Second Amendment activists challenge N.J.’s strict gun laws

Pennsylvania has concealed carry permit reciprocity with 29 states . The state Attorney General's hopes to clarify rules for gun owners with a new website. (Seth Perlman/AP Photo, File)

Pennsylvania has concealed carry permit reciprocity with 29 states . The state Attorney General's hopes to clarify rules for gun owners with a new website. (Seth Perlman/AP Photo, File)

A New Jersey man who was denied a permit to carry a concealed firearm is suing state law enforcement officials and judges in federal court, claiming they violated his constitutional rights.

The lawsuit was filed just days after state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced that the state was reverting to a stricter standard for granting firearm permits.

Gov. Phil Murphy, who took office last month, has promised to reduce the number of guns on the street.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas Rogers of Wall Township applied for a carry permit in January of 2017, hoping to carry his gun in public for self-defense. His application was denied in August.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Rogers filed an appeal in state Superior Court, but last month Judge Joseph W. Oxley upheld the original denial of Rogers’s permit application, according to court documents.

A spokesman for Grewal, who is named in the suit, said the office does not comment on pending litigation.

Rogers claims he met all the qualifications for a concealed carry permit: he passed background checks and required firearms training courses; he is not addicted to drugs or alcohol; and he is not on the FBI’s terrorist watch list. Also, Rogers runs an ATM company, which he said “causes him to frequently service ATM machines in high-crime areas.”

Nevertheless, his application was denied because the judge found that Rogers could not demonstrate a “justifiable need” for it.

New Jersey, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the U.S., requires residents to show a “justifiable need” to be able to carry their guns in public.

For years, that meant applicants had to demonstrate that they were the target of specific violent threats, such as being a victim of domestic abuse.

In March, Gov. Chris Christie modified that interpretation of the law, saying that applicants did not have to show specific threats against them but simply “serious” threats to their safety that would warrant carrying a gun for self-defense. (The Democrat-led Legislature filed a lawsuit against Christie for overstepping his bounds, which is still pending.)

Late last month, Murphy reverted to the “specific” threats standard that had existed before Christie modified it.

But the lawsuit’s aim is not to parse the specifics of the “justifiable need” standard. Rather, the plaintiffs hope to eliminate altogether the requirement that New Jerseyans must justify their desire to carry legally obtained guns in public.

“It’s about protecting a fundamental constitutional right to self-defense outside the home,” said Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs or ANJRPC. The group is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“We live in a society where terror attacks are happening on U.S. soil,” Bach said. “Usually, law enforcement is there after the emergency to mop it up. They’re not there, most of the time, in advance.”

ANJRPC filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s “justifiable need” standard once before. In 2013, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that claim, finding that the state law was constitutional.

But the plaintiffs are hoping that a recent ruling in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals will give them a second shot at victory.

That court last year ruled against D.C.’s “good reason” law that, like New Jersey’s statute, requires that those applying for concealed carry permits demonstrate why they should be allowed to carry a gun in public.

District Judge Thomas B. Griffith, who wrote the court’s opinion, said D.C.’s requirement violated the U.S. Constitution.

“We conclude that (longstanding exceptions aside) carrying beyond the home, even in populated areas, even without special need, falls within the [Second] Amendment’s coverage, indeed within its core.”

NJ Gun Carry Permit Complaint Feb2018 (Text)

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal