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New Jersey county jumps the gun with new "sensitive places" ordinance

New Jersey county jumps the gun with new "sensitive places" ordinance
Ross D. Franklin

Anti-gun Democrats in the New Jersey statehouse are still working to craft new laws limiting the right to carry (and Bearing Arms contributor John Petrolino will have an update on those infringe-y efforts very soon, as a matter of fact), but officials in one Garden State county aren’t waiting on the state to enact their own local ordinances designed to do the same.

Last week commissioners in Union County quietly adopted an amendment to the county code that will have a major impact on law-abiding gun owners. The new ordinance bans firearms from all county-owned property, regardless of whether or not the gun owner possesses a concealed carry permit, and violators won’t receive a slap on the wrist if they’re caught in one of the new “gun-free zones”. Instead, they’re looking at several months of jail time if they dare to exercise their right to carry in a public park or other publicly-accessible space that’s connected to the county government.

The commissioners said properties covered by the ban include but are not limited to parks, office buildings, and the Union County Courthouse and Family Court.

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Union County Commissioners said while the July decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that invalidated “proper cause” for applying for a permit to carry a handgun only directly impacted gun safety rules in New York state, it set a precedent for other states including New Jersey.

Pursuant to the amendment to the county code, violators are subject to a term of imprisonment of up to 90 days and/or a fine of $500 for a first offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

Also included in the ban? Public transportation in the county, which means those who depend on taking the bus to get around are now utterly unable to exercise their right to carry a firearm in self-defense in public unless they’re prepared to start hoofing it during the cold winter months ahead.

Most of these locations are also slated to be “gun-free zones” under the bill that’s currently making its way through the New Jersey legislature, but apparently Union County officials want to get sued themselves instead of just sitting by watching Gov. Phil Murphy and other state officers try to defend their new infringements on the right to keep and bear arms. Ironically, the county has issued a self-congratulatory press release on their new measures in which they claim that their new ordinances “shut the door” on a “torrent of guns” entering the community, but they’ve opened the door to a lawsuit taking on their attack on a fundamental civil right.

“We take this legislative action to hold firm on gun safety in our public spaces. Our residents have the right to conduct business with the County, go to school, cast their ballot in an election and enjoy our parks without having to worry about gun violence,” said Commissioner Board Chair Rebecca L. Williams. “The U.S. Supreme Court has opened the door for a torrent of guns to enter our community, as a result of its decision on the Bruen case last July. We are resolved to shut that door.”

“Governor Murphy and our state legislators are working hard to stem the damage done by the Bruen decision, and we are proud to support their efforts with this new amendment to Article XI,” said Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded, who chairs the Commissioner Board’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. “The facts are clear: easy access to guns is a recipe for violence and fear, not safety and security.”

How’s this for a fact: depriving people of their constitutionally-protected rights makes you the villain of the story, not the hero. Union County’s new prohibitions aren’t going to stop a single criminal from illegally carrying in any of the newly-designated “sensitive places.” It will be legal gun owners and those who possess a concealed carry license who’ll bear the impact of these restrictions.

That appears to be just fine with county commissioners, who want residents to be afraid of their friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members who’ve gone through the exhaustive process of obtaining a carry license. This new ordinance isn’t just an attempt to curtail the right to carry, it’s also about denormalizing gun ownership and making the exercise of a fundamental right socially and culturally taboo.

What happens next? Are more counties likely to follow Union County’s lead? We’ll be talking about those questions and more on Wednesday’s Bearing Arms Cam & Co when attorney Daniel Schmutter, who’s worked extensively with groups like the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs to take on Garden State gun laws in the past, joins the program to discuss the post-Bruen attack on the right to keep and bear arms in the state; both in terms of what we’ve seen so far and what is likely headed our way in the near future.