Noting that a law designed to “prevent law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms” is “plainly unconstitutional,” a federal judge in New Jersey on Tuesday granted, in part, a preliminary injunction in a challenge of that state’s restrictive new concealed carry law. The state quickly appealed.
The law was adopted in reaction to last year’s Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which struck down New York’s 100-year-old concealed carry law. New Jersey’s law was very similar.
In her 235-page ruling, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Renee Marie Bumb writes, “Bruen required the State to bring its firearm laws in compliance with the Second Amendment. Chapter 131 was the State’s response, but it went too far, becoming the kind of law that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson would have warned against since it ‘disarm[s] only those who are not inclined or determined to commit crimes [and] worsen[s] the plight of the assaulted, but improve[s] those of the assailants.’”
Two federal court challenges were consolidated, including one filed by the Second Amendment Foundation, the Coalition of New Jersey Firearm Owners, New Jersey Second Amendment Society, Firearms Policy Coalition and three private citizens, Nicholas Gaudio, Jeffrey Muller and Ronald Koons, the latter for whom the case, Koons v. Platkin, is named. They are represented by attorney David Jensen of Beacon, N.Y.
“Judge Bumb’s ruling clearly recognizes the issues we raised with New Jersey’s restrictive gun law, and she’s fired a legal shot across the state’s bow,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb. “When New Jersey passed Chapter 131, it did away with the ‘justifiable need’ requirement, but replaced it with an equally egregious ‘sensitive places’ restriction to effectively prohibit carrying a legally-licensed handgun anywhere in the state. That just doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Of particular interest is how Judge Bumb addressed one of the main points of contention: concealed carry while in a motor vehicle. Deep into her ruling, the judge specifically addressed that issue.
“Chapter 131 requires gun owners seeking to carry or transport their handguns in a vehicle to keep the weapon ‘unloaded and contained in a closed and securely fastened case, gunbox, or locked unloaded in the trunk of the vehicle’,” the judge notes. “This law infringes on the Plaintiffs’ right to armed self-defense in public because the law requires Carry Permit holders, in effect, to render their handguns inoperable when traveling in a vehicle in New Jersey.”
A few lines later, Judge Bumb explains, “In Heller, the Supreme Court held that a law requiring handguns in the home to be ‘rendered and kept inoperable’—either by disassembly or inclusion of a ‘trigger-lock’ on the weapon—violated the Second Amendment. The Heller Court found the law unconstitutional because the law made ‘it impossible for citizens to use [their handguns] for the core lawful purpose of self-defense.’”
“Today’s order granting our preliminary injunction against the State of New Jersey’s anti-carry law reaffirms that the rule of law is alive and well,” said Adam Kraut, SAF’s executive director and a practicing attorney. “After the Supreme Court decided Bruen last summer, the State of New Jersey enacted a series of restrictions that were wholly incompatible with the Constitution and disregarded the Supreme Court’s directive. It is unfortunate that a lawsuit was required in order to force the State to respect its residents’ constitutional right to bear arms. We look forward to continuing to litigate these issues in New Jersey, and across the nation, to ensure constitutional rights are not meaningless words on paper.”
There is far more in Judge Bumb’s decision, and much of it is not flattering to the state.
“Upon their initial applications,” the judge notes on the third page of her decision, “the Court agreed with Plaintiffs, temporarily enjoining certain provisions of the law, setting this matter down for a preliminary injunction hearing after the parties had engaged in discovery and a more complete record was developed. Remarkably, despite numerous opportunities afforded by this Court to hold evidentiary hearings involving the presentation of evidence, the State called no witnesses. And despite assurances by the State that it would present sufficient historical evidence as required by Bruen to support each aspect of the new legislation, the State failed to do so…At this preliminary injunction stage, the State has proceeded to justify the new legislation with ‘more of the same’ that it had presented during the initial proceedings for temporary restraints. This has left the Court to do what the Legislature had said it had done, but clearly did not. The Court has conducted its own exhaustive research into this Nation’s history and tradition of regulating firearms that Bruen mandates; its analysis follows. This has taken some time, and the State’s effort to hurry this Court along is most unfortunate.
“Moreover,” she continues, “instead of presenting the compelling historical evidence they promised, the State and the Legislature-Intervenors have spent their resources writing a narrative that says, absent the Court’s indiscriminate approval of the new legislation, ‘[t]he risk of dangerous and often fatal situations looms large.’ It is rhetoric that is not productive, particularly for this Court’s role here.
“This Court is painfully aware of the gun violence that has plagued our Nation,” Judge Bumb acknowledges. “But what the State and the Legislature-Intervenors ignore, and what their empirical evidence fails to address, is that this legislation is aimed primarily—not at those who unlawfully possess firearms—but at law-abiding, responsible citizens who satisfy detailed background and training requirements and whom the State seeks to prevent from carrying a firearm in public for self-defense.”
There is little doubt the ruling will be appealed, and the case will drag itself forward. But what is becoming evident in this and other new Second Amendment cases is that language in the Bruen ruling has changed the legal landscape considerably in how the federal courts may handle gun rights cases. For restrictive states such as New Jersey, it translates to shrinking wiggle room when the right to keep and bear arms is under challenge.