New Jersey’s acting Attorney General, Matthew J. Platkin, issued a directive “clarifying requirements for carrying firearms in public” a day after the historic ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Bruen on June 23. That ruling struck down as unconstitutional the handgun permitting regime in neighboring New York State, which, like New Jersey’s, is based on a “may issue” approach. The Court held that “New York’s proper-cause requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment in that it prevents law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.”
In New Jersey, the chief police officer or the Superintendent of the State Police has discretion in determining whether or not to issue a concealed weapons permit. State law requires an applicant to establish a special, individualized threat to life through a “written certification of justifiable need to carry a handgun, which shall be under oath and, in the case of a private citizen, shall specify in detail the urgent necessity for self-protection, as evidenced by specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life that cannot be avoided by means other than by issuance of a permit…” The details of these specific threats or previous attacks must, where possible, be corroborated by the applicant “by reference to reports of the incidents to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”
Even after an applicant has been approved by the applicable law enforcement agency, state law requires that the application also be approved by the superior court. The court “shall issue the permit to the applicant if, but only if, it is satisfied that the applicant” is a person of good character, meets the objective requirements, and that he or she “has a justifiable need to carry a handgun.”
Although the Supreme Court’s decision did not specifically invalidate New Jersey’s handgun carry permit law, the Court noted in Bruen that New Jersey is only one of six remaining jurisdictions using analogues to New York State’s unconstitutional “proper cause” standard, making it almost certainly unconstitutional as well. The NRA and Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs filed a lawsuit challenging New Jersey’s justifiable need requirement in 2020.
Acting AG Platkin’s directive, Attorney General Directive No. 2022-07, effective immediately, requires “all law enforcement and prosecuting agencies operating under the authority of the laws of the State of New Jersey to implement and comply with the directives,” which in this case eliminates the requirement that an applicant submit a written certification of justifiable need to carry a handgun. “The decision in N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Bruen, No. 20-843, prevents us from continuing to require a demonstration of justifiable need in order to carry a firearm, but it does not prevent us from enforcing the other requirements in our law.”
New Jersey statute law remains to be adjusted to reflect this change. However, this is a positive development, as some public officials in the remaining “may issue” jurisdictions had reacted to the Bruen decision with indications that they would nonetheless implement new restrictions on permits, as in the case of New York City’s mayor who reportedly stated he will use “every legal resource available” to “undo and mitigate” the effect of the Supreme Court decision.
Accordingly, your NRA will continue to monitor developments following this critically important court decision.