Changes Coming to New Jersey Gun Laws
By Dan Roberts
New Jersey – -(Ammoland.com)- The question posed to the author was, “In light of federal court decisions striking down gun restrictions in Chicago and Washington, D.C., do you believe New Jersey will have to change some of its strict gun laws?”
Most certainly. For the last forty years the legislature, via a combination of ignorance, arrogance and no small measure of hoplophobia has finally managed to box itself into a corner with regard to the way it treats the fundamental right to firearms as codified in the Second Amendment.
The entire foundation of New Jersey’s blatantly unconstitutional gun laws is found in a 1968 State Supreme Court decision; Burton v. Sills. This decision relied on an intellectually bankrupt and now discarded interpretation of the Second Amendment as pertaining only to “the militia” or National Guard. This definition is more commonly known as the “collectivist interpretation” which was eliminated once and for all in the 2008 Supreme Court case Heller v. DC.
In light of last year’s Supreme Court decision in McDonald v. Chicago, in which the Court properly found that the Second Amendment is a fundamental right just as important as the other Amendments in the Bill of Rights; and, was binding against the states via the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, New Jersey is now in an untenable and completely indefensible position with regard to its firearms laws as they are currently written.
There are several glaring issues that as a matter of law will be overturned by a Federal Court. First and foremost, NJ firearms laws are written in such a way that bans ALL firearms and related items, and then proceed to carve out extremely technical and narrow exemptions to that blanket ban. The current legislative language is so convoluted and incomprehensible that even judges and law enforcement officials don’t understand it, as the recent case of Brian Aitken in Mt. Laurel so clearly illustrated.
Additionally, numerous Court decisions over the last several decades have consistently found that no legislature may write laws that are effectively a wholesale ban on the practice of fundamental rights, regardless of how much some people may not like the result of people’s exercising them.
Currently, law abiding citizens to legally purchase a firearm in New Jersey are forced to go through an onerous and needlessly duplicative process that in the end still relies on the wholly subjective personal opinion of their local chief law enforcement officer as to whether or not they will be granted permission to exercise their right to firearms. The catch is the clause that allows a local official, usually the Chief of Police, to deny the applicant’s Firearms Purchaser ID Card with the vague excuse that issuance “would not be in the interest of the public welfare”. This level of discretion is something that has long been abused throughout the state, often resulting in innocent people having to spend thousands of dollars fighting an arbitrary decision rendered with the flimsiest of excuses. Thus the legislature can either do the wise and just thing and rewrite the current statute to a “shall issue” status if a citizen passes the necessary criminal background checks, or be forced to do so by Federal Court order.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Already being challenged with Federal lawsuits or soon-to-be-filed suits against the state include issues such as the recently passed One Gun a Month law, the impossibility of anyone other then the famous or politically well-connected to receive permits to carry a firearm in public for self defense, and a whole host of other matters.
The majority of New Jersey residents are somewhat ambivalent about the numerous problems surrounding the state’s intellectually and morally bankrupt firearms laws, but that majority does care about something else: the rampant squandering of their hard-earned tax dollars by the legislature. The irresponsible expenditure of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, fighting lawsuits they cannot win, is precisely what is happening as this is written. I was actually told by a Senator that certain members of the legislature are so blindly wed to their anti-firearm ideology that they simply “do not care how much money they waste; they will fight any changes until a Judge orders them to do otherwise.” That mindset is something that should be extremely troubling to the voting public, especially in a year when the entire legislature is up for re-election.
Another big problem for the legislature, and something that is currently working its way through the Federal Courts, is “Right to Carry”. As previously mentioned, currently only the highly politically connected and famous are able to receive permits to carry a firearm for self defense in public. Additionally, when the Legislature wrote the statute that permits retired former law enforcement officers to carry a firearm, they essentially admitted in the language of the law that they created a separate class of citizens with “Super Rights”, based on nothing more then what the person’s former career was.
This position is a clear and blatant violation of the 14th Amendment and cannot stand. In the 2008 Heller v. DC case, the Supreme Court declared that “Putting all these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.”
Even prior to this decision, the non-biased National Academy of Sciences issued a 500-plus page report that examined every gun control scheme of the last twenty years, and found that not only did they have “no notable effect on reducing violent crime” but that it was “beyond dispute that American citizens legally use a firearm in defense of themselves or another no less then 700,000 times a year.” This is a figure exponentially higher than the total of firearms related deaths from any other event (homicide, accident, suicide etc.).
There are several other noteworthy arguments for why a law abiding citizen has every right to carry a weapon in public for self defense – far too many to explore in detail in the space allotted for this article – so I will attempt to touch briefly on the highlights.
Over the last thirty years, courts at every level have consistently ruled that there is no individual right to protection by the police; that the police have no obligation to individual citizens; and that officers, departments and municipalities cannot be held liable or responsible for their failure to arrive in time to protect a citizen from a criminal predator. The research arm of the Justice Dept determined that the average response time to a 911 call is four minutes, while the average interaction time between a criminal and his victim is 90 seconds. Honest law enforcement officials will admit that they cannot possibly be everywhere at once; that they most often arrive after the crime has been committed and the perpetrator has fled; and that the individual citizen is ultimately primarily responsible for his or her own safety.
An incident in South Jersey from several years ago tragically illustrates this point. Two men kidnapped Christina Eberle from a train station parking lot in Camden on her way home from work. An eyewitness saw the altercation as it happened and called 911 to report a “screaming woman being forced into a car by two men.” The 911 dispatcher failed to properly record or dispatch the call to officers in the field, and Ms. Eberle was found dead of strangulation a short time later. I do not claim to know Ms. Eberle’s personal feelings about firearms, nor do I claim that had she had one with her that horrible night that the outcome would have been different. But what is crystal clear is that New Jersey arbitrarily denied her the choice and then utterly failed her when she need help the most.
A review of the 2007 crime statistics published annually by the State Police reveal that 85 percent of all aggravated assaults are committed with weapons other then firearms as are 67 percent of forcible robberies. Additionally, over 1000 rapes were committed, 95 percent of them by force, but less then half ever resulted in the arrest of the perpetrator.
This translates to tens of thousands of crime victims suffering serious, potentially life threatening injuries and certain psychological trauma needlessly because the legislature has seen fit to deny them the most effective means to protect themselves. Numerous repeated surveys of violent felons over the last twenty years have consistently revealed, in the predators’ own words, that they “laugh at gun laws” and candidly admit they are “much more afraid of encountering an armed potential victim then they are the police.” The criminals know that the police are predictable and must follow procedure, while a potential victim suddenly and unexpectedly producing the tool and will power to defend himself or herself is an unknown entity, better to be avoided.
Years ago New Jersey adopted a motto: “New Jersey and You – Perfect Together!” A more accurate and realistic motto would be, “State Mandated Victimhood and You – Perfect Together!”
Fortunately for common sense, but unfortunately for the taxpayers that will be forced to fund the defense of the indefensible, NJ is facing an onslaught of federal-level lawsuits that will finally force the state to revamp its firearms laws and come much closer to the laws already on the books for decades in the vast majority of the country. If the legislature is smart, they would do well, not only by their constituents, but also if they wish to extend their political careers beyond this election year, to put the entire NJ firearms regulatory scheme under a microscope and start to voluntarily rewrite the draconian laws now in place before a Federal Judge orders them to do it.
One way or another, change is finally coming to New Jersey regarding its firearms laws and it is long overdue.