N.J. strictly overhauls concealed carry gun restrictions as Murphy signs || Criminal attorney

N.J. strictly overhauls concealed carry gun restrictions as Murphy signs

Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday signed a sweeping — and intensely debated — law that will overhaul and strictly limit how and where you can legally carry a concealed handgun in New Jersey in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively made it easier to get carry permits.

But the state is already set to face court challenges over the restrictions, the same way New York has over a similar measure. Two gun-rights groups announced Thursday they are suing New Jersey to overturn the law, calling it unconstitutional.

The legislation (A4769) bans people from carrying firearms in a wide swath of “sensitive places” in the state. That includes schools, courthouses, child care centers, nursing homes, polling places, government buildings, hospitals, bars and restaurants where alcohol is served, airports, parks, beaches, demonstrations, movie theaters, casinos, and other entertainment centers.

The measure also bars carrying guns on private property unless the property owner allows it. That includes homes, shopping centers, supermarkets, and churches.

In addition, the law will raise the price of owning a gun in the state, increasing various fees and requiring those seeking to get a carry permit to purchase liability insurance and take training courses.

Murphy, fellow Democratic officials, and gun-safety advocates insist this will help keep people safe if more people are seeking to carry firearms.

“While we are bound to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling, we are also obligated to do everything we can — consistent with that ruling — to make sure guns don’t proliferate in our communities,” Murphy said before signing the law during a ceremony at the Scotch Plains library, attended by dozens of gun-safety supporters, many of whom sat in the audience wearing red Moms Demand Action T-shirts.

“Doing nothing and blindly allowing concealed weapons into every corner of our communities does not make us safer,” he added.

The governor approved the legislation two months after it was introduced and three days after the Democratic-controlled state Senate sent it to him. That’s despite objections from Republicans and gun-rights advocates who say it defies both the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court and is so broad that people will be prohibited from taking guns into most places once they leave home, even after they’ve paid fees and have been trained.

New Jersey for decades had some of the nation’s most stringent concealed-carry restrictions, which made it nearly impossible for people other than retired law enforcement officials to obtain carry permits. You previously had to prove a “justifiable need” to carry a handgun in New Jersey.

Then, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in June — known as the Bruen decision — that effectively invalidated tough concealed-carry restrictions in states like New York and New Jersey.

Murphy, who has signed several gun-safety measures over the last five years, called for the state Legislature to send him a bill in response revamping regulations. Supporters argue that even when people use guns in self-defense, bystanders get hurt.

The governor on Thursday criticized the “right-wing majority” on the Supreme Court for a “tragic, misguided decision.”

Murphy pointed to a brawl that broke out in September at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford during a New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens football game.

“I ask how that situation would have been any better if those people had been armed,” he said.

The state Senate voted largely along party lines, 21-16, on Monday to pass the bill — the minimum number of votes needed for a measure to pass the chamber. The state Assembly voted narrowly along party lines, 42-29, last month to pass it.

No Republican lawmaker supported the legislation. One Democrat, Sen. Nicholas Sacco of Hudson County, voted no, saying he believes it’s unconstitutional.

RELATED: See how your lawmaker voted on bill to strictly overhaul N.J. concealed carry gun restrictions

Critics say the law is not only unconstitutional but unreasonable, arguing that while criminals will ignore the rules and people won’t be able to protect themselves if they’re attacked. They also note the insurance required is not available in New Jersey.

State Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, said in a statement Monday it’s “a shame the Democratic majority would not work with Republicans to ensure that the concealed carry of firearms can be managed in a safe, reasonable, and constitutional way.”

“Instead, they modeled after an extreme and clearly unconstitutional New York law that federal judges have already ruled against with new insurance requirements that may be impossible to meet, Bucco added. “It’s an overreaching attempt by Democrats to see how far they can go in rolling back the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision while imposing even greater restrictions on law-abiding firearm owners than ever before.”

The new law increases a handgun permit application fee in New Jersey from $2 — which has been in place since 1966 — to $25. It also raises the state’s carry permit fee from $50 to $200.

