New Jersey Gun Permits Face New Legal Challenge

Photo Courtesy of the National Shooting Sports Foundation

New Jersey is known for many things, but freedom is not one of them.  When the Garden State comes up in the same sentence as the subject of firearms several words come to mind, like “draconian” and “infringement”. After all, it was New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy who said the Bill of Rights “ is above my pay grade.”

New Jersey has a “mother may I?” stance on the issuance of firearm permits for residents to purchase guns. In order to buy a long gun, one must first obtain a Firearm Purchaser’s Identification Card. Should someone wish to purchase a handgun, they must first obtain a Pistol Purchaser’s Permit. Seeing how attached the anti-gun government bureaucracy is to this enumerated right, getting either of those documents takes both time and money. According to New Jersey’s law, said documents are to be issued or denied within 30 days, but often those 30 days turn into 30 weeks.

Three New Jersey residents, an FFL, two national second amendment civil rights groups, and three New Jersey based second amendment groups have joined together to say “enough is enough”.  On Monday March 22, 2021 Kendrick v. Grewal was filed.  The lawsuit cuts right to the chase in their prayer for relief on what they are seeking:

A declaratory judgment that New Jersey’s FID and Handgun Purchase Permit requirements, codified at N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3, and implementing regulations facially violate the Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution

In short, New Jersey’s permitting system is unconstitutional.  In reality, post-passage of the Brady Bill in 1993, having a permitting system which requires law abiding citizens beg for their rights to be granted to them is completely moot. New Jersey really goes above and beyond with the number of background checks they do, all of which are and can be accomplished during the point of sale via the NICS background check system. With permitting abuse being rampant throughout New Jersey, many citizens go months if not past the year mark waiting for police departments that are hostile towards the notion of a private citizen owning a firearm to grant them their rights. A simple NICS check is all that should be required given our current laws.

It was such permitting delays that the late Carol Bowne suffered while she was waiting on her permit to purchase a firearm. Bowne was subject to an abusive ex harassing her.  After going through all the channels available to her, the issuance of a restraining order and repeated appeals to the police to protect her, she applied for a permit to purchase a firearm. Bowne was never able to be issued her permit, as she was murdered by her stalker 43 days after submitting her application – nearly 2 weeks past the police department’s statutory obligation to issue her the paperwork.

The plaintiffs, Sandra Kendrick, Carol Kinkade, Nancy Merritt, Bob’s Little Sport Shop, Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, Inc., New Jersey Second Amendment Society, Coalition of New Jersey Firearm Owners, Firearms Policy Coalition, Inc., and Second Amendment Foundation aim to see no citizen is denied their constitutional right to keep and bear arms like Carol Bowne was. From the complaint:

These restrictions on firearm acquisition are unconstitutional on their face. The Second Amendment has the same scope today as during the founding era. See Heller, 554 U.S. at 634–35. A requirement that law-abiding citizens obtain government permission—for a fee—before acquiring a firearm would have been foreign to the founding-era understanding of the right to keep and bear arms. The requirement is an outlier even today.

I reached out to several of the parties involved. Theresa Inacker, the Communications Director of the Coalition of New Jersey Firearm Owners (CNJFO) is hopeful that these efforts will finally put an end to these unconstitutional practices.  In our conversation she had to say:

CNJFO is delighted to partner with these organizations in suing New Jersey over the deeply-entrenched systemic infringements in the firearms permitting process. The State and some police departments in New Jersey routinely violate the statutory 30-day requirement with impunity. It is time to hold them accountable for the unconstitutional delays and infringements.

From a press release issued by the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, Inc. (ANJRPC), Scott Bach, the executive director of the group lauded the combined efforts:

The days of New Jersey’s use of bureaucracy to block Second Amendment rights could be coming to an end if this new lawsuit is successful. ANJRPC is pleased to join a broad coalition of gun rights groups seeking to halt the abusive permitting system.

What may come of this case and the plaintiffs’ prayer for relief is yet to be determined. However, given the considerable weight that is behind the filing, this case has a very solid shot of giving much needed relief to the law abiding citizens of New Jersey, and the implications are quite wide should the case climb past the New Jersey courts to the 3rd district or Supreme Court of the United States.

In parting, Alan Gottlieb, the founder and Executive Vice President of the Second Amendment Foundation pulls this case into the proper perspective when I asked him for a comment:

New Jersey may have been the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights, but it is the last to recognize it.

And thanks to Alan’s efforts, as well as the other organizations and those thee private citizens, this matter may be put to rest for good.

Want to help out?  I invite you to visit the web pages for the groups involved and consider supporting them with a donation or your commitment via membership:  Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, Inc., New Jersey Second Amendment Society, Coalition of New Jersey Firearm Owners, Firearms Policy Coalition, Inc., and Second Amendment Foundation.

John Petrolino is a US Merchant Marine Officer, writer, author of “Decoding Firearms: An Easy to Read Guide on General Gun Safety & Use” and NRA certified pistol, rifle and shotgun instructor living under and working to change New Jersey’s draconian and unconstitutional gun laws. You can find him on the web at www.johnpetrolino.com on twitter at @johnpetrolino and on instagram @jpetrolinoiii