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Federal Court Rules that NJ is temporarily restrained from enforcing Gun Ban in “Sensitive Places”
By Alena Hyatt on February 21, 2023
Federal Court Rules that NJ is temporarily restrained from enforcing Gun Ban in “Sensitive Places”

In Siegel v. Platkin, [Docket No. 22-7464 (RMB/AMD)], decided on January 30, 2023, a New Jersey Federal Judge paused New Jersey’s ability to enforce its recently enacted legislation restricting firearms from certain locations such as recreational facilities, public parks and beaches, and casinos. Twenty-one days prior, in Koons v. Reynolds, [Docket No. 22-7464 (RMB/EAP)], the same judge ruled that the State was temporarily prohibited from enforcing its firearm ban in vehicles, bars, restaurants, entertainment facilities, libraries, museums, and private property (individual property owners can still ban firearms).

The new legislation, signed by Governor Murphy in December, was in response to N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass'n v. Bruen, a United States Supreme Court opinion which overturned a New York law that conditioned the issuance of a license to carry a handgun on an applicant’s showing of a “special need”. The Supreme Court based its decision on a revised standard, requiring the government to justify a law covered by the Second Amendment by demonstrating that the legislation is consistent with the Nation’s “historical tradition” of firearm regulation.

After Bruen, the New Jersey’s Legislature enacted the statute at issue to eliminate its “special need” equivalent, but added other requirements for applicants such as obtaining liability insurance, and prohibited firearms in designated locations called “sensitive places”.

Based on the potential risk for conflicting outcomes and to conserve judicial resources, Siegel v. Platkin and Koons v. Reynolds were consolidated on January 13, 2023. Although plaintiffs in Siegel sought to invalidate more provisions such as the requirement for insurance, both sets of plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the “sensitive places” ban. The plaintiffs simultaneously argued that prior to the new law, they were free to carry their firearms throughout the state except in schools, colleges, universities, state parks, casinos, and federal facilities. However, the new legislation effectively eliminated their right to carry a handgun in most places because it turned much of New Jersey into a “sensitive place.”

As to the merits of the Plaintiffs’ claims, Defendants, who include the New Jersey Attorney General and Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, argued that many of the provisions fell outside the scope of the Second Amendment; and even if they were covered by the text, they met the standard introduced by the Supreme Court in Bruen.

In Siegel, Defendants were successful in arguing that the Plaintiffs’ had no standing to proceed with their claims as to zoos and medical/treatment facilities, airports and movie sets, and fish and game regulations leaving the fate of those locations to be decided at another time.

As to public parks and beaches, recreational facilities, public libraries or museums, bars, restaurants, entertainment facilities, casinos, private property and vehicles, the Federal Court ruled that in each instance, the legislation fell within the purview of the Second Amendment and that the Government failed to provide relevant historical analogues to support the ban in each “sensitive place.” However, the Court temporarily protected playgrounds and youth sports events, finding that they fall within the sphere of schools, which are shielded under Bruen.

In Koons v. Reynolds, the Court noted that the challenged provisions require persons with valid “carry” permits in New Jersey to “navigate a ‘veritable minefield’” when determining where they can go with a legal firearm; and that the legislation was so sweepingly broad, it “effectively shuts off most public areas from carrying for self-defense.”

Local governments are cautioned to review their local ordinances regulating the use of firearms to ensure they are current given the amount of Second Amendment judicial activity over the last nine (9) months.

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