NJ Superior Court Ruling on Gun Permits

The ruling can be found here in PDF format. There’s a lot of things to say about it. For one, it gives you an idea of what one must go through to get all the required licenses to get a gun in New Jersey. It looks like the problem for this guy started when one of his references said something negative. Eventually they decided to go this route:

At the end of oral argument on the appeal, the trial court asked the parties whether they would have any objection to the court communicating directly with appellant’s former employers regarding his fitness to own a gun. The parties consented to this unusual procedure.

Apparently that didn’t go well for him either, as his previous associates said he was a nut job, and shouldn’t have a gun. This is a bad plaintiff to make a constitutional challenge, unfortunately, but probably the biggest risk to our gun rights is cases like this being moved forward. There are plenty of people that get kicked around by NJ’s system that would make far more sympathetic plaintiffs. But let’s get back to the case:

We conclude that the trial court’s conduct of the proceedings on the appeal from the denial of appellant’s application for a permit to purchase firearms did not conform with the requirements of procedural due process set forth in Weston. Therefore, the order affirming the denial of that application must be reversed and the matter remanded for a rehearing conducted in conformity with Weston.

So essentially the guy won, because the trial court did not follow the legal procedure in order to approve or deny permits. But the court also addressed the constitutional issued raised. The issue was one of vagueness, arguing that a previous New Jersey ruling upholding the “unfit persons” standard needed to be reconsidered in light of Heller.

However, the Court expressly indicated that its holding did not require invalidation of statutes that require a license to purchase or possess a firearm.

The Court did not require it because it was not at issue in the case. The New Jersey Superior Court has before it a direct challenge to an aspect of licensing. It’s not intellectually serious to so casually dismiss the constitutional issue, as if the Court in Heller had upheld licensing. Licensing wasn’t before that court, it is before this court. So you can’t act as if they upheld licensing. They did not.

The appellant in this case also challenged based on the time it took to issue a denial. Court in New Jersey have long held the statutory requirement that permit be issued within 30 days is effectively without meaning.

Moreover, we do not believe the Legislature could have intended that a person who is unfit to own a firearm would be able to obtain a firearms purchaser permit based on such an automatic approval. Our gun control laws have the purpose of “keeping firearms out of the hands of all dangerously unfit persons, noncriminal as well as criminal.” Burton v. Sills, supra, 53 N.J. at 94; see also Heller, supra, ___ U.S. at ___, 128 S. Ct. at 2816-17, 171 L. Ed. 2d at 678 (noting that “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill”). This salutary purpose would be seriously undermined if a person could obtain a permit to purchase a firearm based solely on a court’s failure to conduct a hearing within the thirty-day period required by N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3(d).

Except Heller does not support what you specifically mentioned New Jersey’s gun control laws were meant to do, which was “keeping firearms out of the hands of all dangerously unfit persons, noncriminal as well as criminal.” Heller didn’t say “longstanding prohibitions against on the possession of firearms by noncriminals the police say are dangerous.” There’s an element of having to be convicted or adjudicated in the Heller language, which this man was not.

Pretty clearly the Superior Court was not interested in taking Heller seriously, and I can’t say I’m surprised to see that kind of attitude coming out of a New Jersey court. New Jersey’s gun laws are a disaster for lawful gun owners, but the unfortunate thing for Garden State gunnies is there’s a lower hanging fruit out there. The real danger is that inexperienced people will begin challenging New Jersey laws immediately, before we’ve had a chance to get that low hanging fruit.  After which we’ll have more tools at our disposal to go after New Jersey’s permitting system, among other things.

9 thoughts on “NJ Superior Court Ruling on Gun Permits”

  1. I love their reading of the 30-day rule; since the “automatic issuance” is spelled out in plain english in the statute…

  2. Their reliance on what they “can believe” versus what they “cannot believe” is problematic. I don’t know whether they consulted any of the floor debate over that measure, but generally, the legislative intent of those sort of time limits is exactly what the court said they couldn’t believe–and you can’t tell me they haven’t seen the same device used for the same purpose (forcing authorities to take promptness seriously by hanging the threat that they won’t have the option of denying the permit or license if they make the applicant wait an unreasonable amount of time) in dozens of other licensing areas. I’m sure New Jersey does it; most states do.

    We once had a retired Illinois State Police legal expert tell us that Illinois’ very similar statute, which required that the Illinois FOID be issued or denied within 30 days of application, required that it be issued, but not necessarily mailed. Thus, he claimed, the 70-90 day wait times people were experiencing over the summer were legal because the ISP could simply “issue” the applicant a FOID but not mail it until they’d caught up to their backlog and confirmed that they wanted that one issued.

    I don’t think the new Director agreed, because he put more bodies in that office and got the FOIDs cranking out at the legally-required rate.

  3. Oh, I would “believe” that the NJ Legislature intended the time limit to be no more than a sop to legal gun purchasers; and that the courts have properly interpreted their “intentions.” But that’s not what the law said…

  4. I didn’t read the links but it really bugs me that someone who had two references go sour on him (a reference and an employer) was given a permit.

    The employer reference REALLY bugs since most employers will never say anything bad about an employee that can’t be backed up because of fear of lawsuits, so I can only imagine what kind of a nutcase this guy must be to get a bad reference from an employer. “Wasn’t he the guy who took out several employees’ windshields in the parking lot with a golf club after he was fired? We don’t think he should have a gun.”


  5. But there is no guidance on what consititutes basis for denial – it’s at the whim of the issuing officer.

  6. windex1:

    He wasn’t issued a permit. The Superior Court vacated the lower courts ruling, and remanded it back to the lower court to conduct the trial based on the New Jersey Court precedent that stipulates how to handle appeals of permit denials. He may not get his permit even under that standard.

  7. I read the decision, and there are some stipulated facts that do not look good for the applicant. OTOH, he appears to be working as a security guard…

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