Federal judge blocks more of New Jersey’s new gun law
Order suspends requirement that gun owners get liability insurance, lifts a ban on guns at zoos and more
Caso’s Gun-A-Rama has been open since 1967. Saturday 2/11/2023 Jersey City, NJ. (Aristide Economopoulos for New Jersey Monitor)
New Jersey’s new gun law took another hit Tuesday when a federal judge expanded her January order blocking much of its provisions from taking effect.
U.S. District Judge Renée Marie Bumb issued preliminary injunctions that lift the state’s ban on firearms at zoos, film sets, public gatherings, medical offices, and airports’ pickup/dropoff areas. The new order also prohibits the state from requiring gun owners to get liability insurance, a provision that was set to take effect July 1. Bumb also blocked a provision that would have required in-person interviews of character references for gun applicants.
Bumb’s latest order comes 11 months after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a New York case known as Bruen, upheld the constitutional right to carry guns, essentially toppling New Jersey’s law requiring gun owners to show a “justifiable need” to take a gun outside their home or business.
New Jersey legislators responded to Bruen by passing a law in December with new restrictions that gun supporters warned courts would ultimately strike down.
In Tuesday’s opinion, Bumb moved closer to doing just that.
“Clearly, the state disagrees with Bruen, but it cannot disobey the Supreme Court by declaring most of New Jersey off limits for law-abiding citizens who have the constitutional right to armed self-defense,” she wrote in a 235-page opinion.
Attorney General Matthew Platkin called the ruling “devastating for public safety.” Hours after Bumb issued the ruling, Platkin’s office filed an appeal with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Over and over, the evidence has shown that keeping firearms out of sensitive places will keep our residents safe, and our elected officials passed sensible laws to do exactly that,” Platkin said in a statement. “But the court now insists that we are powerless to protect New Jersey residents and proclaims that the Second Amendment requires allowing guns at parks and beaches, in libraries, at public gatherings, in zoos, and even in bars, among other sensitive places. This decision is bad constitutional law and bad for New Jersey.”
The gun owners who sued to overturn the law celebrated Bumb’s ruling as a “huge win.”
Attorney Daniel Schmutter represented plaintiffs including the Second Amendment Foundation, the Firearms Policy Coalition, and the Coalition of New Jersey Firearm Owners.
“This is a major victory for the Second Amendment. The judge enjoined huge portions of the law and recognized the supreme significance and importance of the fundamental right to bear arms,” Schmutter said. “We’re very glad that she was able to see the really gross constitutional violations of much of this law.”
Scott Bach is executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, one of the plaintiffs in the case.
“This whole law was a bad idea to begin with. It was an angry fist-shaking in response to the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision,” Bach said. “If the governor was circumspect, he should be doing some self-examination right now and asking whether there are better ways to affect public policy, like severely punishing violent criminals instead of waging a war on the gun rights of law-abiding, honest citizens who are trained and vetted.”
Tyler Jones, a spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Murphy, called the decision “yet another misguided and erroneous ruling.”
“This poorly reasoned decision sends exactly the wrong message as our nation confronts another devastating wave of mass shootings that have taken the lives of many across our country, including children,” Jones said. “We know the attorney general will move to immediately appeal to keep our residents safe from the relentless attack of the gun lobby in our federal courts.”
Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin also are defendants in the lawsuit. Their spokespeople said they are still reviewing the decision.
The ruling wasn’t all bad news for the state.
Bumb let stand new, higher fees for people applying for gun licenses. She also noted that some of the new law, which included restrictions to keep guns out of sensitive places like schools and stop dangerous individuals from arming themselves, “generally adheres to that historical tradition and aims to keep firearms out of the hands of those who could harm the public.”
Still, the judge had lots of stern words for state officials.
She chastised state lawyers for failing to present “sufficient historical evidence as required by Bruen to support each aspect of the new legislation,” which essentially forced her to conduct her own “exhaustive” research.
“This has taken some time, and the state’s effort to hurry this court along is most unfortunate,” she wrote, referring to Platkin’s March threat to appeal her January temporary restraining orders.
Bumb also scolded state attorneys for calling no witnesses to settle disputes over unclear language in the new gun law, like what a “public transportation hub” is. That was one of about 25 sensitive places where legislators banned guns.
Attorneys for the gun rights plaintiffs argued in a March hearing that could mean anything from a bus stop to Newark Penn Station. Airports sparked similar confusion, given the vast differences and security levels between places like Newark Liberty International Airport and municipal airports and heliports.
Without evidentiary hearings to answer such questions, Bumb wrote, answers would have to wait until the case’s next step.
That’s either a trial or motion for judgment for Bumb to decide whether she will issue a permanent injunction that would essentially overturn whatever aspects of the new law she deems unconstitutional. Nothing has yet been scheduled, with both sides saying that they need time to fully digest Tuesday’s ruling.
In the meantime, Platkin reminded residents of “one silver lining” — that gun owners can’t take guns into homes and other private property without the property owner’s express permission.
“Individuals can still control whether and when to allow firearms on their property,” he said in a statement.
Sophie Nieto-Muñoz contributed.
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