NJ lawmakers amend carry bill, but plenty of issues still remain

(AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane)

Legislation restricting the right to carry and imposing a host of new legal requirements on those hoping to exercise that right is making its way through the New Jersey legislature, and on Monday the Assembly Oversight, Reform, and Federal Relations Committee took up the measure. The committee ended up tweaking some of the language in the gun control bill, but not nearly enough to avoid a lawsuit over the constitutionality of the anti-gun mandates that have so far survived.

As amended, the bill would require concealed carry permitholders to inform police they are carrying a firearm and show their documentation during a traffic stop and would prevent prosecutions for gun carriers who briefly and incidentally enter a place where firearms are prohibited.

The amendments would also loosen restrictions imposed on retired police officers, who would be allowed to carry concealed handguns on private property, though they would still face restrictions in high-security areas like courthouses and other government buildings.

They would also rein in a provision allowing towns to restrict guns in additional areas that opponents had marked out for a court challenge. The new language only allows municipalities to restrict guns in places where public safety concerns justify a prohibition.

Amending the bill to ensure that concealed carry holders who inadvertently bring a gun into one of the many proposed “sensitive places” is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of those places aren’t sensitive by any stretch of the imagination. As we’ve previously discussed with Scott Bach, head of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, anti-gun lawmakers in the state want to make everything from public housing to private transportation off-limits to concealed carry, despite the clear language from the Supreme Court in Bruen that these “sensitive places” are the exception, not the rule, when it comes to carrying a firearm in self-defense.

Another issue emerged during Monday’s committee hearing; who exactly is supposed to process concealed carry applications once the bill takes effect?

Before the U.S. Supreme Court decided the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen case, New Jersey’s courts approved such permits, but those responsibilities are poised to go solely to law enforcement — only they won’t do so until 180 days after the bill is signed into law.

“Delaying the date for these new procedures to take effect puts the judiciary in a very tenuous position of hearing a significantly increased volume of such applications without any additional resources to do the same,” said Pam Geller, a legislative liaison for the Administrative Office of the Courts.

New Jersey’s courts are still dealing with a backlog of more than 80,000 cases accumulated during the pandemic, and large swathes of the bench remain vacant.

I think we know what Gov. Phil Murphy’s “solution” is; make concealed carry applicants wait for the new system to get set up before processing their applications, even if that means hundreds of thousands of residents will be left twisting in the wind for months. After all, it’s not like any part of this legislation is meant to actually ensure that residents can exercise their right to carry without government interference. The whole point of this bill is to interfere and infringe on that right as much as possible so I doubt that its backers are even slightly concerned with the lengthy delays in processing applications that would result if it takes effect in its current form.

Whether or not the federal courts will go along with this is another question entirely. The Bruen opinion warns jurisdictions like New Jersey not to play games with the application process, and forcing responsible gun owners to twiddle their thumbs for more than six months before they can exercise a fundamental right seems like the type of thing that SCOTUS might be interested in. New Jersey legislators might be able to enact these new infringements into law, but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll be long-lived or even allowed to take effect.