The leading Garden State guns rights’ group filed court papers Oct. 1 requesting correction of ‘justifiable need’ standard to include normal, lawful practices for New Jersey gun permits.
“Too many innocent people have been harmed by New Jersey’s over-restrictive definition of justifiable need,” said Frank Jack Fiamingo, president of The New Jersey Second Amendment Society.
NJ2AS submitted an “amicus curiae” or “friend of the court” brief in support of an action that challenges the state’s firearm licensing laws before the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Having thousands of members and supporters, the Second Amendment society is a nonprofit corporation that seeks to restore and preserve the right of the people of New Jersey to keep and bear arms for self-defense, hunting, competition, collecting, and recreation, he said.
In its brief, NJ2AS urges the court to find that the state’s justifiable need requirement under N.J.S.A. § 2C:58-4 is unconstitutional and violates the Second Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court’s dictates in Heller and McDonald.
“In order to be granted a right to obtain a license to carry a firearm, you must prove justifiable need,” said Fiamingo. “The court’s interpretation of justifiable need means we must show an imminent threat to our life to obtain a license.”
The law does not provide exceptions for law-abiding citizens to lawfully possess firearms, other than exemptions for former law enforcement, he said. “You do not have to commit an offense like shooting a firearm or pointing it at someone – mere possession of an unloaded firearm in public is illegal.”
“If you want to carry a firearm in New Jersey whether you carry it openly or concealed in a holster on your hip, there is no difference, in either case you must apply for a carry permit,” he said.
Because of the way the laws are set-up, there is no right to possess a firearm outside of your home for lawful purposes, he said.
“Even if you have a firearm’s identification card; even if you purchased your firearm legally; and even if you possess it lawfully in your home for self-defense; if you possess a firearm loaded or unloaded – it doesn’t matter – you have no right to possess it outside of your home, unless you fall under a couple of very narrowly-defined exceptions,” said Fiamingo.
Exceptions include traveling to and from a gun range or gunsmith; traveling to and from the place of purchase; or moving to a new location, he said.
Unless one is a police officer, an armored truck driver, or in some cases a private investigator, according to the law there is no justifiable need to carry, he said. “We can protect someone’s company and their money but we cannot carry to protect our own lives.”
He said veterans cannot carry firearms in public, either. “Even former military do not benefit whatsoever despite being trained.”
“We are not talking about someone standing around threatening people with a firearm,” said Fiamingo. “One cannot legally travel to a friend’s house to show them the new firearm they just purchased.”
“It is my opinion that the three branches of New Jersey government; legislative, judicial and executive, conspired to impose obstacles to the ability of civilians to exercise their right to bear arms,” he said.
“The Pantano case is representative of everyone in New Jersey who wants to carry for self-defense,” said Robert Barush, legislative director of NJ2AS. Richard Pantano, a New Jersey resident, was denied a permit to carry application for failure to show a justifiable need cause.
The society’s brief complains that the courts’ have improperly applied justifiable need standard too stringently because they begin with the premise that the right to self-defense is curtailed or otherwise restricted and ignore all other traditionally lawful forms of possession outside of the home.
Barush said justifiable need defined by case law is onerous and insurmountable. “Justifiable need is essentially defined as an urgent necessity evidenced by a specific threat or previous attack that presents a special danger to the individual that cannot be overcome by any other means than by carrying.”
“The bar is raised so high that no one can overcome it,” he said.
When Hurricane Sandy came through the shores of New Jersey last winter, thousands of people were displaced, he said. “The people very wisely decided to flee their homes and bring their firearms with them.”
Those individuals would likely stay at a hotel or a relative, but they are not changing residence; technically there is no exemption for emergency situations, he said. “We have a situation that we are not able to possess firearms legally – even though we are engaged in a traditionally lawful purpose.”
The punishment for simple possession is completely unreasonable, said Barush. “If you are in illegal possession of a firearm the mandatory sentence is 5 years in prison; no parole for 3 years; and a presumption of 7 years – which means the judges are supposed to give you 7 years unless there is some kind of mitigating circumstance.”
“Our amicus brief explains to the court that we cannot have a system that bans all lawful possession of a hand gun and then says you may not possess a handgun for any purpose,” he said. “If we are not going to get rid of justifiable need, we have to redefine it to something that allows us to carry or possess firearms for traditionally lawful purposes.”
The brief points-out issues that no one else is talking about, he said. “The permit to carry a handgun in New Jersey is misnamed; it is actually a permit to possess a handgun – outside of the very narrow exceptions.”
He does not expect the court to rule in their favor, he said. “My opinion is that the Supreme Court did not accept this case because they felt there was a problem with justifiable need, they accepted this case because they want to erect as many obstacles as possible in a post-Heller and post-McDonald world.”
The courts’ want to rebuild the road-blocks between law abiding citizens and their ability to possess a hand gun in public for lawful purposes, said Barush. “They want to come up with as many and as complicated of obstacles they can in order to bury our right to carry.”
“There is an attitude in the state of New Jersey from the legislature and the judicial branch, and even the executive branch that does not want us to carry firearms,” he said. “Their idea is to keep the number of guns in possession – of anybody – as low as possible and that will somehow reduce crime.”
“Any legislation has to accurately and appropriately distinguish illegal and legal behavior; we punish the illegal behavior,” he said. “The system is set-up so that one can have no criminal intent whatsoever, yet if they walk outside of their home with their gun, they can go to prison for seven years.”