On Monday, a federal judge blocked a New Jersey law aimed at restricting gun possession, the latest in a slew of court rulings that have slapped down state attempts to limit the 2nd Amendment.
New Jersey’s law implements several measures, including banning citizens from carrying a gun in so-called sensitive places. The list of sensitive places is extensive, prompting a lawsuit from three plaintiffs. The plaintiffs, three concealed carry permit holders, challenged the law’s prohibition of carrying a firearm in a publicly owned museum or library, any facility where alcohol is served, any entertainment facility, and on private property unless the property owner has provided consent or placed a sign permitting guns on the property.
The law also makes it illegal to carry a firearm in a vehicle unless the gun is unloaded and locked in a case or in the trunk.
District court Judge Renee Marie Bumb granted the plaintiffs’ request to stop enforcement of the law. She wrote,
“The Court finds that the challenged provisions have chilled Plaintiffs’ reasonable exercise of their Second Amendment right…The deprivation of Plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights, as the holders of valid permits from the State to carry conceal carry handguns, constitutes irreparable injury, and neither the State nor the public has an interest in enforcing unconstitutional laws.”
New Jersey says it will continue the legal process.
Pivotal in Bumb’s decision was the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York Pistol and Rifle Assn. v. Bruen, which struck down New York’s conceal carry requirements. Under the New York law, the government required those seeking a permit to show a good reason why they needed to carry. After the ruling, New York’s legislature made carrying a gun even more difficult, passing a law which also contained sensitive place limitations.
Last fall, a district judge blocked that law. A federal appeals court last month issued a stay of that order.
The gun owner plaintiffs have since requested that the Supreme Court stop parts of the law from going into effect, while last week New York Attorney General Leticia James asked the Supreme Court to let the law move forward until the merits of the case can be fully heard.
Other states are also finding their efforts to limit gun ownership failing. On Tuesday, a judge refused to lift his ruling blocking Oregon’s expansive gun control law. On December 23, Oregon had argued that an expansive background check measure should be allowed to take effect even if the other provisions of the law are being considered in court. The judge, who stayed the law earlier last month, refused, saying that he has not yet made a final decision on the constitutionality of the law’s provisions.
In addition, U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez blocked a California anti-gun rights law last month. The law, which was modeled after Texas’s SB 8, allows private citizens to sue gun manufacturers and said that any who challenged the law would need to win on all counts or pay the government’s legal fees. The Texas law, known as the “heartbeat” bill, permits private citizens to sue abortion providers that perform illegal abortions.
Newsom was highly critical of Texas’s law and encouraged the California legislature to pass a bill aimed at gun manufacturers. But California’s own attorney general Rob Bonta refused to defend the state’s anti-gun law, as he believed that Texas’s law was unconstitutional and didn’t think California should enact the same type of enforcement mechanism.
Though Newsom also called Texas’s law unconstitutional he justified California’s law as protecting Californians and stepped in to defend the legislation in court. Spokesperson Danella Debel wrote in an email, “Governor Newsom is taking this action to ensure that Californians’ interests are robustly defended.”
Benitez said the law attempted to stop people from challenging laws. Ironically, Newsom, who has characterized Judge Benitez as a “wholly-owned subsidiary of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association,” celebrated the ruling and claimed it meant that Texas’s law is also unconstitutional.
However, what Newsom’s conclusion ignored was Benitez’s comments that California’s law went farther than Texas’s and involves the Second Amendment, one of the original rights in the U.S. Constitution. Benitez stated that the differences between the two laws were that California’s law denied a prevailing plaintiff attorney’s fees and it “applies to laws affecting a clearly enumerated constitutional right set forth in our nation’s founding documents.”
You hear a lot about “common sense gun regulations,” a phrase intended to position any opponents to gun restrictions as being outside the mainstream. Only an extremist would disagree with this, they essentially say. What do you want — people running around with rocket launchers?
What that usually means, though, is they are implementing a law that effectively infringes on Americans’ basic constitutionally protected rights. While Americans are routinely beguiled into thinking that their liberties are somehow dangerous — especially the Second Amendment but also, increasingly, the First Amendment — most courts are upholding the Constitution.
To live in a free society means you must also have risk. People must be free to defend their lives, their families, and their communities against threats, even though having that freedom also means that someone else might misuse it for evil. Citizens who exercise their rights legally should not have those rights eliminated just because a small minority of other people choose to use their rights illegally.
The Bible allows for self-defense (Exodus 22:8, Luke 11:21), leaving no reason for Christians to oppose gun rights, and these recent court decisions guard Americans’ Second Amendment right to protect themselves and others.
In fact, a theme throughout the Bible is free will. God could have created Adam to be a kind of robot who did exactly as he was programmed, but He didn’t. From the start, God gave Adam and Eve the freedom to choose (Genesis 2:16-17).
By its very nature, freedom requires options, both good and bad.
That reality is at the heart of the American experiment. As James Wilson, a founding father and original Supreme Court justice, put it in 1790, “Without liberty, law loses its nature and its name, and becomes oppression. Without law, liberty also loses its nature and its name, and becomes licentiousness.”
America’s leaders must recognize that Americans have the right and the responsibility to exercise their God-given individual liberties. If someone misuses their right to self-defense by, for example, using a gun to murder someone, that individual must be held accountable. At the same time, government must resist the easy temptation to assume that because one person chooses badly, all others have an equal likelihood of doing the same.
In this country we have individual rights, not group rights. We have individual accountability, not group accountability. Government has no business proactively removing the individual rights of all law-abiding gunowners on the chance that someone else has not exercised that right responsibly — or might do so in the future.
As our nation’s founders recognized 250 years ago, you cannot have freedom without incurring risk and you cannot eschew risk without losing freedom. The law must reflect that eternal truth.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.