The three-judge panel concluded with the following in relevant part: The recently amended version of N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3(c)(5) provides that no HPP or FPIC shall be issued “to any person where the issuance would not be in the interest of the public health, safety or welfare because the person is found to be lacking the essential character of temperament necessary to be entrusted with a firearm.” This is the “broadest” of the disqualifications for obtaining an HPP or FPIC. In re Carlstrom (2020). The provision “is ‘intended to relate to cases of individual unfitness, where, though not dealt with in the specific statutory enumerations, the issuance of the permit or identification card would nonetheless be contrary to the public interest.'” “The Legislature’s goal was to keep guns out of the hands of unfit persons, noncriminal as well as criminal,” id. at 94, 105. Accord In re Marvin (1969) (noting that New Jersey’s gun control law “seeks to prevent criminal and other unfit elements from acquiring lethal weapons while enabling the fit elements of society to obtain firearms with minimal burdens and inconveniences”).
The public health, safety or welfare exclusion has been applied to individuals shown to have disregarded the State’s gun laws. However, the statute does not require that the individual be shown to have used a weapon inappropriately. The statute has also been applied to individuals convicted of certain disorderly persons offenses, In re Sbitani (App. Div. 1987), individuals convicted of driving under the influence and refusing to submit to chemical tests, State v. Freysinger (App. Div. 1998); and individuals who had a documented or admitted history of domestic violence disputes, although no convictions for domestic violence. Thus, the public health, safety or welfare provision has largely been applied in conjunction with the specific disabilities identified under various subsections of N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3(c), but where the facts do not quite rise to the level of those disabling conditions.
We hold that expunged records may be considered when determining whether to grant or deny a HPP application and whether to revoke a FPIC.
Here, the Court makes it clear that the “public health, safety or welfare” provision is a “catch-all: for the State to rely on when the other criminal code provisions do not apply. Analogizing it to the doctrine of “fundamental fairness”, the “public health, safety or welfare” provision should rarely be a basis to deny a gun permit. Unfortunately for gun rights’ advocates, that has not been the case.