When Gov. Phil Murphy reluctantly allowed New Jersey gun stores to re-open in late March after ordering ordering them to close in his first coronavirus-related executive order, he didn’t say anything about the state’s gun ranges. As a result, ranges across the state have been off-limits to gun owners for nearly two months now, leaving gun owners with few option to safety and responsibly train with their firearms.

Now the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs has launched a federal lawsuit against Murphy over the range closures. The new suit seeks to reopen outdoor ranges at the moment, and the group says it will follow up with a separate lawsuit taking on the closure of indoor ranges as well.

Now that Murphy has allowed the reopening of parks, golf courses, and tennis courts – outdoor facilities that are purely recreational and do not facilitate any Constitutionally protected activity – he can no longer pretend to have any legal argument for blocking the Second Amendment right of citizens to build and maintain firearms proficiency at outdoor ranges.

Gov. Murphy’s March 21 executive order shut down all ranges and gun stores, supposedly due to concerns over the Coronavirus pandemic. ANJRPC thereafter immediately sued to reopen gun stores and Murphy backed down on that issue before a court could force his hand. But ranges remained shuttered, and ANJRPC exercised extreme self-restraint and waited for the right moment to bring a range case – and that moment has now arrived as Murphy has reopened non-essential outdoor activities that are not constitutionally protected.
ANJRPC also plans to sue regarding indoor ranges, but only after a similar period of disciplined waiting for the right conditions where legal odds are enhanced. Bringing an indoor range claim at the wrong time could have disastrous consequences under the current pandemic conditions.
You can read a copy of the ANJRPC complaint here. As attorneys for the Second Amendment group argue, with the right to keep and bear arms comes the right to train with those arms, and Murphy’s executive order has resulted in an absolute infringement of that right.
Despite the centrality of range-training to the exercise of Second Amendment rights, Governor Murphy has, since March 21, 2020, banned that activity throughout the State of New Jersey with the stroke of a pen, effectively preventing New Jersey’s citizens from obtaining or maintaining their proficiency in firearms use. Governor Murphy’s ban is flatly contrary to the Second Amendment.
The existence of the COVID-19 pandemic does not justify Governor Murphy’s actions. Plaintiffs recognize that the pandemic presents significant and urgent problems for state officials seeking to ensure the safety and well-being of citizens of New Jersey. But the State’s untenable regulatory choices refute any assertion that COVID-19 requires New Jersey to shut down all outdoor gun ranges.
Scott Bach, the executive director of the ANJRPC, says that Murphy has made it clear that his actions to prevent New Jersey residents from exercising their Second Amendment rights aren’t based on any sort of desire to protect the public from the coronavirus. Instead, the governor is using the pandemic as an excuse to target a constitutionally protected right that he finds distasteful.
What’s more, Governor Murphy’s overt hatred for the Second Amendment is laid bare in his executive order, which ironically declares that non-vital retailers like liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, and cell phone stores are “essential” and therefore can stay open, while ranges are not “essential” and must close.
Governor Murphy has even admitted that his assault on the Second Amendment was motivated by his hatred of guns, not by safety concerns about Coronavirus. When recently asked by a reporter why he didn’t deem Second Amendment facilities to be “essential,” he stated “a safer society for my taste has fewer guns and not more guns.” He said nothing about Coronavirus, which is apparently just his pretext for shutting down the Second Amendment.
The ANJRPC is seeking an emergency injunction allowing outdoor ranges to re-open, and we’ll hopefully have a hearing before a judge in the very near future.