NEWARK, N.J. – The Supreme Court on Monday let stand New Jersey’s requirement that gun owners demonstrate a justifiable need in order to carry firearms in public, turning away another case over whether Americans have a constitutional right to be armed outside the home.
Several residents claimed the law was unconstitutional, but in refusing to take their case, the high court left in a place a ruling last fall from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Philadelphia-based appeals court upheld New Jersey’s requirement that gun owners demonstrate “specific threats or previous attacks demonstrating a special danger to applicant’s life that cannot be avoided by other means.”
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Sussex County resident John Drake, said he needed to carry a gun because of his job restocking ATM machines. Other plaintiffs included a reserve sheriff’s deputy, a civilian FBI employee and a victim of an interstate kidnapping, all of whom were initially denied gun permits. In New Jersey, permit applications have to be approved by local police and then a state Superior Court judge.
Two gun groups, the Second Amendment Foundation and the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, joined the lawsuit. The effort was backed by 19 states.
Court filings in the case focused on the Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which struck down a local law that prohibited the keeping of guns in the home for self-defense. That ruling left open the right to bear arms in other situations; Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the Second Amendment doesn’t allow citizens “to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
In his 2012 ruling upholding New Jersey’s law, U.S. District Judge William Walls wrote that the alternative to the state’s “justifiable need” requirement would be granting permits to carry a gun to anyone who felt “the subjective need based on nothing more than ‘general fears’ to go about their daily lives prepared to use deadly force. The risks associated with a judicial error in discouraging regulation of firearms carried in public are too great,” he concluded.
The 3rd Circuit upheld Walls’ ruling in a 2-1 decision. In his dissent, Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman wrote that in its Heller decision, the Supreme Court recognized that the Second Amendment extends beyond the home and “protects an inherent right to self-defense.”
The Supreme Court has turned away similar questions on at least two earlier occasions.