Unlawful Possession of a Handgun and Justifiable Need (Part 2)

by | Oct 15, 2023 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Appellate Division concluded with the following in relevant part: Moreover, following Bruen, we upheld the constitutionality of the “public health, safety or welfare,” requirement for the issuance of a firearms purchaser identification card or handgun purchase permit set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3(c)(5). In re M.U.’s Application for a Handgun Purchase Permit (App. Div. 2023). Accordingly, we have already held that, consistent with Heller and Bruen, New Jersey can continue to regulate who can purchase and carry a handgun in public so long as those regulations are consistent with the text of the Second Amendment and our Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. In M.U., we construed the 2022 amendments to the gun-permit statutes to be prospective, and not to apply retroactively. Nevertheless, those amendments demonstrate that the Legislature intended to enforce the valid provisions of the statutes regulating guns if any provision was found to be unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on the Second Amendment makes clear that carrying guns in public can still be regulated and subject to a permit requirement. Consequently, at a minimum, New Jersey’s gun-permit statutes were and continue to be constitutional in requiring background checks to confirm that the applicant is not a convicted felon or does not have a mental disability and to ensure that the applicant has reasonable training in the safe handling of guns. See Bruen, 142 S. Ct. at 2138 n.9; id. at 2161-62 (Kavanaugh, J., concurring); Heller, 554 U.S. at 626-27. In short, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b)(1) was constitutional and enforceable at the time of defendants’ arrest.

In summary, we hold that defendants did not have standing to challenge the gun permit statutes because neither defendant had applied for a handgun-carry permit. In addition, having considered the merits of defendants’ constitutional challenge, we hold that the justifiable need requirement in N.J.S.A. 2C:58-4(c) (2018) was severable and the remaining provisions of N.J.S.A. 2C:58-4 (2018), as well as N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b)(1), were constitutional and enforceable.

The trial court’s decision is reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction.

Koons is the seminal case regarding New Jersey’s permit-to-carry restrictions in the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s Bruen decision. Koons is in the early stages of litigation. However, it already has a complicated procedural history that has left legal scholars and law enforcement with a lack of clear guidance regarding permit-to-carry restrictions and requirements.