New Jersey residents hoping to exercise their right to bear arms in self-defense are going to have to wait a little longer this holiday season. At one of the many new “gun-free zones” established under the “carry killer” legislation, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a sweeping bill into law on Thursday morning that makes most of the state off-limits to lawful carry while raising the cost of mandated fees and imposing a new insurance requirement on all concealed carry licensees.
Standing in the Scotch Plains Public Library behind a podium emblazoned with a sign reading “combating gun violence”, Murphy laid out the supposed need for barring concealed carry holders from lawfully carrying in almost every public and private setting in the state, including in their own vehicle.
Signing Legislation to Further Protect New Jersey’s Communities from Gun Violence https://t.co/dJZdvOf03S
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) December 22, 2022
“Six months ago the right-wing majority which currently controls, sadly, the United States Supreme Court, in a tragic and misguided decision, invalidated our both longstanding and common sense laws restricting the right to carry in public to those who had a justifiable need to do so. For many decades there was a broad consensus that these restrictions were necessary steps to keep our public spaces safe and were fully consistent with the Second Amendment. Then six Supreme Court justices upended literally centuries of jurisprudence and ruled that states like New Jersey can no longer take these steps to protect their residents.”
If the text of Murphy’s speech is ever filed in the Scotch Plains Public Library where it was delivered, it needs to go in the fiction section, not history or even politics. There was no longstanding consensus that “may issue” laws like New Jersey’s justifiable need requirement were ever constitutional. In there was, the Supreme Court would have found evidence for that at the time of the Founding or the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, and New Jersey’s law would still be standing today. Instead, the consensus throughout our nation’s history is that the right to bear arms means the right to carry a gun in self-defense. Even before the Supreme Court struck down New York’s may-issue law earlier this year, the vast majority of states across the country were “shall issue” in nature, and fully half of them are now permitless carry states where no license is needed to exercise your right to bear arms.
Murphy also took the time to give shout outs to several gun control activists in the crowd, including Adam Skaggs of Giffords, whose advice and assistance in crafting the bill Murphy called “invaluable.” I’m sure that Skaggs will have a hand in defending the state’s new law as well, given that multiple court challenges are inevitable and there’ll be a flurry of amicus briefs being filed by both pro-and-anti Second Amendment groups.
While the latest restrictions on the right to carry in New Jersey may not actually change much about the day-to-day experiences of gun owners given that their right has already been curtailed for decades, that doesn’t make today’s news any easier for legal gun owners, including the black gun owners recently interviewed by Newark public radio station WGBO.
[New Jersey Black Gun Owners Association organizer Leon] Grauer claims to know many responsible gun owners in his community who value safety and regulations that don’t infringe on people’s constitutional rights. He asserts many members of his organization believe there’s a common misconception that many New Jerseyans who come from marginalized communities are against gun ownership.
“Historically, ever since slavery, firearms have been a means of self-defense and self-preservation for Black people in America. There is a perception that perhaps during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, Black people in America, en masse, put down their guns and live by a non-violent strategy, but it’s far from the truth,” Grauer said.
“The non-violent movement was protected by groups of Black people, Black gun clubs, in the South and elsewhere, who either made their presence known or outright surrounded or stood guard for a protest,” Grauer added.
Douglas Worthen, a firearms instructor in Irvington, argues that historically, gun laws in the U.S. have targeted and criminalized minority communities and that some of New Jersey’s recent gun restrictions are no exception.
Historians recently have uncovered how the Second Amendment and several gun laws enacted around the country’s founding were rooted in racism
“Black ancestors … at one point couldn’t even possess any firearms at all,” Worthen said. “The infringement on people of color in this country has been around for a very, very long time. It still exists present-day, but just has a different form.”
Worthen objects to recently passed legislation that imposes sweeping handgun-free zones at most places across the state saying people won’t be allowed to defend themselves in an emergency outside the home. And increasing fees associated with obtaining a permit to carry will make it more cost-prohibitive for many in his community.
“When [people] see these fees, they get discouraged and are like ‘you know what, I’m not paying that,’” Worthen said.
And every time a New Jersey resident makes that decision, Phil Murphy smiles. This bill isn’t about “combating gun violence.” It’s about opposing a fundamental civil right. And while Phil Murphy doesn’t have the bombast of a George Wallace or Harry Byrd, he and other Democrats like New York Gov. Kathy Hochul are offering up the same kind of Massive Resistance to the exercise of a right that southern Democrats so shamefully engaged in after Brown v. Board of Education was handed down by SCOTUS in 1954. Back then, it was about targeting one class of people and blocking them from exercising a whole host of their rights as free citizens. Today’s Democrats are targeting one specific right and trying to prevent everyone from exercising it, but while their current anti-rights crusade may be racially neutral in its language, that’s rarely the case when its put into practice.
While the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs and other Second Amendment groups have vowed to sue to block the new laws, the Christmas and New Year’s holidays are going to make it difficult if not impossible to get injunctive relief as quickly as New Jersey gun owners would like. An already terrible status quo has gotten even worse in the short term, but in the long term I firmly believe both that New Jersey residents will ultimately gain access to their Second Amendment rights and anti-Second Amendment politicians like Phil Murphy are going to land on the wrong side of history; just as they’ve landed on the wrong side of the Constitution.