“It is no longer cheaper to get a permit to purchase a handgun than it is to get a pet license,” Murphy said.

Applicants would also be required to pay for their own insurance and training classes, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

People who carry a gun into a prohibited place now face between three and five years in jail and fines of up to $15,000.

The law does allow several people to carry in sensitive places, with stipulations, including law enforcement officials, armed forces members, prosecutors, and judges.

Murphy noted the following people cannot get a carry permit: those convicted of a felony, those with restraining orders related to domestic violence, those who had been committed for mental illness issues, wanted in other states for criminal acts, and those who have said they want a weapon to do harm. Those people are already banned from obtaining a handgun under state law.

Plus, the law requires people keep their guns locked in the trunk of their cars, with the firearms and ammunition in separate cases.

The sensitive places provision takes effect immediately. The rest of the law will be phased in over the next seven months.

The Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs filed a federal lawsuit Thursday seeking to stop the law and asked for a restraining order to halt it from taking effect as the case proceeds. The group argued the law “flagrantly and intentionally disrupts” both the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Not only will this legislation go down in flames, but the Murphy administration will end up paying the very substantial legal costs of gun owners to bring it down,” ANJRPC executive director Scott Bach said in a statement.

The Second Amendment Foundation filed a similar federal suit Thursday. SAF founder and executive vice president Alan Gottlieb said in a statement the law “literally criminalizes licensed concealed carry just about everywhere, making a mockery of the right to bear arms protected by the Second Amendment.”

“Despite clear directives as to a citizens’ right to bear arms, New Jersey continues to thumb its nose at the constitutional rights of its citizens in the name of ‘safety,’” Gottleib added.

New York’s clean-up bill in reaction to the Supreme Court decision is stuck in legal limbo after a federal judge in November ruled that key provisions are unconstitutional.

New Jersey’s law includes a provision that if any part of it is overturned, the rest will remain.

Democrats say they believe the law will hold up in court. State Attorney General Matthew Platkin said it’s “common sense” and “consistent with the Second Amendment.”

“If a challenge comes, we are more than ready to defend it,” Platkin added.

He called the law a “bold action“ that will protect both residents and law enforcement.

“Because when a bar fight happens and someone reaches for a gun or a road rage incident turns violent, who is caught in the middle of it? Somebody in blue,” Platkin said.

Several law enforcement unions endorsed the measure.

In a television interview Wednesday, Murphy admitted the issue is “tricky” and insisted the state has already taken steps to cut down on guns used in crimes in New Jersey, about 80% of which come from other states. He argued this law will give peace of mind to residents.

“Do you want to be going to church or temple or mosque and not sure who in the worshipping crowd has a gun or not?” Murphy asked during an appearance on News 12 New Jersey.

The governor was also asked about the flip side of the argument — about how some people may feel safer with a gun at their side in the wake of a rise in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents.

“We’ve gone at this differently,” Murphy said. “We’ve put a lot of money to work on hardening targets — (such as) religious schools. We’ve put money in budgets to hire security. I get it, but let’s make sure we put this in the hands of professionals.”

Supporters argue that concealed carry restrictions are crucial to stem gun violence in the New Jersey, which has among the fewest per capita gun deaths in the nation, pointing to states with loose permitting laws like Mississippi, which has the highest rate, according to federal data.

Opponents counter that Massachusetts, which has an even lower per-capita gun death rate than New Jersey, has a permitting system less stringent than the one proposed here. They say the list of prohibited places under this bill is so broad it will lead to confusion and arrests of otherwise law-abiding gun owners.

“The question is: What kind of state to we want to be?” Murphy asked Thursday. “I wish I never had to sign this measure, but this is the moment in which we find ourselves.”

NJ Advance Media staff writer S.P. Sullivan contributed to this report.

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Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him at @johnsb01.

N.J. strictly overhauls concealed carry gun restrictions as Murphy signs

The measure Gov. Phil Murphy just signed will increase fees, mandate insurance, and limit where people can carry firearms in New Jersey.

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