In a ruling that could eviscerate New Jersey’s restrictive gun laws, the United States Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York statute that placed strict limits on who could carry a firearm in public.
The court’s six conservative justices sided against the New York law, which allowed local licensing officials to refuse applications for a carry permit if the applicant couldn’t show they had a special need for self-protection.
The court rejected this, and said New York’s licensing regime violates the Constitution.
“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored the majority opinion. “That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self defense.”
The ruling could have profound impact on New Jersey’s own restrictive gun laws. The ruling does not directly overturn New Jersey’s gun control laws, but it opens them up to legal challenges.
“Based on a deeply flawed constitutional methodology, a right-wing majority on the United States Supreme Court has just said that states can no longer decide for ourselves how best to limit the proliferation of firearms in the public sphere,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement after the ruling came down. “Let there be no mistake — this dangerous decision will make America a less safe country.
“But let me be equally clear that, here in New Jersey, we will do everything in our power to protect our residents,” Murphy said. “Anticipating this decision, my administration has been closely reviewing options we believe are still available to us regarding who can carry concealed weapons and where they can carry them. We are carefully reviewing the Court’s language and will work to ensure that our gun safety laws are as strong as possible while remaining consistent with this tragic ruling.”
Acting state Attorney General Matthew Platkin called Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen “bad constitutional law and even worse for public safety.”
“At a time when we are experiencing a nationwide epidemic of gun violence and all-too frequent reports of deadly mass shootings, this dangerous decision makes it harder to combat the proliferation of deadly weapons in our communities and in our public spaces,” Platkin said in a statement. “Plain and simple, the majority’s decision disregards centuries of practice and recklessly enables violence.”
He noted that the ruling impacts New Jersey’s century-old justifiable need requirement for carrying firearms. But he said “it does not change any other aspect of New Jersey’s public carry law.”
“Carrying a handgun without a permit is still illegal in this state, and all other requirements for obtaining a carry permit still apply,” he said.
Before the ruling was issued, Platkin told NorthJersey.com: “We have among the strongest gun laws in America, and we have one of the lowest rates of gun violence in America. Any decision that strikes down or significantly restricts our requirements [for a] concealed carry permit application is going to have a significant impact on public safety. There’s no question.”
The ruling comes at a particularly sensitive time. The nation is reeling from an explosion in gun violence over the last two years, as well as an endless series of mass shootings, including the recent massacre at a Texas elementary school that left 19 schoolchildren and two teachers dead.
Check back for more on this developing story.
Steve Janoski covers law enforcement for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news about those who safeguard your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.