Court again rejects challenge to handgun permit law

The U.S. Supreme Court left intact a New Jersey law that requires a “justifiable need” to carry a handgun in public, sidestepping a dispute over the scope of the Constitution’s gun-rights protections.

The justices on Monday turned away an appeal by four New Jersey residents and two organizations, which said the Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantees the right to carry a weapon for self-defense. A federal appeals court upheld the New Jersey measure.

The high court hasn’t take up a gun-rights case since the 2010, repeatedly rejecting appeals centering on the Second Amendment’s reach outside the home.

New Jersey is one of seven states that require an applicant to show a special need to get a permit to carry a handgun. That group includes California, whose rules are now before a federal appeals court, and Maryland and New York, whose laws the justices left intact last year.

“The Second Amendment guarantees the right to carry weapons for the purpose of self-defense — not just for self-defense within the home but for self-defense, period,” the National Rifle Association argued in a brief backing the appeal.

Many states have relaxed their public-possession restrictions in recent years. In 1981, just three states — Maine, Washington and Vermont — let typical residents carry firearms in public without giving a reason.

‘Longstanding’ restrictions

In upholding the New Jersey law on a 2-1 vote, the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the measure was valid even if the Second Amendment applies outside the home. The appeals court pointed to a passage in D.C. v. Heller, the 2008 Supreme Court decision that said some “longstanding” gun restrictions were “presumptively lawful.”

The panel said New Jersey has had the “justifiable need” standard in some form since 1924.

“New Jersey’s legislature, long ago, made the predictive judgment that widespread carrying of handguns in public would not be consistent with public safety because of the inherent danger it poses,” New Jersey officials, led by Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman, argued in court papers that urged the court to reject the appeal.

The Second Amendment Foundation and the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs joined the four residents in challenging the measure. The residents were led by John Drake, who says he was denied a permit even though he operates a business that stocks ATM machines and often must carry large amounts of cash.

Courts divided

Lower courts are divided on laws that restrict public possession. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Maryland’s requirement that the applicant show a “good and substantial reason” for the permit, a ruling the Supreme Court let stand last October. Another federal appeals court ruled in February that California’s San Diego County was violating the Constitution by refusing gun-carrying permits to people who couldn’t document specific threats against them.

In Heller, the Supreme Court ruled for the first time in 2008 that the Constitution protects individual gun rights, even if a person isn’t affiliated with a state-run militia. The ruling, which divided the court 5-4 along ideological lines, struck down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban.

In another 5-4 decision, McDonald v. Chicago, the court in 2010 held that states and cities, as well as the federal government, are bound by the Second Amendment. Both Heller and McDonald involved handgun possession in the home, not in public.

The New Jersey case is Drake v. Jerejian, 13-827.

Other action

Also on Monday, the court:

— Ruled 5-4 that the Constitution lets a town start most board meetings with a Christian prayer, ruling against two objecting residents. (See story, page 1A)

— (AP) Reinstated the lawsuit filed by a baseball player’s son who was shot on the porch of his family home by a Houston-area police officer. The decision reverses the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which dismissed the excessive force lawsuit by Robert Tolan, son of former major leaguer Bobby Tolan.

— (AP) Rejected an appeal by a Guantanamo Bay inmate who says he served as a Taliban medic, not a combatant, refusing for the second time in a month to spell out the limits of military detention.