NJ Lawmakers Look to Pass Tougher Gun Laws
On February 28, 2018, New Jersey lawmakers advanced a half-dozen gun bills to tighten the state’s already-strict firearms laws during a hearing touched off by the tragic deadly mass shooting that occurred at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
The proposed bills introduced during a nearly five-hour-long hearing packed with legislatures included the following:
- One bill requires the seizure of firearms when a mental health professional determines someone poses a threat.
- A second bill requires background checks for private gun sales.
- Another proposed measure lowers the maximum magazine capacity from 15 rounds to 10 rounds, with an exception for a .22-caliber rifle.
- Another bill would require residents to show a “justifiable need” to get a carry permit.
- Lastly, another measure prohibits body-armor-penetrating ammunition.
In response to the potential legislation, gun rights and Second Amendment advocates voiced concern for the new law and claimed that the new bills would further burden law-abiding citizens but leave lawbreakers free to commit crimes. More specifically, David Padua of Woodbury, New Jersey asked supports of the laws to “explain how criminals will follow these new laws.” Further, Darin Goens, an NRA liaison for New Jersey, criticized lawmakers for failing to consider what he called school safety legislation, including measures to add guards at NJ high schools. Mr. Goens further stated that the legislature seemed to be “piling on” against gun advocates.
On the other side of the NJ gun law debate, Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald said that the bills are not aimed at limiting the rights of residents and instead cast the bills as an opportunity to address a “gun violence epidemic” in the country. He pointed specifically to the 10-round limit as a request that came from parents of children who died in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
In addition, Tracy Keegan, a mother from Summit, NJ, recounted how years ago in Hoboken, someone pointed a gun at her and threatened to shoot. She claimed that she reported the incident to police and later found out the person had obtained guns from out-of-state gun shows and had mental illness. She went on to add that background check legislation under consideration could have prevented the attack. She concluded by stressing that “[e]nacting commonsense gun legislation isn’t going to ruin anyone’s life or kill anyone. But not enacting it might.”
So, if passed, what do the new laws mean for current and future gun owners? Currently in New Jersey, a person may lawfully own a gun and keep the firearm in their home or place of business without any permits or licenses. On top of that, the owner may also travel with his or her firearm directly from their home to their place of business, to a firing or target range, to go hunting, or to get their weapon repaired. See N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5 and N.J.S.A. 2C:39-6. However, if you wish to travel to some other location not excepted by our laws, you must obtain a carrier’s permit. To obtain such a permit, an interested applicant must submit an application to their local police department and must be able to demonstrate the following: (1) good character, (2) not subject to any disqualifications which would prevent him or her from obtaining a permit to purchase a weapon, (3) is thoroughly familiar with the safe handling and use of handguns; and there is justifiable need to carry a handgun. See N.J.A.C. 13:54-2.3.
“Justifiable need” is generally why most gun ownership applications are denied. Justifiable need has been defined as an urgent necessity for self-protection, as evidenced by specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life that cannot be avoided by means other than by issuance of a permit to carry a handgun. See Siccardi v. State, 59 N.J. 545, 553, 284 A.2d 533 (1971).
Moreover, if you wish to purchase a firearm, you must also obtain a permit. Similar to receiving a carry permit, an interested applicant must submit an application and demonstrate that they are a person of good moral character, as well as show that they are not subject to any of the following disqualifications:
- Not convicted of any crimes;
- Not subject to a restraining order;
- Not suffering from any substance abuse or drug dependency;
- Not suffering from any mental or physical handicap that would make it unsafe for the applicant to handle a firearm;
- Not on a terrorist watchlist;
- Had not had their firearms previously seized and not returned due to a restraining order; or
- Would not pose a danger to public safety.
Furthermore, after receiving a permit, the permit holder can only purchase firearms from a licensed dealer. New Jersey law forbids the sale of guns from unlicensed dealers. See N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3.
Accordingly, with the exception of the proposed bills for limiting ammo, the new possible legislation would not severely change the landscape for New Jersey gun owners. In fact, the new potential laws may not have an impact at all. For instance, the proposed measure concerning health care professionals reporting possible threats is already covered by our current laws dictating that permit owners must not possess a mental handicap that interferes with their ability to safely handle a firearm. Moreover, the same law also requires the individual to not be deemed a public safety risk.
With respect to background checks, a potential purchaser can purchase a firearm without a permit. To obtain a permit, the individual must undergo a background check to ensure that he or she is not disqualified. In that same vein, the purchaser cannot purchase a weapon from an unlicensed dealer; hence, private sales are unlawful if the seller is not adequately licensed.
Also, regarding the proposed bill concerning carry permits, our current NJ gun laws already require an applicant to show a justifiable need.
Therefore, if the new bills are passed, despite what many gun owners may fear as dramatic change and substantial infringements on their Second Amendment rights, it is not likely that any rights currently enjoyed by gun owners in New Jersey will be taken away.