R-Gloucester) is coming from quite the opposite viewpoint.
Durr, an outspoken gun-rights supporter, introduced a legislative package earlier this year that includes a bill to remove the justifiable need requirement and replace it with an 18-hour training requirement in the safe handling and maintenance of guns.
Thursday, Durr called on his fellow lawmakers to pass his bill.
“If legislative Democrats refuse to act proactively and responsibly as I have proposed to fix our unconstitutional concealed carry law, it’s clear they will be forced to by the courts,” he said in a statement.
A flurry of legislation could trigger a blizzard of court challenges, Castner said.
“The gun-rights community sues about everything, at any time, and in any capacity,” he said.
Only 15% of New Jerseyans are licensed gun owners, and polls show most Americans regard gun violence as a problem and support gun control policies. Criminal justice experts credit New Jersey’s tight gun laws as a big reason why the Garden State has some of the lowest rates of murder and gun violence in the nation.
That’s why this is a fight worth waging, said Karen Kanter, an activist with Brady United Against Gun Violence of New Jersey. She was in Trenton Thursday to advocate — and she expects she’ll be back plenty of times again.
“This ruling is upsetting, and they’re wrong. But it’s not demoralizing. You know what is? Uvalde and Buffalo,” Kanter said.
Sophie Nieto-Muñoz contributed to this story.