How to Buy a Gun in NJ: Lots of Paperwork — and Waiting
New Jersey has some of the toughest gun laws in America. If you want to own a firearm, it will take time, patience and persistence.
“The things you have to go through here are probably a lot more extreme — or a lot more thorough, I’ll put it that way — than in many other states,” said State Police Capt. Stephen Jones.
He explained to get any type of a firearm you must first apply at your local police department.
“They’re going to do a pretty thorough background check,” he said. “And that’s going to include a mental health records check, reports of any kinds of crimes, so if you’ve got any kind of criminal history that would prohibit that, and your personal references will also be checked.”
Jones said if you do pass all of the requirements, you’ll get a Firearms Purchaser Identification Card, probably within 30 days, but it may take longer, depending on how busy the police department in your community is.
The card enables you to buy a rifle, a shotgun or a pellet gun, assuming you pass a National Instant Criminal Background Check mandated by the Brady Law at the time of purchase.
“I don’t have exact percentages but there are a fair amount of people who are denied a Firearms Purchasing Card,” he said.
He explained you have to be denied because “something came up in any one of those categories such as the mental health check, or a reference check where somebody didn’t want to say something about you to your face, but they’ll tell it to the police investigator.”
If you want to get a handgun, Jones said you must fill out a similar but separate application process, and if you’re approved you are permitted to only purchase one handgun within 90 days.
“Handguns are much more often used in the commission of a crime than a long gun, a rifle or a shotgun, because of the nature of concealment,” he said. “A handgun is easier to hide, so it’s harder to get one.”
But if you do get approved to buy a handgun, it doesn’t mean you can simply carry it around in your back pocket or a holster.
“A permit to carry is a whole different animal,” he said. “That comes with, yet again, multiple layers of approvals and check, and it is very, very hard in New Jersey to get approved to carry a firearm.”
While gun-rights advocates decry these regulations, Jones believes there is a value in having this kind of vetting process in place.
“It’s to ensure the wrong people aren’t able to just walk out there and buy a quick firearm because of a beef that brews up with somebody else,” he said. “You don’t want somebody from time of anger to time of purchase to be able to just procure a firearm and do something terrible with it."
“At the same time," he adds, "you don’t want to restrict the rights that citizens of the United States have, and so obviously they’re trying to walk that balance.”
Darin Goens, the New Jersey state lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said New Jersey’s gun laws are too cumbersome.
“The process is extremely complicated compared to the rest of the country,” he said. “It’s way over the top. It’s meant to make buying a firearm difficult, to discourage people from even wanting to do it. They’ve put layer upon layer of bureaucracy and paperwork, to make it prohibitive.”
The Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of Ceasefire New Jersey, said he’s pleased New Jersey remains one of the states with the strongest gun safety laws in the country.
“It means that New Jersey citizens are safer,” he said. “Studies show New Jersey has the fifth lowest rate of gun violence per capita in the country right now and I think that’s largely because of our relatively strong gun laws. But we could still make them stronger and we’re working on that.”
Jones points out that “the largest percentage of people using guns illegally, using guns for crimes, are going to be those people who possess them illegally.”
“Unfortunately, no law is going to prevent someone from possessing a gun illegally. Those people are going to get them through illegal means.”