Christie Takes Action That Could Make It Easier To Legally Carry A Handgun In N.J.

TRENTON -- Gov. Chris Christie on Monday announced the adoption of a revised regulation that could increase the odds that local law enforcement will approve residents' applications for permission to carry a handgun.

Democratic lawmakers are vowing to fight it in court.

The governor's new regulations will allow a chief of police or the State Police superintendent to consider evidence of "serious threats" that are not directed specifically at an individual, but establish "more than mere generalized fears or concerns" when considering a gun permit application.

While this doesn't change the process for applying for a gun carry permit, it does loosen the criteria under which permit applications may be considered by local law enforcement.

These new changes, which come after a 60 day public comment period that ended last May, also clarify that a permit to carry a handgun may be issued based on a special danger to the applicant's life that cannot be avoided by other "reasonable" means.

For more than 45 years, New Jersey has had some of the toughest handgun carry permit regulations in the nation.

In 1971, the state Supreme Court found that gun carry permits may be issued only to those "who can establish an urgent necessity for carrying guns for self-protection" such as those "whose life is in real danger, as evidenced by serious threats or earlier attacks."

In 1990, the state Supreme Court clarified that that burden of "urgent necessity" included "specific threats or previous attacks demonstrating a special danger to the applicant's life that cannot be avoided by other means."

As a result, almost no one outside of retired law enforcement and those employed as armored car guards have been allowed to carry firearms legally.

The newly revised regulations add "serious threats" to circumstances that
could demonstrate that "special danger" to the applicant's life. That, at least in theory, it should expand the number of people who would qualify for a gun carry permit.

Scott Bach, the executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, praised the measure as an "incremental but significant move in the right direction" for gun rights.

"The government has absolved itself of any legal duty to protect individual citizens, and says it is responsible only to protect the public as a whole," said Bach.

"In an emergency, you're on your own. And the same government that says you are shouldn't also be tying your hands behind your back and telling you you can't protect yourself."

Christie first undertook the revisions in April 2016. They will remain valid through May 12, 2022, barring any legal challenges, which even gun rights activists said they expected.

"We applaud Gov. Christie's attempt to loosen New Jersey's draconian and antiquated gun laws," wrote Alexander Roubian, the president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, in an email to NJ Advance Media on Monday. "But we expect the extremists in the Legislature to block any attempts."

On Monday evening, state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) questioned whether the new regulations were legally binding, and promised to fight them.

"Houston, we have a problem," said Weinberg. "We will not allow the Christie administration to dictate changes to our laws. The Legislature found the regulations to be inconsistent with legislative intent, and voted to block them from taking effect. They cannot ignore that action."

The Legislate passed a concurrent resolution (SCR-117) on December 19, 2016 barring the governor's new gun permit regulations from taking effect.

On Monday, Weinberg called the new regulations an attempt to "vastly loosen" New Jersey's gun laws and promised a legal fight.

"The court has spoken on the Legislature's authority when it comes to exercising this process, which is outlined in the Constitution, and I am confident we are on firm legal footing," she said. "I can assure you that whatever legal options we have, we will take." 

Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) agreed.

"They're overreaching," said Greenwald. "He cannot do this on his own."

Greenwald promised "significant push-back" adding: "We're in Trenton next week and we will meet on it quickly."

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