Broad swaths of New Jersey are going back to being off-limits for licensed gun owners to carry a firearm.
That’s thanks to a 2-1 ruling from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals released Tuesday. The court issued a partial emergency stay on a lower-court order blocking most of New Jersey’s recently enacted “sensitive place” restrictions, where legal gun carry is prohibited.
The stay will allow the state to resume enforcing its gun-carry ban in schools, parks, zoos, libraries, museums, restaurants that serve alcohol, casinos, health care facilities, and anywhere within 100 feet of public gatherings. But the court allowed the injunction against the state’s ban on gun carry on private property, vehicles, and movie sets to remain in effect while the appeals process plays out.
The decision is a setback for Garden State gun owners wishing to exercise the right to carry in public. As a result of the stay, their ability to do so will once again be constrained by portions of a law that a federal judge has already called “plainly unconstitutional.” The Supreme Court appears hesitant to intervene in the burgeoning legal fights over new restrictions passed in response to the June 2022 decision New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. Thus, gun owners may find themselves unable to carry freely for the foreseeable future.
At the same time, the decision offers a glimmer of hope for gun-rights advocates working to challenge New Jersey’s carry restrictions and others similar to them. The stay order left the law’s most expansive prohibition—the functional ban on licensed carry on all publicly-accessible private property—blocked, suggesting the Third Circuit is suspicious of its legality.
Alan Gottlieb, who heads the Second Amendment Foundation, one of the gun-rights groups that initially secured the lower-court injunction against New Jersey, told The Reload that he remains optimistic about the challenge to the state’s carry ban.
“While we only got a partial victory upholding our lower court Preliminary Injunction against New Jersey at the appeals court level, we expect a total victory when the case is finally resolved on the merits,” he said.
Meanwhile, supporters of New Jersey’s carry ban celebrated the appeals court’s decision as a sign that the law is constitutional.
“We are extremely gratified that the Third Circuit recognized what we have always said: New Jersey is likely to win this case because our sensitive-places law complies with the Second Amendment,” New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin (D.), whose office requested the stay, said in a statement. “This is a tremendous win for public safety, and we will continue fighting for our law.”
New Jersey’s law was passed in response to Bruen, which established a standard where permitting rules must be based on the historical tradition of firearm legislation. The new law replaced the state’s unconstitutionally subjective gun-carry permitting process with new location-based rules. The nearly all-encompassing nature of those location restrictions immediately had a chilling effect on the ability of licensed gun owners to carry in public. It prompted U.S. District Judge Renée Marie Bumb to block most of the law in May.
“Plaintiffs have resorted to leaving their handguns and Second Amendment rights at home because they may otherwise face significant criminal sanctions and jail time,” Judge Bumb wrote in her injunction. “This result is plainly inconsistent with Bruen, which affirmed the right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense. Unlike the exercise of other constitutional rights, the inability to exercise one’s Second Amendment right when needed could be a matter of life or death.”
While most of that injunction is now stayed, the Third Circuit set an expedited briefing schedule to address the law on the merits. The parties in the case have until September 18th to file all of their briefs before a final decision is made.