Welcome to the Garden State. Just leave your guns at the border, please. Local news outlets are reporting on a court case which has recently come to a close wherein a citizen, identified only as Z.L., had applied for a gun permit in 2013. Keep in mind that this is not a permit to carry… just to be able to purchase and own a gun. He was turned down because the background investigation revealed that he had been arrested on a domestic violence charge fifteen years earlier. But he was aquitted on the charge, so we should be able to clear this one up fairly quickly, right? Well, not in New Jersey, folks.
A New Jersey appeals court ruled Wednesday that a Monmouth County man can legally be denied a gun permit because he was accused of domestic violence in the past, even though he was never convicted.
A three-judge appellate panel ruled that both the Aberdeen police chief and a state Superior Court judge were within their authority under New Jersey law to reject the application of a man — identified only as Z.L. — to buy a handgun and keep it in his home…
The police chief in the Monmouth County township denied the application though Z.L. was acquitted in 1998, the papers say. The chief said the man’s “past history of domestic violence” may be enough to “indicate a public safety concern,” the documents say.
Z.L. clearly ran into some marital issues back in the nineties, but after accusations were made he had his day in court and was found to be not guilty. And yet, thanks to conditions in his home state, this is apparently enough to deny him his Second Amendment rights. I saw this story at National Review, where Charles C.W. Cooke has dug a little deeper.
The first thing to say is that this is a legal case, not a debate club exercise. That being so, it is entirely possible that the court got this question right and that New Jersey’s firearms laws do indeed permit the authorities to deny “Z.L.” a gun permit on the basis of allegations that have been made against him. I’ve spent a good amount of time looking through New Jersey’s regulations of late, and they are an absolute disaster. These, recall, are the laws that threatened to destroy Shaneen Allen’s life. These are the laws that caught out 72-year-old Gordon van Gilder, and would have put him in jail for a decade. These are the laws that are still hanging over Steffon Josey-Davis’s future. Eventually, the most egregious provisions may well be struck down. For the moment, however, the state seems to be able to do pretty much what it wants.
The protests that Charles raises are absolutely justified, but at the same time it’s worth reinforcing that the problem here isn’t really the court. As noted, they probably did “the right thing” when you look at precisely how bad New Jersey’s gun laws are. Jersey is one of only six states which does not have a state level constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Without that protection, the legislature is free to pass all manner of laws restricting the rights of gun owners until they reach the point where they run afoul of federal law and someone successfully challenges them all the way up the line.
We don’t know the details of what went on in Z.L.’s marriage, and there are certainly legitimate cases of domestic abuse which take place all over the country. When they are discovered they should be taken seriously and the perpetrators need to be punished. But there are also times when a marriage that’s falling apart can result in all sorts of drama and accusations, and not all of them prove out. Like any other allegation of wrongdoing, they must be proven in court. That didn’t happen here.
The case of Z.L. should serve as a warning of precisely how far off the constitutional beam things have gone in New Jersey and how badly they can go in other states with similarly unconstitutional views on the subject. Keep in mind that one of the bedrock principles of American justice is that every citizen is innocent until proven guilty. Simply being accused of something is not sufficient grounds for any sort of punishment and when you are found not culpable by a jury of your peers the matter is closed. Whatever incident spurred the action is no longer fodder to be held over your head at a later date. But in New Jersey, simply having an accusation raised against you – no matter how specious it may be – can be used as the rationale to punish you later if you seek to exercise your fundamental rights.
Even if he can’t change the laws single handed, it would be interesting to hear Chris Christie weigh in on this situation as he presses his case for the GOP nomination. This mess is taking place on his watch in his own back yard and he should be willing to fess up in the public square and let everyone know where he stands.