New Jersey carry bill stumbles amid constitutional concerns

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

We all know New Jersey isn’t a fan of the right to keep and bear arms. Gov. Phil Murphy and other lawmakers have made that abundantly clear over the years.

Yet in case no one got the memo, their attempted reform of the state’s concealed carry system is about as awful as you’re going to find. It’s not quite enough to make New York’s new concealed carry law look pro-gun, but it’s not for lack of trying.

And the law cleared a key hurdle in the state Senate on Thursday.

A New Jersey legislative committee voted to require liability insurance for gun owners and restrict where they could carry their weapons, moving what would be some of the strictest US firearms limits closer to becoming law.

The vote by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, a response to a US Supreme Court ruling in June that allowed more widespread carrying of firearms, was a preliminary step before the bills go to the full legislature, then the governor’s desk. The final voting dates have yet to be scheduled.

The bills almost certainly will become law, as they have support from the Democratic-controlled legislature and Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat who in July signed a series of gun restrictions. At the same time, the laws are likely to face legal challenges, as states including New York and Massachusetts have seen in their race to counter the high court’s impact.

Well, it’ll almost certainly become law if it gets voted on.

However, it seems there’s a bit of a hiccup there. Despite clearing that administrative hurdle, there’s still another key one that has to be cleared.

It needs a vote from the full legislature, and that isn’t scheduled to happen.

Not just “not happen anytime soon,” either. It’s not scheduled at all.

A fast-tracked bill to limit concealed carry in New Jersey hit a snag Thursday when Assembly leaders yanked it from a scheduled vote, conceding its broad restrictions could fold under constitutional scrutiny.

The canceled vote came the same day a Senate panel approved the bill along party lines — and with about 15 amendments that appear to be aimed at appeasing critics who have vowed to fight any new law in court. The bill, introduced two weeks ago, has already been approved along party lines by three Assembly committees.

Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden), one of the bill’s sponsors and the majority leader in the Assembly, said legislators plan to revise language in the bill to ensure “it’s directly in line with our legislative intent.”

“That may help constitutional arguments at the end of the day,” Greenwald said. “There’s a focus on making sure that it’s not too broad, not too vague, and that it withstands a challenge.”

Good luck with that.

Part of the problem with New Jersey’s law is that it’s overly broad, but a bigger part is that what’s not broad is just plain wrong.

For example, the insurance requirement. This is loosely based on the San Jose ordinance, but that ordinance can be met with a very simple homeowners policy, something many people are required to have by their lenders anyway. There’s a fairly low barrier to compliance.

Further, while a judge declined to issue an injunction, it was also very clear from the judge’s comments that they saw the insurance requirement as unconstitutional.

And that was for one with a low barrier.

What New Jersey wants to do is require liability insurance for carrying a firearm. There’s no such policy in existence. Even if you wanted one, it’s simply not available, so how can you require it?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m glad New Jersey lawmakers are taking a step back to reevaluate the bill so it could survive a legal challenge, but based on what I’ve seen, it’ll take more than a bunch of amendments to do that. It’ll involve just scrapping the whole thing and starting over from scratch.