Bill aimed at restricting concealed carry gun permits advances after debate

By: - October 17, 2022 6:20 pm

Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-Somerset) testifies before the Assembly judiciary committee on Oct. 17, 2022, about a bill he sponsored that would place restrictions on people applying for concealed carry gun permits. (Photo by Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

An Assembly panel advanced legislation Monday that would create firearm-free zones and otherwise tighten gun control in New Jersey, four months after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a constitutional right to carry.

The bill was state legislators’ first effort to counter the June ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which forced gun-restrictive states including New Jersey to repeal requirements that gun owners show a justifiable need to take firearms outside their home or business.

The fast-tracked legislation would forbid guns in 25 public areas, such as schools, beaches, and government buildings; create a rigorous 60-day vetting process for concealed carry applicants; expand disqualifying criteria prohibiting gun ownership; increase permit fees; and require liability insurance and gun safety training. About 300,000 New Jerseyans have applied for permits to carry guns since the Bruen ruling.

Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-Somerset), an Army veteran and gun owner, is the bill’s prime sponsor. He urged his colleagues to advance “common sense” measures he said would ensure the incidence of gun violence in New Jersey — already among the lowest in the nation — would remain low.

“With such an immense responsibility as just simply being a firearm owner, this is increased a hundred-fold when you’re carrying out in public,” Danielsen said. “Can you imagine if this room right now was filled with concealed carry people? I would not want that. We need rules.”

Stormy debate

But the two hours of stormy debate in the Assembly Judiciary Committee — complete with some foot-stomping and one legislator likening another to Archie Bunker — suggest the bill’s path to law won’t be smooth in a progressive state that already has some of the tightest gun restrictions in the nation.

The committee’s Republicans — Assembly members Robert Auth of Bergen County and Vicky Flynn of Monmouth County — challenged nearly every speaker who testified.

“Facts are stubborn things! What do you disagree with?” barked Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), a bill co-sponsor, who stamped his foot in exasperation after one of the many times Auth objected to the bill.

Legislators sparred over all sorts of things, from whether the bill’s requirement that people holster guns “on their person” means they can’t put them in their purse to whether gun owners’ right to carry supersedes other people’s right to keep firearms off their private property.

Auth repeatedly brought up an argument popular among Second Amendment devotees, that a “good guy with a gun” can stop mass shooters from deadly rampages. He recounted Colin Ferguson’s 1993 shooting spree aboard the Long Island Railroad commuter train, which left six dead and 19 injured. If a legal gun owner had been on board to return Ferguson’s gunfire, Auth said, the body count might have been lower.

Danielsen had a quick retort: “I’m thinking about ‘All in the Family’ and Archie Bunker arguing that everybody on an airplane should be armed.”

Flynn criticized the proposed increase in permit fees, which Danielsen argued is necessary to cover the costs of law enforcement’s expanded vetting duties.

“Are we pricing people out of their right to bear arms, based on imposing these fees?” Flynn said.

Under the bill, permit application fees would rise from $2 to $200, a cost some speakers said is in line with what other states charge.

Everyone’s legal and law-abiding until the second that they’re not.

– Fran Carroll, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense

Auth and Flynn both complained stricter gun controls penalize law-abiding gun owners.

Scott Bach, president of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, echoed that. He called the bill “fundamentally misconceived” because the proposed restrictions target lawful gun owners intent on protecting themselves in emergencies, instead of “bad actors.”

“The threat is from violent thugs. The threat is from murderers and robbers and rapists,” Bach said. “And the point of right to carry is, when the wolves can’t tell the difference between who’s the sheep and who’s not, the whole flock is safer. The whole point of carry is that it’s a deterrent, because criminals don’t know who’s carrying and who’s not, therefore they’re much more careful and much more hesitant to commit crimes in carry states.”

Adam Skaggs of Giffords Law Center refuted that claim, pointing to a 2017 study from researchers at Stanford and Columbia universities who found states that adopted right-to-carry laws saw violent crime jump 13% to 15% in the following decade.

Fran Carroll chimed in with another rebuttal that prompted murmurs of agreement in an audience packed with members of her group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.

“Everyone’s legal and law-abiding until the second that they’re not,” Carroll said.

A constitutional challenge inevitable?

Throughout the hearing, legislators and advocates debated whether any gun restrictions, if passed, would fall to constitutional challenges, with a conservative majority controlling the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’re putting in place a law that does not conform with the Second Amendment,” Flynn said. “It’s going to be challenged, and we’re going to spend a lot of dollars defending it.”

McKeon countered: “I do have a law degree, and I disagree with you, and I bet I’m not the only person.”

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), the committee’s chair, acknowledged that “portions of the bill may still be constitutionally infirm” and agreed any legislation passed likely will be challenged.

Bach’s group already has challenged other gun control restrictions in New Jersey. Monday, he warned legislators to prepare for court on this bill too.

“My organization will challenge anything that doesn’t carry constitutional muster, we will win, and you will pay our legal fees,” he said.

Diane Dresdale cheered the panel on.

“Any law that is passed is going to be challenged. We have to accept that, but that doesn’t mean this representative body should not pursue legislation that is going to make our state safer,” said Dresdale, of the National Council of Jewish Women. “We have many, many more people waiting to get guns, and that alone should indicate that we need this legislation.”

New York passed similar legislation three months ago that a federal judge struck down, saying it would be unconstitutional to prohibit guns in so-called “sensitive” areas like Times Square. Another judge ruled the law can remain in effect while the case is appealed.

In Trenton, a majority of the committee Monday agreed to advance the bill, with Auth and Flynn voting no. It’s expected to go before the full Assembly for a vote Oct. 27.

The Senate version of the bill was introduced Monday. It hasn’t yet been scheduled for a committee vote.


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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.