New Jersey Gun Rights Case Sidelined by Supreme Court

A customer looks through a rifle scope as Bob’s Little Sport Shop bustles with customers, in Glassboro, N.J., on March 20. (Joe Lamberti/Camden Courier-Post via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Two conservative voices on the U.S. Supreme Court were critical Monday of their colleagues’ silent refusal to consider whether New Jersey’s handgun permit requirements are unconstitutional.

Painting the discrepancy as a political one, the dissent penned by Justice Clarence Thomas asserts that no state law alleged to impinge the First Amendment would be as readily shunned as one said to run afoul of the Second.

“Whatever one may think about the proper approach to analyzing Second Amendment challenges, it is clearly time for us to resolve the issue,” Thomas wrote, joined by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The dissent came in connection to one of 10 Second Amendment cases that the high court declined to take up Monday — a move gun safety advocates praised.   

“Opponents of gun safety laws have again failed in their efforts to get the Supreme Court to adopt their extreme and dangerous approach,” said Eric Tirschwell, an attorney and managing director at Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.  

“In each of the cases, the lower courts correctly determined the Second Amendment is not a barrier to the reasonable, life-saving gun safety policies being challenged,” Tirschwell said in a statement. “The Supreme Court recognized there is no need to revisit these thorough rulings.” 

The New Jersey case stems from a handgun-carry permit sought by Thomas Rogers, whose business involves servicing ATMs in “high-crime” areas.

New Jersey has an extensive process for an open-carry permit, however, requiring applicants to show specific threats or previous attacks that demonstrate “a special danger to the applicant’s life that cannot be avoided by means other than by issuance of a permit to carry a handgun.”

Rogers had been robbed before, and he passed the background-check process. Still the chief of police in Wall Township denied him a permit on the basis that he failed to establish justifiable need.

Thomas called New Jersey’s law a “near total prohibition,” and said Thomas’ case was an ideal one to “evaluat[e] Second Amendment claims; acknowledge that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry in public; and resolve a square circuit split on the constitutionality of justifiable-need restrictions on that right.”

In a section of the opinion that Kavanaugh elected not to join, Thomas argued that the right to carry in public is an inherent component of the right to carry arms for self-defense.

“It would take serious linguistic gymnastics — and a repudiation of this court’s decision in Heller — to claim that the phrase ‘bear Arms’ does not extend the Second Amendment beyond the home,” he added, referencing the landmark 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found gun regulations adopted in Washington, D.C., went too far.  

Thomas also references laws dating back to “England, the founding era, and the antebellum period” for his support of taking up the case. 

The New Jersey Attorney General’s office did not return a request for comment, nor have lawyers with the firm Hartman & Winnicki who argued on behalf of Rogers.

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