In a recent escalation of the ongoing debate on gun control, New Jersey finds itself at the heart of a legal battle. This critical standoff, pitting public safety concerns against the Second Amendment rights of citizens, was front and center at the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. The court’s response to New Jersey’s restrictive gun law could have far-reaching implications, not just for the state, but potentially setting a precedent for the nation.
In late 2022, under the stewardship of Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, New Jersey enacted a law that significantly restricted where firearms could be carried. The legislation identified 25 “sensitive places” – including schools, parks, libraries, and restaurants serving alcohol – where firearms would be prohibited. However, opponents of the law argue that such extensive prohibitions infringe upon the constitutional right to bear arms, a contention that gains weight considering last year’s landmark Supreme Court decision in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen case.
This pivotal Supreme Court ruling established a clear directive: firearms regulations must align with historical norms of firearm control. Therefore, any state-imposed restrictions, such as New Jersey’s, must not only respect the right to bear arms but also consider the historical context of such regulations.
However, during the recent court proceedings, the panel of judges, including U.S. Circuit Judges Cheryl Ann Krause and David Porter, posed challenging questions to New Jersey’s Deputy Solicitor General Angela Cai. The queries centered around the extent to which the law limits the right to carry firearms and its adherence to the historical framework set by the Supreme Court.
“Still, the judges pushed back on the state on several issues.
Several sensitive places deemed gun-free zones, like schools and nursing homes, were included because “vulnerable people” congregate there.
Porter questioned the state’s definition of vulnerable people: “If the rationale is vulnerability, isn’t an adult male as vulnerable, since he can’t carry, as a child in that sensitive place against someone who is, in violation of the law, shooting guns?”
The law’s $50 fee to support crime victims also raised judges’ eyebrows, with Porter asking why the state is charging people a fee to exercise a constitutional right.
Law-abiding gun owners shouldn’t have to compensate someone else’s crime victim, added attorney Erin Murphy, who represents several of the gun owner plaintiffs.
“To attribute costs for someone who’s lawful and has never used their firearm or shot someone or caused mayhem or disorder, that’s the issue. How can you assess that cost to someone?” Murphy said.
Cai explained the state has long charged for gun permits but hadn’t raised the price in decades, so the new fee merely aims to keep up with inflation. It also will help cover the increased policing costs the state anticipates as more people take guns into public places, she added. The state police commissioner said last year he expected more than 200,000 gun owners would apply for gun carry permits in the wake of Bruen; the Attorney General’s Office is collecting that data but hasn’t released it yet.
Chung and Porter raised concerns about the law’s requirement that gun permit applicants present “reputable” people to serve as character references for them.
“Background checks are objective. This seems pretty subjective,” Porter said.
Chung agreed, saying: “Who decides who’s reputable?”
Cai had a very Jersey response to that question.
“I suppose, your honor, if your reference is Tony Soprano, that would probably be a problem,” she said. “And I think the law limits it to people who are not related to you, so your grandmother could not vouch for you. But it’s just another citizen who knows you, who has information about your propensity to harm yourself or others.””
Cai struggled to defend the law, pointing to its historical underpinnings and its necessity in addressing modern societal issues. The judges appeared skeptical.
The law’s detractors, represented by attorneys like Erin Murphy, argue that the New Jersey legislation essentially nullifies the general right to carry arms for self-defense in public. They contend that defining sensitive places too broadly could render the right to bear arms meaningless, a concern seemingly shared by some members of the judicial panel.
Adding to the complexity, the law imposes new fees, training, and insurance requirements for those seeking carry permits, along with a stipulation that gun owners must obtain permission slips to carry firearms on private property. Critics like Murphy question the fairness of imposing fees on law-abiding gun owners who have not contributed to criminal activity.
Nevertheless, the state stands firm in its unconstitutional beliefs, arguing that the law is a necessary response to the “increasing frequency” of mass shootings (everything is a mass shooting now) and the evolving nature of firearms. Cai argues that while some sensitive locations did not exist in colonial times, such as airports or power plants, the Constitution does not hinder states from enacting necessary safety regulations, despite what the Supreme Court says…..
The court’s decision, expected in the coming months, will not only impact New Jersey’s gun owners but may also influence future legal interpretations of the Second Amendment across the United States. As the nation watches, the balance between upholding constitutional rights and ensuring public safety remains a delicate and contentious issue. This case represents a critical moment in the ongoing dialogue about gun rights and control in America.