The Supreme Court put us all in a more dangerous place, expanding gun rights in a country where there are already 400 million firearms in circulation, and severely constraining a state’s ability to protect its people.
The so-called Bruen decision in July slammed states with strict gun laws like New Jersey, sending lawmakers scrambling to rewrite regulations that have been in place for decades – regulations that have made us the third-safest state for gun violence in the US. The court’s conservative majority ruled that those who wish to strap on a gun every morning no longer have to demonstrate a “justifiable need” for personal protection.
But that’s not the end of it, because that decision also made clear that a state can still enact laws that protect communities from threats to public safety posed by gun violence. It’s not a bright line, but we can at least contain the damage.
So we applaud the Legislature and the Murphy Administration for devising a new set of regulations that are fair, balanced, and tailored to withstand constitutional scrutiny – while dealing with the 300,000 new gun owners that have already applied for firearm permits.
Let’s pause here to consider that bursting pipeline of applicants, and allow the math to guide our next steps. Imagine the consequences of another 15,000 guns in each New Jersey county. Imagine thousands more in high-crime cities like Paterson, Newark and Trenton.
That’s why this reform package may be most important gun safety measure drafted in our lifetimes, and the authors have done a stellar job threading the needle on protecting citizens while upholding the new right to carry a concealed gun. They’ve done this by proposing measures to ensure that gun owners are responsible, lawful, and properly trained, while putting reasonable limits on where they can carry their weapon.
The NRA and other guns rights organizations will undoubtedly challenge the list of 25 “sensitive places” where firearms cannot be taken under this bill, a common-sense provision that turns schools, government buildings, bars, stadiums, casinos, energy plants, day care centers, and other public places into gun-free zones.
They will also object to the very rational standards for background checks, such as the requirement of four non-family character references that would have to be interviewed by law enforcement before permits are issued. Applicants who have been convicted of certain crimes – including the violation of a restraining order – would be disqualified from obtaining a carry permit.
And they will also challenge the new standards for licensing, which includes an increased fee of $200; and the requirement of liability insurance, which they will call onerous, even though it has withstood challenges in other states.
Yes, there is treacherous terrain ahead. Since the Bruen decision was rendered, lower courts are blocking or striking down gun control measures around the country. Various judges have ruled that it’s unconstitutional to ban guns that lack serial numbers, to stop firearm purchases by people under felony indictment, and even to prohibit guns in airports and Yankee Stadium.
One ruling came from a district judge in Syracuse, a George W. Bush appointee named Glenn Suddaby, who used a bizarrely expansive interpretation of Bruen to gut New York State’s new gun regulation law because it bans firearms from places like Times Square and the New York City subway. He even objected to the provision that required an applicant to show “good moral character,” stating that burden of proof is on the state to disprove a presumption of such.
But the state appealed that ruling, and the Second Circuit agreed that New York’s new law can stay in place until the case is heard.
New Jersey is likely to follow a similar Byzantine route, but the bill’s authors believe it will have an easier path through the Third Circuit. In their regular consultations with Attorney General Matt Platkin and those who will ultimately litigate the new law, they are mindful that it will likely end up in the Supreme Court, where they believe a concurrence in the Bruen decision written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts gives them the legal bandwidth to impose these restrictions.
Guns rights advocates are irritated that New Jersey is even trying to put up guardrails. State Sen. Ed Durr, who has introduced more than a dozen gun bills this year – including the elimination of magazine limits – told us Thursday that he believes that “we are born with the right of self-protection, and my manner of self-protection is my choice. Government is not there to issue rights. They are there to protect your rights.”
Essentially, he is mouthing the “guns everywhere” agenda of the NRA death merchants. The problem is their vision for New Jersey is not shared by 80% of New Jerseyans, and they have no use for the empirical data that shows that concealed carry is a deadly policy.
There have been countless studies to that effect. Stanford University research found that states that adopt a right-to-carry regime have a 15% increase in violent crime. After Missouri repealed its permit requirements, making it far easier to obtain a gun, Johns Hopkins researchers found that it resulted in 49 to 68 additional firearm deaths per year over the next decade in that state.
Durr asserts that gun owners are “the most law-abiding citizens in the country” – it’s unclear whether that includes the Oath Keepers — but the reality is that more guns mean more crime and more death.
The US has had 550 mass shootings, 16,400 gun murders, and 19,500 gun suicides so far this year. It has also had 38 school shootings in 2022, a record. No other country comes close. More guns won’t reduce those numbers.
The ideologues who have hijacked the Supreme Court want to turn our state into the wild west, so for as long as it takes, New Jersey’s lawmakers must find a way to limit the carnage and protect their people. This is a laudable start.