Initial rulings on New Jersey gun law should worry gun control advocates

February 2, 2023 7:00 am

A federal judge has twice ordered New Jersey to stop enforcing its new gun ban in a host of places, like parks and casinos. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

I’m not particularly anti-gun.

I don’t own one and I’ve never fired one. But I don’t begrudge people who use them for hunting, and I get why some people would want a handgun for personal protection.

Still, color me nervous about the fate of our state’s new gun law, which a federal judge has poked a bunch of holes in at the request of gun rights advocates. Judge Renée Marie Bumb has issued two temporary restraining orders allowing guns in places New Jersey’s government wants them banned, namely:

  • Bars.
  • Restaurants with liquor licenses.
  • Parks.
  • Beaches.
  • Libraries.
  • Museums.
  • Casinos.
  • Recreational facilities.
  • Entertainment facilities.

Guns at D’Jais, what could go wrong?

Bumb’s decisions here are temporary, in advance of arguments for more permanent injunctions. But her rulings represent warning signs for anyone who thinks strict gun restrictions in New Jersey — and nationwide — can stand after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen decision.

Bumb seems particularly irked that the new gun law makes large swaths of the state off-limits for anyone who wants to carry a gun.

The conclusion of Judge Renée Marie Bumb’s latest ruling on New Jersey’s new gun law.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s press shop attempted to paint Bumb — an appointee of George W. Bush — as a “right-wing judge” in their response to her initial decision, but these aren’t the conclusions of a radical jurist (Murphy walked back that characterization after facing criticism for attacking a judge whose decision he doesn’t like). Ron Chen, a Rutgers Law School professor who knew Bumb when they both attended the school, said he thinks Bumb ruled the way she had to after Bruen upended gun control laws nationwide.

“Judge Bumb is in no way an extreme or right-wing judge,” Chen told me. “Given what the Supreme Court said … she did what they said to do. I particularly disagree — I think the Supreme Court’s methodology is flawed — but they are the Supreme Court. What can you do about it?”

Eric Ruben, a law professor at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, cautioned me against too much tea-leaf reading here. He said we’ll have to wait for appellate courts to weigh in before we get an idea of whether New Jersey’s gun law — and those adopted in other states — will stand.

Bumb called her task “straightforward,” but Ruben thinks it’s more complicated trying to suss out whether there is historical support for modern gun laws, as Bruen demands. Why does Bumb say guns can’t be banned in libraries, but can be banned in schools, Ruben said as an example.

“I’m concerned that without more guidance from appellate courts about how to do the novel historical-analogical exercise demanded by Bruen — how to compare historical laws from a time before the existence of modern guns and rampant gun violence to modern laws responding to those modern issues — we are going to see wildly divergent conclusions with little explanation besides each judge’s say-so,” he said.

The Murphy administration and supporters of the new gun law say they are satisfied it is constitutional, contend Bumb’s rulings are wrongly decided, and note that there are more steps in this legal fight.

“New Jersey’s new law is consistent with both Bruen and the Second Amendment,” said Janet Carter, senior director of issues and appeals at Everytown Law. “New Jersey leaders have every right to protect their communities by keeping guns out of parks, casinos, and other sensitive public locations.”

Listen, I hope so — I don’t want the people sitting next to me on the beach carrying a gun. But in the end, the important question here isn’t, What do supporters of gun regulations think of New Jersey’s gun law. It’s: What does Clarence Thomas think of it?


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Terrence T. McDonald
Terrence T. McDonald

Editor Terrence T. McDonald is a native New Jerseyan who has worked for newspapers in the Garden State for more than 15 years. He has covered everything from Trenton politics to the smallest of municipal squabbles, exposing public corruption and general malfeasance at every level of government. Terrence won 23 New Jersey Press Association awards and two Tim O’Brien Awards for Investigative Journalism using the Open Public Records Act from the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. One politician forced to resign in disgrace because of Terrence’s reporting called him a "political poison pen journalist.”