New Jersey Gun-Carrying Limits Upheld by Appeals Court

New Jersey’s law requiring residents show a “justifiable need” to get a permit to carry a handgun in public was upheld by a federal appeals court.

A mandate that residents demonstrate an “urgent necessity for self-protection” to get authorization to publicly carry a handgun doesn’t run afoul of U.S. constitutional protections of the right to bear firearms, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled yesterday.

“The justifiable need standard is a longstanding regulation that enjoys presumptive constitutionality,” the panel wrote.

The ruling comes more than four months after the U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed a similar Second Amendment challenge to New York state’s requirement that people wishing to carry a handgun in public show a special need for protection.

Alan Gura, an Alexandria, Virginia, attorney who represented New Jersey residents challenging the state’s gun-permit law, said his clients will appeal the panel’s ruling.

“We’ll ask the full court to review the decision and then potentially the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said in an interview.

In the 2010 lawsuit in federal court in New Jersey, four state residents, along with the Second Amendment Foundation Inc. and the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs Inc., argued the justifiable-need standard violated their constitutional rights.

‘Presumptively Lawful’

The four residents had been denied a permit because they couldn’t show they met the standard for carrying a gun in public. A lower-court judge threw out the suit.

The appellate judges upheld that ruling, finding the New Jersey permit law was a “presumptively lawful, longstanding regulation and therefore does not burden conduct within the scope of the Second Amendment’s guarantee.”

The New Jersey case is part of a gun-policy debate raging in Washington and statehouses across the country in the wake of the Dec. 14 school school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The deaths of 20 first graders and six educators unleashed a flurry of legislative activity around the country, often dividing lawmakers along partisan lines.

New restrictions on guns have passed in Connecticut, New York, Colorado and Maryland, all of which are led by Democrats. More states have moved in the opposite direction: Six states relaxed restrictions, including those on carrying guns into churches, schools or workplace parking lots.

In 1981, just three states -- Maine, Washington and Vermont -- let residents carry weapons in public without giving a reason. Today, about 40 states do.

The New Jersey case is Drake v. Filko, 12-1150, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Philadelphia). The lower-court case is Muller v. Maenza, 2:10-cv-06110, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

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