The courtroom losses are beginning to pile up for the Garden State.
New Jersey has gone 0-3 in high-profile federal court battles this year, and it’s been on the receiving end of two temporary injunctions blocking its legally suspect gun laws this week alone.
First came a follow-up ruling on the state’s expansive definition of “sensitive places” where licensed gun carry is banned. U.S. District Judge Renée Marie Bumb, a George W. Bush appointee, issued her second temporary restraining order against the state in a matter of weeks. She found that the location restrictions in the state’s Bruen-response bill, modeled after a similar law passed in New York, failed to comport with the country’s historical tradition of regulated gun carry.
“The State may regulate conduct squarely protected by the Second Amendment only if supported by a historical tradition of firearm regulation,” Judge Bumb wrote in her order. “Here, Defendants cannot demonstrate a history of firearm regulation to support these challenged provisions.”
“The threat of criminal prosecution for exercising their Second Amendment rights, as the holders of valid permits from the State to conceal carry handguns, constitutes irreparable injury on behalf of Plaintiffs, and neither the State nor the public has an interest in enforcing unconstitutional laws,” she added.
The ruling expands upon the list of “sensitive places” restrictions Judge Bumb had already blocked just weeks earlier to include parks, beaches, recreational facilities, libraries, bars, restaurants, private vehicles, and casinos. The state’s de facto ban on carrying in publicly-accessible private property, pioneered by New York’s law, was also blocked by the order.
Then, just a day after the state’s gun carry law was handed its second legal defeat, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the state’s attempt to circumvent federal legal protections for the firearms industry.
Assembly Bill 1765, again modeled after a similar New York law, allows the Attorney General’s office to sue gun dealers and manufacturers under a “public nuisance” standard for failing to prevent firearms from being used in illegal activity within the state. It was passed last year despite the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a decades-old statute that shields licensed gun dealers and manufacturers from liability for the illegal use of their products by third parties, still being good law.
U.S. District Court Judge Zahid N. Quraishi, a Joe Biden appointee, ruled that the PLCAA preempts New Jersey’s attempt to impose civil penalties on the lawful operations of the firearms industry.
“A1765 would subject manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers of firearms or ammunition products and their trade associations to civil liability for the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm or ammunition products by others,” he wrote. “This is in direct conflict with the PLCAA’s purpose.”
The state’s Attorney General Matthew Platkin (D.) told The Reload he intended to appeal both rulings, but it seems the writing is on the wall for New Jersey at this point.
The state ignored how poorly New York’s Bruen-response law was faring in multiple federal courts when it passed a nearly identical statute. Between the two states, there have now been at least five federal court rulings finding broad location-based carry prohibitions unconstitutional. Such a track record suggests the injunctions aren’t just a fluke, which doesn’t bode well for the prospect of an appeal.
Meanwhile, New Jersey may point to a District Court ruling upholding New York’s public nuisance law as a sign of hope for its defense of AB 1765, but there’s just one problem with that theory: The New York decision was handed down before New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen was decided. And as Judge Quraishi noted in his injunction order, there are significant Second Amendment implications to a law allowing potentially frivolous lawsuits against the gun industry that are yet to be explored.
“The Court additionally has concerns as to whether A1765 can survive on Constitutional grounds,” he said.
That means regardless of whether a judge is convinced that the PLCAA preempts such statutes, the Second Amendment analysis required by Bruen mal doom gun industry “public nuisance” laws on its own.
Despite New Jersey’s rough start to the new year in court, it’s unlikely that other blue states will heed the warning and avoid passing similar laws. Indeed, California and Maryland are already gearing up to pass their own versions of a Bruen-response bill with expansive sensitive places restrictions. Likewise, lawmakers in Colorado and Washington are exploring potential PLCAA-busting gun industry liability bills.
But New Jersey’s experience in court this week demonstrates that attempts to nullify the Supreme Court’s ruling or circumvent federal law shielding lawful gun commerce from liability are going to have a bad time.