New Jersey’s One-Gun-a-Month Law Upheld
A federal appeals court has turned away the NRA in its latest attempt to derail any law that limits gun ownership, with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 30 ruling that New Jersey’s “one-gun-a-month” law does not violate the Constitution.
NRA Pulls . . . the BB Gun
The New Jersey law at issue limits handgun purchases to one per month per person, in an effort to stem stockpiling and black market activity. Under the state definition of “handgun,” BB and air guns are included, according to the opinion. Exempted are collectors and competitive shooters.
The plaintiffs in the case – a groups of gun stores, the NJ affiliate of the NRA, and a few individuals – challenged the law based on the idea that because a federal law prohibits states from banning the sale of BB and air guns, the New Jersey law was preempted.
The plaintiffs also claimed the New Jersey one-gun law violated their due process rights “because the exemptions are essentially illusory,” said the appellate court.
Their argument was that because collectors who want an exemption must list the serial numbers of guns they want to buy and “convince the seller to take [the gun] off the market while the application is processed,” the law makes it too difficult to get the exemption.
The 3rd Circuit did not buy that.
The federal law that the plaintiffs said should override New Jersey’s law doesn’t say that states can’t regulate the sales of BB and air guns, noted the court. The state law is not a complete prohibition of their sale, nor are its requirements – including the application requiring serial numbers to get the exemption – so onerous that it might as well be a prohibition.
One-Gun Laws Curb Illegal Sales
Only Maryland, California, and the District of Columbia have similar one-gun laws, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association back in 1996 showed that such restrictions are effective. “[R]estricting handgun purchases to 1 per month is an effective means of disrupting the illegal interstate transfer of firearms,” concluded the study.
A New York Times opinion piece pointed to the JAMA study, as well as Virginia’s experience with its one-gun law, to show that laws like New Jersey’s are reasonable. Virginia’s one-gun law resulted in halving the number of guns to cross its borders and show up in criminal investigations in northeastern states. The state repealed its law in 2012.
The problem such laws aim to solve is not necessarily hoarding of weapons, but “that in states with little or no regulation, someone can accumulate enough guns to do a brisk trade with buyers in states with tougher laws,” said the Times op-ed.
The Fight Continues
The NRA is continuing to fight against a raft of new gun laws being proposed in New Jersey that it says amount to “a legislative feeding frenzy,” including 43 bill introductions as of Jan. 30.
And the 3rd Circuit’s decision may not be the last word on the state’s one-gun law. “We are disappointed by the decision and we are evaluating our options to proceed,” Daniel Schmutter, a lawyer with Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis in Woodbridge, N.J. who represented the gun groups before the 3rd Circuit, tells Lawyers.com.
Experts say to stay tuned. “Expect to see more challenges like this, perhaps the next time under a straight (or straighter) second amendment-type claim,” writes Barry Barnett, a partner with Susman & Godfrey in Dallas, in a recent blog piece about the decision.