N.J. gun owners criticize ‘egregious delays’ in concealed carry permit process
Gun owners rejoiced after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down restrictive concealed carry laws, allowing them to apply for carry permits that for decades had been nearly impossible for most New Jerseyans to get.
But nearly nine months after the ruling upended the gun landscape in the Garden State, Second Amendment advocates and gun owners say it’s still too difficult to carry their guns in public.
They blame a backlog of thousands of applications, including from people who have waited years to apply for a permit; a statewide judicial vacancy crisis that has added delays to the application process; a convoluted permitting system that relies on the state’s hundreds of autonomous police departments to issue permits; and Democratic lawmakers uninterested in helping gun owners.
“There’s all kinds of delays, and it’s a problem that exists sprinkled throughout the state,” said Scott Bach, executive director of the New Jersey Pistol and Rifle Association.
Sen. Ed Durr said he was a victim of the backlog himself when his permit to carry application took months to approve. He applied in early October, and it wasn’t approved until late January.
Durr is a Republican from Gloucester County who has said he launched his political career after he was denied a concealed carry permit. He echoed Bach’s sentiment that too many people are waiting too long for a constitutional right affirmed by the Supreme Court.
“There’s so many people applying, and there’s only so many people who can handle the applications, at this point, but it’s just procedural — checking you’re qualified, checking your background check, making sure that you took the class — then issuing the permit,” he said. “I guess it’s a bit overwhelming.”
Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), who spoke in favor of gun restrictions during a November voting session in the Legislature, said she understands that people want a gun for hunting or for self-protection — but she doesn’t see why people want to walk around with concealed lethal weapons.
“The fact that there’s a backlog is news to me, but it’s also upsetting to think that many people want them,” she said in a recent interview. “I’m frustrated. I’m having a hard time seeing how broadening it, or making it easier for people to have guns when we have such high rates of murder and violence — that troubles me.”
Up until June, New Jersey residents needed to prove a justifiable need to carry a handgun, a huge obstacle for many seeking to obtain a carry permit. But once the Supreme Court issued its ruling known as Bruen, the Garden State was forced to jettison that requirement.
New Jersey officials did not provide details on how many people have applied for concealed carry permits since Bruen was handed down. After the decision, State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan said he expected a flood of concealed carry applications, saying as many as 200,000 people would apply.
From July to Dec. 22 — that’s the day Gov. Phil Murphy signed the state’s new gun law, intended as a response to Bruen — New Jersey courts received 11,298 carry permit applications statewide. As of the end of February, more than 800 are pending, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
As for permits filed after Dec. 22, Sharon Lauchaire, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said there is no consolidated source for those.
To apply for a carry permit, you must already hold a permit to purchase a firearm. You apply at your local police department for the carry permit, bringing four references and agreeing to get fingerprinted. You must also satisfy gun training requirements, including by taking a shooting range course, a class on using force, and training on the safe use of handguns.
The police conduct a substantial background check — the same one done for a permit to purchase a firearm — before the police chief gives final approval. If you are denied, you can appeal.
. There’s a 30-day waiting period between purchase permit applications.
The permitting system sounds simple, but confusion remains because it’s still subject to changes in response to court rulings and directives from the New Jersey State Police, according to Dan Schmutter, a lawyer with the New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Association. The group is one of the plaintiffs in a federal challenge of the state’s new gun law.
Police departments can differ in how exhaustive they are with references, and it could also take weeks to get fingerprints done, adding to the already “egregious delays,” he said.
It’s not a universal problem. If a town is intent on meeting its obligation, they could do it if they really wanted to and they hire more people. Many jurisdictions, they don’t take it seriously, and they really need to.
The state still requires judicial approval for carry permit applications from before Dec. 22. That should have stopped after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gun owners, Durr said, adding that judicial approval creates more delays. On the day he picked up his permit, he said, more than 200 people were in the courthouse for their permits.
Durr noted that the state has a judicial vacancy problem, with more than 60 vacant benches statewide.
