TRENTON – Despite concerns about whether the bill will hold up in court, an Assembly panel advanced legislation Monday that would create new rules limiting the concealed carrying of guns, after a Supreme Court decision wiped out the rationale that has made carry permits scarce in New Jersey.

The bill (S3214/A4769) was announced late last week and quickly cleared its first hurdle in the Assembly Judiciary Committee in a party-line vote. It is due for a second committee hearing Thursday and full Assembly approval next week – though faces a slower road in the Senate.

Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, D-Somerset, said the higher permit fees, liability insurance requirement, mandatory training and a long list of places off limits to carrying guns are needed to maintain safety. He said the bill provides “more than a fair balance” so can withstand an expected court challenge.

“Let me make it very clear what my priorities are,” Danielsen said. “My priority is not for me to stand here as a Supreme Court justice, though I try to stay in compliance with the U.S. Constitution, of course.  My job, according to the Constitution, is a legislator. And I don’t hide my priorities. Priority one is to protect the people of New Jersey.”

(Townsquare Media NJ)
(Townsquare Media NJ)
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Assemblywoman Vicky Flynn, R-Monmouth, said “so much of the bill is unconstitutional,” both through what it says and what is left vague, that the state is setting itself up for a costly, losing court battle.

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“It’s a direct infringement upon a right to self-defense. That’s what’s missing here,” Flynn said. “And there’s so many people that will be banned or prohibited who are law-abiding citizens.”

(Townsquare Media NJ)
(Townsquare Media NJ)
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Most of testimony at the hearing was in favor of the bill, including from some of the groups that joined legislative leaders when the bill was announced last week.

But there were opponents. A lobbyist for the PBA police union said parts of the bill could block retired police officers – and maybe active ones, in some locations – from carrying guns, as is allowed now. And one gun-rights groups vowed a lawsuit if the bill proceeds.

“Like it or not, New Jersey is now a carry state,” said Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs. “Respectfully, that doesn’t mean you get to pass a bunch of prohibitions to do an end-run around carry. And that’s what this bill is.”

(Townsquare Media NJ)
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Over the span of the two hours of testimony and debate on the bill, there were references to Archie Bunker, Rambo, Dirty Harry and Jason Bourne, as well as shootings on a railroad in Long Island, a movie theater in Colorado, the Art All Night festival in Trenton and other locations.

In the end, the bill advanced in a 3-2 vote with the expectation the plan will undergo more changes is it winds through the Legislature.

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Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, voted for it without comment. Earlier in the meeting, he said “portions of the bill may still be constitutionally infirm” and that he thinks a ‘opt-in’ provision making private establishments off limits to concealed-carry of guns unless the owner explicitly allows it will certainly be challenged.

“I disagree with some of the underlying rationale in the majority opinion in Bruen,” said Mukherji, referencing the Supreme Court decision from June that upended New Jersey’s ‘justifiable need’ standard for gun-carry permits. “But I also believe in the rule of law, and I don’t think that state legislators get to substitute our judgment for that of Supreme Court justices.”

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