The New Jersey Supreme Court held that the amnesty law did not afford defendants blanket immunity for the entire amnesty period. Reading the law in that way would lead to absurd results that the Legislature did not intend. Instead, the law created a period of no more than six months during which people could dispose of weapons they illegally possessed without being prosecuted. The provision affords a defense to those who attempted to comply with its terms. As with other affirmative defenses, a defendant must raise the defense at trial or it is waived.
The Legislature knows how to grant unconditional immunity and has done so in various ways on other occasions. Here, instead, the Legislature stated that defendants “may retain possession” of a handgun “for a period of not more than 180 days,” during which time they must transfer or surrender the firearm. That is not a declaration of blanket immunity.
To the extent one might think the text of the amnesty provision offers immunity for six months, such a reading of the law would lead to absurd results that are at odds with the overall legislative scheme. If courts interpret the amnesty provision as defendant suggests, the statute would have effectively suspended gun-possession laws for nearly six months and allowed weapons on the street for that entire time. There is no way that legislators who are always seeking to appear “tough on crime”, especially gun crimes, would ever propose, let alone approve such a law.
Extrinsic sources offer further insight into the Legislature’s intent. On the same day the amnesty provision was enacted, the Governor also signed nine related laws. The package of laws “both strengthened New Jersey’s already tough gun laws and upgraded penalties for those who commit gun crimes and violate gun trafficking laws.” Press Release, Office of the Governor, Governor Chris Christie Builds on Comprehensive Plan to Address Gun Violence, Takes Action on Gun Legislation (Aug. 8, 2013). Those bills all went into effect within two months and one day of their signing; none were delayed by six months.