A gun-rights advocacy group is launching a new attempt to overturn the New Jersey law imposing limits on who may carry firearms in public, three years after a previous challenge ran aground.
A lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, seeks to overturn the state law requiring anyone who seeks to carry a gun in public to demonstrate a “justifiable need.” The complaint, captioned Rogers v. Grewal, includes the claim that the law’s requirement for case-by-case decision-making about who may carry a gun in public violates the Second Amendment.
The latest suit was filed by Thomas Rogers, a Wall Township, New Jersey, resident whose application to carry a gun in public was denied, and the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs. That same group was also a plaintiff in a 2010 suit aimed at overturning state law on carrying guns in public. That suit, Muller v. Maenza, was dismissed in U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear that case in May 2014.
But the ANJR&PC says on its website that chances of overturning the New Jersey law might be better this time around because of a recent ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Wrenn v. District of Columbia, which it said struck down a similar law in Washington as unconstitutional.
In the latest New Jersey suit, the plaintiffs admit that they are seeking a result contrary to Drake v. Filko, the 2014 ruling from the Third Circuit that upheld New Jersey’s requirement for a showing of justifiable need.
“[B]ut for the reasons explained in Wrenn v. District of Columbia, that case was wrongly decided. [Plaintiffs] therefore institute this litigation to vindicate their Second Amendment rights and to seek to have Drake overruled, in which the Third Circuit upheld New Jersey’s law requiring a showing of a ‘justifiable need’ for those seeking to carry handguns in public,” the suit said.
Rogers, the individual plaintiff in the latest case, has an automatic teller machine business, which requires him to travel to various locations carrying large amounts of cash. His application to carry a weapon was denied by his town’s police chief, who concluded that he failed to establish specific threats that put him in special and unavoidable danger. Superior Court Judge Joseph Oxley affirmed that ruling on Jan. 2.
The suit said New Jersey’s courts have interpreted the justifiable-need requirement to determine that generalized fears for personal safety are inadequate, and a need to protect property alone does not suffice to establish a justifiable need. As a result, typical New Jersey residents who cannot demonstrate their life is in danger, as evidenced by serious threats or previous attacks, are effectively subject to a ban on carrying guns outside the home.
The suit seeks to strike down the “justifiable need” requirement and bar state and local officials from enforcing it.
Daniel Schmutter of Hartman & Winnicki in Ridgewood, New Jersey, represents the plaintiffs along with lawyers from Washington, D.C.’s Cooper & Kirk.
Schmutter said in light of the conflict between the D.C. Circuit ruling in Wrenn, and the Third Circuit ruling in Drake, the Rogers case stands a better chance of reaching the Supreme Court. He said that courts in New Jersey and other states have interpreted the “justifiable need” standard vary narrowly, and permits are granted very rarely under that standard.
“Whether or not that was the intention of the Legislature at the time the law was enacted, it prevents nearly everybody from exercising their right,” Schmutter said.
A spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the suit.