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Case Number: 1:22-CV-7464
Judge: Reneed Marie Bumb
Court: United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (Camden County)
Defendant's Attorney: Angela Cai, Deputy Solicitor General
Jean Reilly, Assistant Attorney General David Chen, Deputy Attorney General Amy Chung, Deputy Attorney General Viviana Hanley, Deputy Attorney General Chandini Jha, Deputy Attorney General Samuel Rubinstein, Deputy Attorney General Office of the New Jersey Attorney General On behalf of Defendants Platkin and Callahan
Leon J. Sokol Cullen and Dykman, LLP Edward J. Kologi Kologi Simitz, Counselors at Law On behalf of Intervenors-Defendants Scutari and Coughlin.
Description: Camden, New Jersey civil rights lawyers represented Plaintiffs who sued Defendants on a Second Amendment violation theory claiming that New Jersey's firearm laws are unconstitutional.
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” U.S. Const. amend. II. For more than 200 years after the Second Amendment's ratification, the meaning of these words went largely unaddressed by the Supreme Court of the United States. That all changed in 2008.
In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held the Second Amendment guarantees a private, individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. 554 U.S. 570, 592 (2008). At its core, the Heller Court found the Second Amendment guarantees “the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.” Id. at 635. Two years later, the Supreme Court found the Second Amendment's “right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty” and ruled the Amendment applies equally to the federal government and states. McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742, 778, 791 (2010).
This past summer, the Supreme Court in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass'n v. Bruen held the Second Amendment's right to keep and bear arms extends beyond the home and allows law-abiding citizens to carry firearms in public for self-defense. 597 U.S. ____, ____, 142 S.Ct. 2111, 2122 (2022). In doing so, the Bruen Court struck down as unconstitutional a law requiring law-abiding citizens to make a separate showing of need to carry a handgun in public. Id. at 2156. Bruen invalidated the law because “it prevent[ed] law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.” Id. Bruen also changed the landscape for Second Amendment challenges to firearm laws: “when the Second Amendment's plain text covers an individual's conduct,” the Constitution
presumptively protects that conduct and the government must then justify its firearm law by showing “the regulation is consistent with this Nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation.” Id. at 2126.
In Bruen's wake, New Jersey's Legislature sprang into action, amending the State's firearm laws in many ways. First, the Legislature dropped the State's firearm law requiring a person to show “justifiable need” to carry a handgun in public for self-defense-a requirement that Bruen explicitly struck down. Second, the Legislature created a list of 25 “sensitive places” where firearms are banned under threat of criminal prosecution. These places range from government-owned buildings, libraries, entertainment facilities, and restaurants that serve alcohol to all private property unless prior consent to carry is given. In enacting the sensitive places law, the Legislature purported to abide by Bruen by declaring the Nation's “history and tradition” supported banning firearms at these identified locations. 2022 N.J. Laws, ch. 131, § 1(g).
Plaintiffs-all law-abiding citizens who either had a permit to carry a handgun in public or could qualify for one-responded immediately to the new legislation and sought this Court's intervention to bar the State from enforcing it. In fact, before the new law, several Plaintiffs had lawfully and routinely carried their handguns in these now-designated “sensitive places.” In particular, one Plaintiff-a kidnaping victim-had met the high “justifiable need” requirement to conceal carry in public for his own safety. Now, Plaintiffs could not conceal carry as they had before. The new legislation, in their minds, was nothing more than a sovereign's knee-jerk reaction to a Supreme Court ruling the State abhorred.
They contended the Legislature's drastic measures went too far: that what the Supreme Court gave, the State took away. In other words, although an individual seeking to carry a handgun for self-defense is no longer required to show a “justifiable need,” the State's expansive list of “sensitive places” effectively prohibits the carrying of that handgun virtually everywhere in New Jersey. To these Plaintiffs, the Legislature's message was clear: leave your Second Amendment rights and guns at home.
Upon their initial applications, the Court agreed with Plaintiffs, temporarily enjoining certain provisions of the law, setting this matter down for a preliminary injunction hearing after the parties had engaged in discovery and a more complete record was developed. Remarkably, despite numerous opportunities afforded by this Court to hold evidentiary hearings involving the presentation of evidence, the State called no witnesses. And despite assurances by the State that it would present sufficient historical evidence as required by Bruen to support each aspect of the new legislation, the State failed to do so. Finally, even the social science studies, which the Legislature relied upon and the State adopted to support the new law (and to oppose preliminary injunctive relief here), are inapposite. At this preliminary injunction stage, the State has proceeded to justify the new legislation with “more of the same” that it had presented during the initial proceedings for temporary restraints. This has left the Court to do what the Legislature had said it had done, but clearly did not. The Court has conducted its own exhaustive research into this Nation's history and tradition of regulating firearms that Bruen mandates; its analysis follows. This has taken some time, and the State's effort to hurry this Court along is most unfortunate.
