In the aftermath of the ugly, and fatal, racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August at the “Unite the Right” rally, Georgetown Law School’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection launched a research project on state laws that could be invoked to avoid similar conflicts. In its just-released “Prohibiting Private Armies at Public Rallies: A Catalog of Relevant State Constitutional and Statutory Provisions,” the Institute provides the results of a 50-state study.
The entry for New Jersey contains only two references: Article I, Section 15 (military subordinate to civil power) and N.J.S.A. 2C:39-14 (outlaws teaching or demonstrating weapons use for illegal purposes, as well as assembling with one or more persons to train weapons use for illegal purposes).
The possibility of a Charlottesville-type event in New Jersey may seem remote because our state has some of the most stringent (and in our opinion, wise) laws on obtaining carry permits. So the very fact of handgun-toting groups assembling and marching in New Jersey, for whatever reason, is already illegal.
To get a carry permit, a private citizen must go to the local police chief or to a Superior Court judge and “specify in detail the urgent necessity for self-protection, as evidenced by specific threats or previous attacks that demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life that cannot be avoided by means other than by issuance of a permit to carry a handgun.” N.J.A.C. 13:54-2.4(d)(1). This has been upheld against a Second Amendment challenge.
Twenty-eight states prohibit groups from parading in public with firearms. Illinois outlaws “any body of men or women … to associate themselves together as a military company or organization.”
We call on the Legislature to evaluate the efficacy of these provisions, and their constitutionality, to prevent the kinds of violence that we saw in Charlottesville, and to consider new statutory measures to avoid such events in our state.