Gun-control advocate’s attempts to counter the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen have hit a roadblock in another state.
On Monday, a federal judge ruled much of New Jersey’s Bruen-response law is unconstitutional and issued a temporary restraining order against enforcement of its “sensitive places” restrictions. The law, modeled after the New York response bill that has been struck down repeatedly, significantly restricts who can obtain and permit to carry and the locations where they can take their guns. District judge Renée Marie Bumb, a George W. Bush appointee, found the law violated the Second Amendment rights of residents.
“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,” Bumb wrote. “Accordingly, good cause exists, and the Court will grant the motion for temporary restraints.”
The ruling signals New Jersey may have just as much difficulty implementing their carry law as New York has thus far. It could also provide other states with a further reason not to pass a similarly-styled law, such as the one California is poised to take up in the new legislative session after it failed in the previous one. It may give the Supreme Court greater incentive to weigh in on the New York gun-carry case currently waiting for their review.
The Bruen-response laws have moved to a “good moral character” test for applicants rather than the outlawed “good reason” to carry test. They have also sought to expand significantly what public areas are off-limits to those with licenses, including theaters, restaurants, public transit, parks, libraries, museums, and more. The laws have also implemented bans on carrying on private property open to the public unless the owner posts a sign allowing it.
The Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), Second Amendment Foundation, New Jersey Second Amendment Society, and Coalition of New Jersey Firearms Owners brought the suit shortly after the law was passed in December. The gun-rights groups celebrated the ruling as a win for gun owners in the state.
“Within seconds of Gov. Murphy signing this insidious bill, FPC Law filed a challenge to its constitutionality,” Bill Sack, FPC’s director of legal operations, said in a statement. “We are thrilled that the Court has wasted no time in preventing its enforcement and the irreparable constitutional injury that would have otherwise been suffered by our Plaintiffs and all of the peaceable people of New Jersey.”
Judge Bumb said the New Jersey law does not have the historical backing required by the standard for gun cases created in Bruen.
“The State may regulate conduct squarely protected by the Second Amendment only if supported by a historical tradition of firearm regulation,” she wrote. “Here, Plaintiffs have shown that Defendants will not be able to demonstrate a history of firearm regulation to support any of the challenged provisions.”
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D.), who pushed for the bill after Bruen, said the
“We know the gun lobby and its acolytes are already preparing to take us to court to block these common sense measures,” he said while signing the bill, according to Politico. “The Attorney General and his team are fully prepared to forcefully defend the constitutionality of this bill.”
Attorney General Matt Platkin (D.) similarly called it an “entirely constitutional bill” during the ceremony. But Judge Bumb decried the lack of evidence offered by the state in court despite officials’ public pronouncements.
“That Defendants dedicate a significant portion of their argument discussing the benefits of the firearms regulations and not evidence of historical analogues is quite telling,” she wrote. “And although Defendants represent that the ‘State will offer ample evidence that Chapter 131 is constitutional,’ they do not adequately explain why—if such evidence was critical to the passage of the legislation that would pass constitutional muster post-Bruen and available to the Legislature as set forth in Section 1(g) of the statute—they have not introduced such evidence here.”
Much of Bumb’s analysis in the case mirrors District Judge Glenn Suddaby’s ruling in Antonyuk v. Hochul, where Suddaby blocked most of New York’s Bruen-response bill.
“As an initial matter, this Court echoes the observations made in Antonyuk v. Hochul,” she wrote. “First, although the Supreme Court in Bruen did not go so far as to restrict the definition of ‘sensitive places’ to only government-sanctioned or affiliated places, it did indicate a skepticism as to expanding the definition of “sensitive places” based on the historical record. Thus, ‘sensitive place’ is a term within the Second Amendment context that should not be defined expansively. The Court’s second observation is that the plain text of the Second Amendment clearly covers the conduct at issue: ‘carrying a handgun in public for self-defense.'”
Judge Bumb went further and argued New Jersey’s law was also unconstitutionally vague. She agreed with plaintiffs who argued it created a “veritable minefield” for them to navigate if they wanted to try and legally carry a gun.
“The Court knows of no constitutional right that requires this much guesswork by individuals wanting to exercise such right,” she wrote. “With such sweeping legislation that includes catch-alls, Plaintiffs cannot decipher what constitutes a ‘sensitive place,’ and so they have abandoned their constitutional right to bear arms out of fear of criminal penalty. Relatedly, Plaintiffs argue that these provisions sweep so broadly that the legislation ‘effectively shuts off most public areas from carrying for self-defense.’ In the final analysis, at some point on the line, when a constitutional right becomes so burdensome or unwieldy to exercise, it is, in effect, no longer a constitutional right. Plaintiffs have made a convincing case that this legislation has reached that point.”
Attorney General Platkin said New Jersey plans to appeal the decision.
“We are 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 told The Reload. “And we look forward to continuing to press our case, including ultimately on appeal.”
UPDATE 1-9-2023 1:32 PM EASTERN: This piece has been updated to include comment from the Firearms Policy Coalition and Attorney General Platkin.