U.S. Supreme Court takes aim at N.J. law limiting ammunition capacity

by Dana DiFilippo, New Jersey Monitor

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday booted a case challenging New Jersey’s ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines back to a lower court for review in light of its decision last week declaring a constitutional right to carry handguns in public.

The move, coming on the heels of the Legislature approving a package of bills supporters say will help decrease gun violence, led the cheers from gun rights advocates. The Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, which represents more than a million gun owners in New Jersey, had challenged the state’s ban on firearm magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

Besides that 2018 case, the Supreme Court also ordered lower courts to reconsider a similar ban in California and a Maryland ban on assault-style rifles.

Gun rights advocates predict the remanded cases signal all sorts of gun restrictions nationwide could be undone after the court last week centered the Second Amendment in its ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. In that decision, the court’s conservative majority decreed that citizens don’t have to prove a need to take their guns outside their homes or businesses because the Second Amendment gives them the right to do so.

New Jersey had a similar “justifiable need” requirement that state officials said they’ll no longer enforce in light of the Bruen ruling.

“Bruen was tectonic,” said Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs. “Every law is not going to be vulnerable under this, but many will. And it hopefully will force lawmakers to be more responsible and more focused in the laws that they pass.”

Bach said his association is scrutinizing other New Jersey gun regulations they can target to overturn now that Bruen has strengthened the Second Amendment and opened the door to such challenges.

He also expects challenges will be made to gun control legislation New Jersey lawmakers passed just this week, as well as other bills not as far along in the political pipeline.

“The governor was desperate to move this bill package because he knew a sea change was coming and wanted to have his fist-shaking moment and declare falsely that he’s done something,” Bach said. “It’s stubborn and infantile. If you really want to do something about violent gun crime or mental health issues and firearms, you should do something on those issues, not target law-abiding citizens and then declare you’ve done something.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Phil Murphy didn’t respond to a request for comment. Murphy signed the ban on large-capacity magazines in June 2018, six months after he became governor, as part of a package of gun bills he said would make New Jersey “a leader in the fight for common-sense gun safety.”

Evan Nappen is an Eatontown-based attorney who specializes in gun rights and hosts a podcast called “Gun Lawyer.”

“The Bruen case is the most significant event for the right to keep and bear arms since 1791, when the Second Amendment was enacted, and that’s not an exaggeration,” Nappen said.

Since Bruen, Nappen said he’s “the busiest I’ve ever been in my entire 35-year career.” He plans to use Bruen to challenge his clients’ firearms charges in court and has been swamped by gun owners seeking information on concealed carry permits.

New Jersey’s concealed carry law was so stringent that Nappen estimates less than 600 civilians — out of over a million gun owners statewide — now have such permits.

Last week, New Jersey State Police Commissioner Col. Pat Callahan said he expects more than 200,000 gun owners statewide will apply for concealed carry permits now that they no longer have to show justifiable need.

Nappen and Bach think that’s a gross underestimate. They expect most gun owners will apply for them — and that will create a new problem for courts already struggling to overcome pandemic-related backlogs compounded by a severe shortage of judges.

By law, concealed carry permits have to be approved by a judge. Every county has a single judge tasked with reviewing gun permits, Bach said.

“Tell me how the judicial system is going to handle 200,000 gun permits on top of everything else they have to do,” Nappen said. “If we go with the state police numbers, that’s 10,000 applications on average per county. But if a million people apply for permits, that’s 50,000 per county.”

Bach said his association is reaching out to the Judiciary to ask that more judges be permitted to approve such permits.

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