New Jersey Democrats say they are going to take a shot at passing new gun legislation similar to New York’s even thought that state’s law is facing a court challenge.
Assembly Speaker Craig J. Coughlin and Senate President Nick Scutari, both Democrats, have unveiled legislation that they contend would establish New Jersey as the “toughest in the nation” when it comes to concealed-carry laws.
New Jersey legislative leaders said they expect there will be legal challenges if New Jersey enacts a new gun-carry law. A June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated certain restrictions on state gun-carry laws like those New Jersey has had including requiring citizens to show a justifiable need for carrying a gun in public. New York revised its similar law following that high court ruling and now that revised law is under review by courts.
The New Jersey Democrats’ latest proposal seeks to require more comprehensive background checks before a permit is issued; prohibit permit holders from carrying handguns in certain public areas; and impose a new insurance requirement, among other measures.
The New Jersey proposal would prohibit permit holders from carrying handguns in schools, government buildings, polling places, bars and restaurants, theaters, sporting arenas, parks, airports, casinos and childcare facilities.
“Previously, application of the justifiable need standard minimized the serious dangers of misuse and accidental use inherent in the carrying of handguns in a public place. Given the likelihood that a much greater number of individuals will now qualify to carry handguns in public, it is now both necessary and appropriate to clearly identify in the law those sensitive places where, due to heightened public safety concerns, carrying a weapon of any kind, including a handgun, is not permissible. These prohibitions are based on common sense principles and historical analogues,” the bill says in its introduction acknowledging the changed gun control landscape following the Supreme Court ruling.
Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, an author of the proposed legislation, believes the new measure strikes a balance between public safety and protecting constitutional rights. He said the state should be able to promote “responsible gun ownership, gun safety, gun education, and gun training while upholding the Second Amendment.”
Proposed Insurance Requirement
Every private citizen who carries a handgun in public in this State shall maintain liability insurance coverage, under provisions approved by the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance, insuring against loss resulting from liability imposed by law for bodily injury, death, and property damage sustained by any person arising out of the ownership, maintenance, operation or use of a firearm carried in public wherein such coverage shall be at least in:
(1) an amount or limit of $100,000, exclusive of interest and costs, on account of injury to, or death of, one person, in any one incident;
(2) an amount or limit, subject to such limit for any one person so injured or killed, of $300,000, exclusive of interest and costs, on account of injury to or death of, more than one person, in any one incident; and
(3) an amount or limit of $25,000, exclusive of interest and costs, for damage to property in any one incident.
The bill would also increase the number of non-family references who must vouch for applicants for concealed carry permits, as well as allow disqualification of candidates for reasons of “character of temperament” and past violations of restraining orders and convictions.
The Democrats’ legislation would further require handgun owners to have liability insurance to compensate victims of an accidental discharge. Failure to carry insurance would be grounds for revocation of a permit to carry a handgun. (See sidebar for legislative language on insurance.)
Also, property owners would have to opt into allowing people to carry on their premises and concealed-carry permittees would have to undergo safety training, including a gun range qualification.
Republican Senator Ed Durr criticized the latest Democratic proposal.
“Protecting public safety also includes protecting the individual right to self-defense, yet Democrats take every opportunity to prevent people from protecting themselves,” Durr stated.
“Let’s be real. Criminals are the problem, not law-abiding citizens who have rights. The bad guys won’t go out and buy gun insurance before they carjack a family or shoot up a neighborhood.”
Democrats see their approach as enhancing public safety. They argue that expanding handgun carrying creates safety risks, citing a study by Johns Hopkins that the estimated average rate of officer-involved shootings increased by 12.9 percent in 10 states that relaxed restrictions between 2014 and 2020 on civilians carrying concealed firearms in public.
“This legislation is designed to make New Jersey safer in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen ruling that, left unaddressed, would undoubtedly hinder public safety for the more than nine million residents of our state,” said Speaker Coughlin.
The legislation also says the Supreme Court decision recognizes that the carrying of firearms in sensitive places can “be prohibited consistent with the Second Amendment.”
In a 6-3 ruling in June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York law that required citizens to show they had a special need to carry a handgun in public. It was the first ruling to hold that the Second Amendment protects gun rights outside the home.
New York and New Jersey were among a handful of states, along with California, Massachusetts, Maryland and Hawaii, with laws that tightly regulated who could carry guns and where and that gave local officials broad discretion to deny licenses to carry a handgun in public. Several states have rewritten their laws but those are now the targets of court challenges from gun rights advocates.
Last week a federal district judge in Syracuse declared various provisions of New York’s revised gun law unconstitutional and placed a temporary hold on their enforcement. This week, a federal appeals court allowed New York to continue enforcing the new gun law as it considers the lower court ruling and its objections to multiple sections.
New York’s new law requires applicants for a concealed carry permit to complete classroom and live-fire training. It also prohibits most people from bringing guns to schools, churches, subways, theaters and amusement parks —among other places deemed “sensitive” by authorities.
Republicans in New Jersey have introduced several gun bills of their own. Durr introduced five gun rights bills in May before the Supreme Court ruling, as part of what he said would be 15-bill package to “advance safe, responsible firearm ownership for law abiding citizens.”
Durr. who has said he decided to enter politics after being denied a concealed carry permit despite having a clean record, has sponsored legislation to allow certain persons to carry a handgun on private property unless expressly prohibited by the property owner. His measure would also remove the statutory justifiable need requirement, which was effectively invalidated by the Supreme Court ruling.
Other gun bills filed by Durr in May would allow members of the military to carry a firearm at all times; repeal the “Extreme Risk Protective Order Act of 2018,” which allows legally owned guns to be seized by the courts; remove capacity limits for ammunition magazines; and eliminate the 30-day waiting period between handgun purchases.
“These measures, and the 10 more I will be introducing, benefit residents who do not defy the laws of the state,” Durr said at the time. “I’m standing up for the right of self-protection. It is time for Trenton to stop penalizing upstanding citizens for the irresponsible, life-threatening actions of criminals.
Democrats have also advanced other gun legislation. In July, Gov. Phil Murphy signed laws requiring training for those seeking firearms purchaser identification cards and permits; requiring firearm retailers to sell microstamping-enabled firearms when they become available; and upgrading certain crimes related to manufacturing firearms from third degree to second degree.