New rules making it easier to get a permit to carry a handgun in New Jersey are in line to take effect in less than four weeks – unless Democratic lawmakers can get a judge to intervene.

Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday evening his administration had adopted a revised regulation allowing people to obtain permits to carry handguns if they face serious threats, even if not directed specifically at them. He first announced the proposal about a year ago.

Democrats had gone through the process added to the state constitution in the 1990s that lets the Legislature invalidate regulations they deem inconsistent with legislative intent. They completed the process in December, through SCR117/ACR205, though the Christie administration says they didn’t do so properly.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said he’ll meet with fellow Democrats next week to determine their next step and that they could go to court to block that change “if need be,” as they did when Christie tried to make ‘job banding’ changes in civil service.

“We actually had to go to court on that one, and we prevailed,” Prieto said. “So we’ll do what we need to do to make sure New Jersey stays a safe place.”

Christie spokesman Brian Murray said the governor has said repeatedly that lawmakers are wrong and that he’ll fight them over the change.

“The legislature’s concurrent resolution was procedurally deficient and substantively incorrect, and we expect to prevail in any challenge,” Murray said.

The Department of Law and Public Safety, which includes the State Police, which proposed the rule change, has said it didn’t receive the necessary notifications about the Legislature’s objections. Prieto said his office has copies of the dated letters sent out and that disregarding them is unacceptable.

“We have very stringent gun laws in the state of New Jersey. We’re not looking to loosen who can carry guns and concealed weapons in the state of New Jersey. We made that clear,” Prieto said.

The amended rule is set to take effect on April 3, when it is formally published in the New Jersey Register.

The change isn’t expected to trigger a floodgate of new gun-carry permits. People would still have to prove they face a serious threat – think a cab driver or pizza-delivery worker fearful of driving in a rough area – in order to qualify, though wouldn’t have to show they’ve gotten a specific, personal threat.

“It’s very significant because we’re dealing with New Jersey, which is so incredibly difficult that it really makes the license almost a phony license because it becomes unobtainable,” said lawyer Evan Nappen. “This at least makes it so that it’s within reach of individuals who can show serious threats.”

Nappen said it could lead to “a little” bit of an increase in applications, as well as an increase in the chances for any application to be approved by police chiefs or the State Police. But he couldn’t quantify how much; nor could Prieto.

“That’s a good question. It’s impossible to say,” Nappen said. “But I’m sure it will definitely be more, and it will be those that actually have bona fide needs by serious threats.”

The group Citizens for a Safer New Jersey – an organization that now appears to be defunct, which is separate from one with the same name opposed to the recent bail reforms – last year said it had gotten data from the state showing 637 gun-carry permits were issued in 2015 to people other than retired police officers, after 496 permits were issued in 2014. Permits are good for two years.

Roughly 600 permits a year in a state of almost 9 million residents is ridiculously small, said Nappen, who said the new rule should help people without political connections qualify.

“This is such a small step, although it will be significant for individuals that need this in their career and employment and in the areas that they go into that are very high-crime and very dangerous,” Nappen said. “In the big picture, this is so minor compared to the rest of America it’s almost laughable, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.”

 

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