Moreover, instead of presenting the compelling historical evidence they promised, the State and the Legislature-Intervenors have spent their resources writing a narrative that says, absent the Court's indiscriminate approval of the new legislation, “[t]he risk of dangerous and often fatal situations looms large.” [State TRO Opp'n Br. at 36 (Docket No. 21).] It is rhetoric that is not productive, particularly for this Court's role here. This Court is painfully aware of the gun violence that has plagued our Nation. But what the State and the Legislature-Intervenors ignore, and what their empirical evidence fails to address, is that this legislation is aimed primarily-not at those who unlawfully possess firearms-but at law-abiding, responsible citizens who satisfy detailed background and training requirements and whom the State seeks to prevent from carrying a firearm in public for self-defense.
Our Founding Fathers were aware of the dangers such laws pose. In his Commonplace Book, Thomas Jefferson quoted from Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria's work, On Crime and Punishment, where Beccaria discussed the “False Ideas of Utility”:
Laws that prohibit the carrying of arms are laws of that nature. They disarm only those who are not inclined or determined to commit crimes . . . These laws worsen the plight of the assaulted, but improve those of the assailants. They do not lessen homicides, but increase them, because the confidence of carrying out an assault against the disarmed is greater than against the armed. These laws are not preventive ones, but born out of the fear of crime.
Those words rang true then. They ring true today. Clearly, the State disagrees with Bruen, but it cannot disobey the Supreme Court by declaring most of New Jersey off limits for law-abiding citizens who have the constitutional right to armed self-defense.
That said, this Court finds that most of the new legislation's firearm permitting requirements are consistent with the Second Amendment. This Nation has historically disarmed dangerous individuals or those who could endanger the public's safety if allowed to have a firearm. The new legislation adheres to that historical tradition because it aims to keep firearms out of the hands of New Jerseyans who could threaten the public's safety.
Thus, for the reasons set forth below and after having conducted a thorough review of the complex issues presented by this new legislation, this Court grants, in part, and denies, in part, Plaintiffs' motions for a preliminary injunction.
* * *
See: Outcome: In conclusion, the Second Amendment's “right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not a ‘second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.'” Bruen, 142 S.Ct. at 2156 (quoting McDonald, 561 U.S. at 780). That does not mean, however, that the right is “unlimited.” Heller, 554 U.S. at 626. The Constitution leaves the States “some measures” to combat handgun violence. Id. at 636. But what the Second Amendment prohibits the States from doing, and what the State of New Jersey has done here with much of Chapter 131, is to “prevent law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.” Bruen, 142 S.Ct. at 2156. That is plainly unconstitutional.
Bruen required the State to bring its firearm laws in compliance with the Second Amendment. Chapter 131 was the State's response, but it went too far, becoming the kind of law that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson would have warned against since it “disarm[s] only those who are not inclined or determined to commit crimes [and] worsen[s] the plight of the assaulted, but improve[s] those of the assailants.”
That said, this Court finds that most of Chapter 131's firearm permitting requirements are consistent with the Second Amendment. This Nation has historically disarmed dangerous individuals or individuals who could endanger the public with a firearm. With some exceptions, Chapter 131's firearm permitting scheme generally adheres to that historical tradition and aims to keep firearms out of the hands of those who could harm the public.
Accordingly, this Court grants, in part, and denies, in part, Plaintiffs' motions for a preliminary injunction. Because Plaintiffs are claiming a deprivation of their fundamental right to keep and bear arms, this Court waives Rule 65's bond requirement. See, e.g., Complete Angler, LLC v. City of Clearwater, 607 F.Supp.2d 1326, 1335 (M.D. Fla. 2009) (“Waiving the bond requirement is particularly appropriate where a plaintiff alleges the infringement of a fundamental constitutional right.”); see also Renna, 2023 WL 2846937, at *15 (waiving bond requirement in Second Amendment challenge to state gun law).
An accompanying Order shall issue that embodies the Court's various rulings.
Koons v. Platkin (D. N.J. 2023)