Unlawful Possession of a Handgun and Justifiable Need (Part 1)

by | Oct 13, 2023 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On August 10, 2023, a three-judge appellate panel decided the Middlesex County case of State v. Daandre Wade. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:58-4 concerned whether the indictment for unlawful gun possession should be dismissed in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding that requiring a “justifiable need” to carry a handgun was unconstitutional.

Presiding Judge Robert Gilson wrote for the panel in relevant part: In 2019, when defendants were charged, New Jersey’s gun-permit statutes were not dependent on the justifiable need provision set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:58-4(c) (2018). The rest of that provision, as well as N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3 (2016), described other criteria that were independent from, and served purposes separate from, the justifiable need requirement. For example, in 2019, someone seeking a permit to carry a handgun had to demonstrate that he or she was mentally and physically capable of handling a handgun and was not a potential danger to the public. See N.J.S.A. 2C:58-4(c) (2018); N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3(c) (2016). An applicant also had to demonstrate that he or she had completed a training course in the safe handling and use of handguns. N.J.A.C. 13:54-2.4(b) and (c). Consequently, the Legislature designed the gun-permit statutes to address several safety concerns. Accordingly, we construe the gun-permit statutes as they existed in 2019 not to have been dependent on the justifiable need provision.

Indeed, the Legislature made that statutory construction clear when, six months after Bruen was issued, it amended various gun-permit statutes, including N.J.S.A. 2C:58-4. The Legislature deleted the justifiable need provision but left in and revised various other criteria for obtaining a permit to carry a gun in New Jersey. In those amendments, the Legislature also revised New Jersey’s gun-permitting scheme to become a shall-issue regime. In that regard, N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3(c), now states that a person “shall not be denied a permit to purchase a handgun or a firearms purchaser identification card, unless” that person has certain disqualifying criteria.

A counter-point for the defense is that it is a much less serious offense to not abide by the training course and related requirements than it is to unlawfully possess a gun. The latter are mostly fourth-degree violations as opposed to the second-degree violations  at issue which carry mandatory prison sentences with parole ineligibility. Most fourth-degree convictions result in probation with no jail time.