New Jersey bill would speed permit applications for domestic violence victims

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Longtime Second Amendment activists will remember the name Carol Bowne; the 39-year old woman who was stabbed to death by an abusive ex in the driveway of her home back in 2015. Bowne was unarmed and unable to defend herself, despite the fact that she had applied with her local police department for a pistol purchase permit more than a month earlier. Despite the fact that under New Jersey law Bowne’s application should have been approved or denied within 30 days, Bowne was kept in a legal limbo for weeks afterwards, even after she took out a restraining order against her ex.

For first-time gun ownership applicants in New Jersey, a person must go to their local police station, take home forms to be filled out, submit to background investigations regarding their criminal history and mental health, be fingerprinted, pay pertaining fees and submit contact information for references. Police will then conduct a 14-point investigation and give an approval within 30 days.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to work, [Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs executive director Scott] Bach said.

“This woman’s life was tragically taken because of New Jersey gun laws,” said Bach.

Bowne’s death outraged activists in New Jersey, but in the years since the permitting process in New Jersey hasn’t undergone any major overhaul. Now though, one Republican lawmaker says he wants to at least tweak the system to help give domestic violence victims a fighting chance if they too are attacked by their abuser.

Assemblyman Robert Auth, R-Bergen, has introduced a measure, A1397, that would give top priority to applicants for firearms identification cards and permits when they have a domestic violence restraining order.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to give law-abiding citizens every opportunity to protect the lives of themselves and their children if that’s something that they need to be worried about,” he said.

He said when couples are breaking up there can be very emotional and highly charged disagreements over child custody and living arrangements.

“All of this stuff comes to a boiling point somewhere along the line and people go over the top,” Auth said. ‘”I can understand completely why somebody would feel somewhere along the line that they would need that kind of protection for themselves.”

I can too, but here’s the thing. When someone truly needs a firearm to protect themselves against their abuser, even waiting the 30 days allowed under New Jersey law could have deadly consequences, and telling local departments to prioritize applications by domestic violence victims won’t ensure that these applications are swiftly processed, in part because there’s no penalty or consequence for departments that drag their feet.

I don’t disagree with Auth’s intent here, and his legislation is probably a more pragmatic approach than trying to repeal New Jersey’s pistol purchase permitting system entirely, given the Democratic majorities in the legislature. Still, it is the permitting system itself that’s the biggest impediment to personal safety, and the long-term goal in the state should still be full repeal. As long as you’re required to obtain the government’s permission before you can exercise your right to keep and bear arms in self-defense, you’ll always be at a disadvantage to violent actors who completely disregard the law.

Auth’s bill would be a step in the right direction, but there’s also no guarantee that even this modest proposal can get out of committee, or that Gov. Phil Murphy would sign the bill if it managed to garner enough support to get to his desk. New Jersey Democrats appear insistent on keeping the state an Abuser Empowerment Zone, while making it as difficult as possible for even domestic violence victims to fight back against their attackers.