Judge temporarily blocks part of N.J.’s new gun law over constitutional concerns

Law has chilled residents’ ‘reasonable exercise of their Second Amendment right,’ judge says

By: - January 9, 2023 4:58 pm

The temporary restraining order blocks portions of the new gun law, including its ban on bringing guns into places like libraries and restaurants. (Getty Images)

Parts of New Jersey’s newly implemented gun control law were blocked Monday by a federal judge who said barring people from carrying firearms in certain places could lead to “considerable constitutional problems.” 

The temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Renée Marie Bumb blocks the section of the law that prohibits guns from being carried into public libraries, museums, bars, restaurants that serve alcohol, and entertainment facilities like stadiums, concerts, and theaters.

Bumb also barred the state from enforcing the law’s ban on guns on private property without the property owner’s consent and its prohibition on firearms in vehicles.

In the 60-page decision, Bumb said the law “essentially renders the entire state of New Jersey a ‘sensitive place’ where firearms are prohibited.”

“The deprivation of plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights, as the holders of valid permits from the state to conceal carry handguns, constitutes irreparable injury, and neither the state nor the public has an interest in enforcing unconstitutional laws,” said Bumb, an appointee of former President George W. Bush.

Attorney General Matt Platkin said in a statement he is “disappointed by the court’s ruling, which is inconsistent with the Second Amendment and will make New Jerseyans considerably less safe. But this temporary order is just that: temporary.”

Platkin said he plans to appeal as the case continues.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s office is working closely with the Attorney General’s Office to “correct this errant decision,” said Murphy spokesman Tyler Jones.

“While we are pleased that most of our concealed carry law remains in effect, we are disappointed that a right-wing federal judge, without any serious justification, has chosen to invalidate common sense restrictions around the right to carry a firearm in certain public spaces,” Jones said in a statement.

Democrats fast-tracked the new gun law last year after a Supreme Court ruling in June overturned a New York law that placed restrictions on who can obtain concealed carry permits. Murphy signed the bill into law in December.

Previously, New Jerseyans who wanted to carry a gun in public needed to provide a justifiable need before they could obtain a permit.

The Supreme Court’s decision said governments can bar firearms in “sensitive places,” though it declined to define them. New Jersey’s law bans firearms in a wide swath of public and private property, including polling places, beaches, casinos, movie theaters, government buildings, courthouses, day care centers and schools, and hospitals.

New Jersey lawmakers have said they believed the law would face legal challenges, but they said they worked with Murphy administration attorneys when crafting the bill. 

Bumb suggests the administration “should have been better prepared to defend the legislation’s constitutionality,” considering they anticipated these challenges. During an oral argument, the state could not produce evidence showing that concealed carry permit holders are responsible for an increase in gun crimes, Bumb’s decision says.

“Defendants must do more than promise they will justify the constitutional basis for its legislation later,” she wrote.

The suit was filed by Ronald Koons, Nicholas Gaudio, and Jeffrey Muller — along with groups including the New Jersey Second Amendment Society and the Firearms Policy Coalition Inc. — the same day the bill was signed into law. 

The gun rights advocates who filed the lawsuit say they were no longer able to carry their firearms in places they could before the law was signed — in supermarkets, at church services, or while driving their cars.

“For example, because Mr. Koons regularly meets for breakfast at restaurants that occasionally have liquor licenses, he now leaves his firearm at home,” Monday’s decision says.

Another legal challenge filed by the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs is still pending.

Republicans in the Legislature commended the judge’s decision, with one mocking Democrats by saying, “I told you so.”

“We knew the law was likely unconstitutional since it copied major portions of a New York law that has already suffered serious setbacks in federal court,” said Sen. Tony Bucco (R-Morris) in a statement. “Despite all of our warnings, Governor Murphy and Trenton Democrats plowed ahead and enacted an obviously flawed proposal. Yet again, the Legislature will have to revisit one of their bad laws to fix the mess they created.”

Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Sussex) added that he looks forward to “offending provisions of the law being permanently struck down.”

“The federal judge’s ruling, which validates what we have been saying, is a victory for the Second Amendment and the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves both in public and in private.”

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.