Victory: New Jersey Supreme Court overturns restrictions denying handgun permits

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NEW JERSEY- In a victory for gun owners in normally blue New Jersey, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned both a County Superior Court and Appellate Division decision and mandated that people must be provided hearings whenever a court contemplates denying a handgun carry permit.

It further ordered that said hearings must be held within 30 days.

The decision said:

If a court has any questions regarding the applicant or his or her permit to carry application, it must hold a hearing to address those questions. The court should not simply deny the application.” “[A] hearing must be held whenever the court contemplates denying a handgun carry-permit[.]

NOTE: The above bold text for emphasis appears in the Supreme Court Opinion In Re Application for Permit to Carry a Handgun of Calvin Carlstrom and Syllabus.

This is believed to be the first pro-gun rights decision ever issued unanimously by the New Jersey Supreme Court. One would think this would bode positively for patriots in both Virginia and Colorado, where although they’ve gone blue in the last couple of years, the courts in those states may very well lean red. If it can happen in a true blue state like New Jersey, who knows?

Calvin Carlstrom was hired by a security company as an armed guard protecting movie theaters. In 2016, he applied for a New Jersey permit to carry a handgun, which was approved by the Roselle Park Police Chief after a standard investigation.

The problem was, in New Jersey, county judges actually issue these permits. Carlstrom’s application and supporting documents were forwarded to the Union County Superior Court.

On February 2, 2017, Carlstrom’s application was denied by Judge William a Daniel without Carlstrom ever receiving a hearing on the merits of his application. In other words, he had no due process.

Under New Jersey statute, carry permit applicants are specifically afforded a hearing if a police chief denies an application. The issue was, the statute was silent on whether a judge must provide a hearing if the court intends to deny an application that has already been approved by the chief of police.

Carlstrom hired the law firm of Evan F. Nappen to appeal the decision of the trial court. On Dec. 21, 2018, Appellate Division Judges Michael J. Haas and Stephanie Ann Mitterhoff affirmed Judge Daniel’s opinion in the matter.

They ruled that Carlstrom had “no authority to support his argument that a hearing is required in matters involving perfunctory licensing applications or that the court must hear testimony from the chief of police who reviewed the application.”

The ruling was appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, Petitioning for Certification to that body on behalf of Carlstrom.

Subsequently on May 20, 2019, the Administrative Officer of the Courts (AOC) circulated Administrative Directive #06-19: Criminal—Procedures for Processing Gun Permits, which said that trial courts must hold a hearing if it has any questions regarding the applicant or his or her permit to carry application. Today’s NJSC Opinion affirmatively incorporates the AOC Directive into precedential case law that county judges must now follow.

The NJSC Opinion also mandated that carry permit hearings:

“…must be held no later than 30 days after receipt of the permit to carry application and the court shall make a determination within 14 days thereafter, absent extraordinary circumstances.”

In response to the NJSC Opinion, Louis Nappen, who argued the case before the court said:

“This is an outstanding Due Process victory for gun owners. This will be particularly important when the United States Supreme Court—we anticipate—provides a heightened scrutiny level to the right to carry and scraps New Jersey’s “justifiable need” requirement for the issuance of carry permits. People will now be assured their days in court if a judge intends to deny this Constitutional right.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court remanded the matter back to the Law Division to conduct a hearing on Carlstrom’s application with guidance as to the scope of that hearing. The NJSC also said that at that hearing, at the judge’s discretion, amendments to the application as well as other evidence not included in the application may be admitted.

The court also said that evidence regarding discussions with the chief of police and any written conclusions by the chief and testimony from the applicant or his employer may also be considered.

Do not underestimate the significance of this ruling.

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Back in December, the United States Supreme Court heard a challenge to a New York City rule that set extremely rigid restrictions on transporting legally owned guns. It was so rigid and archaic that it was actually repealed.

The case still went to the SCOTUS, backed by the National Rifle Association, as well as the Trump administration. Challengers to the restrictions that were since vacated are hoping the court refuses to consider the case moot, and rather hopes the court affirms that the Second Amendment extends beyond the home.

They were hopeful that the court would mandate lower courts to view state and local limits on carrying guns in public with skepticism.

There is some risk involved. Since the Sandy Hook shooting in Connecticut in 2012, more than 300 gun safety laws have been passed. Also, more than 1,000 Second Amendment cases have been ruled by a margin of 90% in lower courts in favor of stricter gun control measures.

Still, the court is more decidedly conservative now that Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh took the place of Anthony Kennedy, who had a tendency to swing with the wind.

The New York rule banned licensed handgun owners from taking their guns outside of the five boroughs of New York City, including to second homes or shooting ranges. Federal district and appeals courts had upheld the rule, however it looked to be toast at the Supreme Court.

Currently nine states give law enforcement discretion to deny licenses; California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and Hawaii. If the Supreme Court strikes down the New York law, those states could face an expansion of public carry rights.

Stay tuned.


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