Governor Murphy signs new gun restrictions into law

By: - December 22, 2022 12:52 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy said "blindly allowing concealed weapons into every corner of our communities does not make us safer." (Photo courtesy of Edwin J. Torres/New Jersey Governor's Office)

Gov. Phil Murphy signed a sweeping gun control bill that will restrict where firearms can be carried in the Garden State while driving up the prices of gun ownership.

The new restrictions will bar firearms from schools, polling places, beaches, and a host of other spaces legislators fear could become targets and hotspots for gun violence in the aftermath of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that upended New Jersey’s strict concealed carry rules.

“While we are bound to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling, we are also obligated to do everything we can consistent with that ruling to make sure guns do not unnecessarily proliferate in our communities,” Murphy said at a signing ceremony in Scotch Plains on Thursday. “Doing nothing and blindly allowing concealed weapons into every corner of our communities does not make us safer, and it does not make our police safer.”

The limits will also bar guns from all private property where an owner has not explicitly allowed gun owners to bring in concealed firearms. Those who bring a firearm into a restricted place face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $15,000.

The law has already inspired at least one legal challenge from a group of plaintiffs that includes the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, which filed a complaint in federal court Thursday.

“If a challenge comes, we are more than ready to defend it,” Attorney General Matt Platkin said Thursday.

A successful suit would not necessarily mean the law becomes wholly void. A provision in the bill makes the law severable, meaning parts of it would remain in effect if courts found particular provisions run afoul of the Constitution.

The law will sharply raise the cost of gun ownership by making dramatic increases to a series of gun fees, including application costs for firearm purchaser ID cards, handgun purchase permits, and concealed carry permits.

It will also take firearm permitting powers out of the purview of the courts and leave them squarely in the hands of law enforcement, institute new training requirements, and mandate gun owners carry liability insurance if they want to carry concealed firearms.

Major New Jersey police unions supported the bill after lawmakers made amendments to allow some exceptions for retired officers.

Senate President Nicholas Scutari speaking about new gun restrictions in Scotch Plains on Dec. 22, 2022.

“More guns in a situation doesn’t usually make it better, and they are just fraught with so much peril,” said Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), the bill’s prime Senate sponsor. “People who are waiting in line to get a carrier permit in New Jersey, I don’t think they understand the responsibility that comes with carrying a firearm. It’s an extraordinary responsibility.”

Opponents of the bill have charged its provisions will price low-income residents, particularly those of color, out of gun ownership.

They’ve separately claimed the law goes beyond what is allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, noting ongoing legal challenges to similar gun laws enacted in neighboring New York in the aftermath of the Bruen decision.

“It’s a shame the Democratic majority would not work with Republicans to ensure that the concealed carry of firearms can be managed in a safe, reasonable, and constitutional way,” Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Morris) said in a statement. “Instead, they modeled after an extreme and clearly unconstitutional New York law that federal judges have already ruled against with new insurance requirements that may be impossible to meet.”

A similar law in New York faces at least three different lawsuits targeting restrictions on carrying guns into houses of worship. While federal judges have issued injunctions against that law’s provisions, those have been stayed by federal appellate panels.

The Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs’ lawsuit alleges the new gun law violates numerous constitutional rights, including the right to bear arms.

“By signing this legislation, Gov. Murphy has effectively ended any chance of ever being elected to higher office outside of New Jersey, and has confirmed that the Constitution is indeed ‘above his pay grade,'” the group’s executive director, Scott Bach, said in a statement. “Not only will this legislation go down in flames, but the Murphy administration will end up paying the very substantial legal costs of gun owners to bring it down.”

Murphy was widely mocked by conservatives in 2020 when, in response to criticism from Fox News host Tucker Carlson that New Jersey’s COVID-19 restrictions violated the Bill of Rights, Murphy said those issues are “above my pay grade.”

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.