Courts spokeswoman MaryAnn Spoto said there are “backlogs in every case type and every division because of the shortage of judges.” She did not say how many judges are assigned to carry permits in each county.
Murphy’s office declined to respond to questions for this story. The New Jersey State Police has also ignored repeated requests for information on how many concealed carry permits local police have issued.
Anti-gun violence advocates, like Shani Nuckols, a volunteer with the New Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action, said New Jersey’s gun regulations are necessary “life-saving public safety measures.”
“Responsible gun owners should welcome these gun safety measures, as they will ensure individuals who pose a danger to themselves or the community are not granted licenses and ensure that those who do carry a firearm are properly trained,” said Nuckols,
Jerel Thompson, a 32-year-old Willingboro resident, said he doesn’t think the process of getting a gun in New Jersey is too onerous but thinks there could be “a little less paperwork.” Any American who wants a gun should be able to get one, he said, but he thinks gun owners should be more aware of the danger of firing a gun.
Thompson said a four-hour class he took at the New Jersey Firearms Academy in Jersey City was a “sobering experience.” The class of eight students learned what to do if they fire a gun or shoot someone, analyzed videos of fights gone awry and botched police interrogations, and discussed what they should say if they have to speak to a lawyer.
The students were all there for different reasons — some to become security guards, one to become more familiar with guns after witnessing a road rage incident, a retired cop who needs to retake the class — but they were all to obtain a carry permit.
The required training benefits gun owners, Thompson said, requiring people who own weapons to take them seriously and become aware of “the laws and the limits.”
“Anything can happen anywhere at any time, so it’s distinguishable to have a firearm. I hope I never have to use it, but what are you going to do?” he said.
Second Amendment advocates want to see New Jersey adapt to the new culture of concealed carry in the Garden State.
“We have to get into the current world, because the consequences are people are prevented from exercising their particular rights, which is about defending your life with a firearm,” Bach said. “It’s a way to buy themselves more time and further restrict the rights of people.”
Bach has pointed to a swath of “dangerous” moves from state officials that could potentially be delaying permit approval — the judge shortage, not enough staffing dedicated to processing carry permits, confusion among different police departments on how to handle the backlog, and anti-gun messages from officials like Murphy.
After decades of residents not being able to obtain carry permits, the pent-up demand was expected and should have been planned for, Bach said. He believes New Jersey lawmakers should be putting more pressure on towns that have been slow to process applications and pushing for a new, modernized system so people can apply for permits online.
“It’s not a universal problem. If a town is intent on meeting its obligation, they could do it if they really wanted to and they hire more people. Many jurisdictions, they don’t take it seriously, and they really need to,” Bach said.
Durr, who also blamed manpower for delays, said New Jersey State Police should be issuing guidance to streamline the application process. But he asked gun owners to be understanding with local public workers working on their applications.
“I just hope everyone can be a little patient,” Durr said. “I understand it’s been a long time coming, that everyone wants conceal carry, but don’t take it out on the person who’s answering your call and is just a cog in the wheel. There’s no need to get upset.”
Jasey said she doesn’t like to hear of backlogs in any state agency, but wonders why gun owners are in such a rush.
“I don’t want to see more guns in this state. We’re a small state and densely populated, and so far, we have a better record than most states in terms of gun deaths,” she said. “And yes, I think there’s a correlation there.”
As one of the states with the strictest gun laws and lowest rates of firearm ownership, the state has the third-lowest gun deaths in the country, according to the Violence Policy Center.
Since Durr obtained his carry permit for a 9mm Smith & Wesson Shield Plus, he carries it around everywhere he can — except inside the Statehouse, where guns are banned. It’s on his hip when he’s walking his dog and running errands.
He feels safer now, he said, noting that a Sayreville councilwoman was shot and killed last month.
“I feel like I have an equalizer to anything. I don’t feel as vulnerable as I once did,” Durr said. “I’m happy now that I’m through the process, and I’m able to exercise my rights.”