The state of New Jersey is recognized by gun control organizations as having some of the most stringent gun laws in the nation. Governor Murphy, a vocal anti-gun leader, has signed a number of new gun laws into effect in his time in office. But the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Bruen has turned the tables on the state’s decades-long effort to restrict civilian concealed carry.
In short, resulting from its detailed constitutional and historical analysis, the Bruen decision declared that subjective and limited “may issue” concealed carry laws were unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The court stated that, with exception for certain “sensitive places” and within the purview of historical traditions, a state could not prevent a lawful person from carrying a handgun. Concealed carry permits, which were nearly impossible to get before Bruen, would become more accessible in New Jersey.
Much like in New York State, the Democratic leadership in the New Jersey State Legislature has drafted legislation to work around this new reality. Legislation was passed to widely define “sensitive places” where firearms could not be carried and to prohibit carrying on private property unless expressly permitted. The bill also provides for new fees, training requirements and insurance mandates in order for a person to carry a handgun.
Normally, the NJ State PBA does not engage on gun control legislation. But the initial version of the bill would have decimated the existing rights of retired law enforcement officers to continue to carry. Therefore, it became imperative that we engage on the issue before retired officers found their longheld rights eliminated. As a result, the State PBA was the only police union to testify against the bill until amendments could be developed to protect retired officers.
But since this is New Jersey and complex policy debates are easily, and sometimes intentionally, misinterpreted, there is some confusion over the State PBA’s support of the big-picture issues in the bill. It has been incorrectly reported that the NJ State PBA president supported the bill. The State PBA testified and lobbied intensely for amendments to, at a minimum, maintain the status quo for retired officers. And we remain concerned with a number of provisions in the bill.
President Pat Colligan’s statement on the final version of the bill was an expression of support for the amendments covering retired officers, not for the bill in its totality. Neither President Colligan nor I attended the final hearing when the amendments were adopted, but someone dropped in a slip denoting “support” for the bill. It did not come from us, and it overstates President Colligan’s position greatly. We are currently investigating who filled out the slip of support and signed Pat’s name.
One can ask, and rightfully so, how can a group support amendments but not the entirety of the legislation being amended? For one, anyone who listened to our multiple appearances of testimony opposing the bill would know we expressed overarching concern from the start, in addition to speaking about our specific concerns. After very vocal opposition to specific language, it is not uncommon to express support for changes that address that opposition. But that basically moves the needle to an overall neutral position, not overall support.
There is no doubt this bill will be challenged as unconstitutional the second the governor signs it. Like New York State’s similar bill on the subject, it is likely large parts of it will be declared unconstitutional very quickly.
But the NJ State PBA could not risk the elimination of decades of rights for retired officers while we wait for the bill to get sorted out in the courts. Getting these amendments done was not meant to be disrespectful to the Second Amendment rights of civilians. But the PBA’s priority is to protect its members’ rights first and foremost.