The NJ Supreme Court recently issued a notable ruling that could affect firearms ownership rights in New Jersey. This was is the first time in 26 years that state’s highest court has weighed in on a firearm possession issue. The court, in a unanimous decision, held that the state’s domestic violence prevention law is not a violation of residents’ 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms. The NJ domestic violence prevention law gives NJ police officers the authority to confiscate dangerous weapons in cases involving an alleged domestic violence offense. This means that a person who has been hit with a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a final restraining order (FRO) can potentially lose their right to legally own a handgun.
The latest case highlights the contentious nature of the issue: should domestic violence offenders be stripped of their Second Amendment rights and forfeit their weapons. This debate over NJ residents’ constitutional rights was directly acknowledged by Associate Justice Lee Solomon, who wrote the decision for the NJ Supreme Court. Solomon indicated that this important constitutional right can be restricted in certain circumstances and that it is “subject to reasonable limitations.” Solomon noted that “the police power of the state provides our Legislature with the authority to regulate firearms.”
Essex County NJ Domestic Violence Charges and Firearms Ownership Rights
The recent New Jersey Court ruling dealt with a case in which a person was accused of committing domestic violence against his wife in Morristown, New Jersey. The defendant was slapped with a restraining order, leading Morristown police to seize his weapons in accordance with the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Prosecutors argued that the forced surrender of the defendant’s weapons was necessary because his “volatile marital history” suggested that he might be a threat to his wife.
A couple of lower courts ruled in favor of the defendant after finding that his ex-wife did not have a ton of credibility or evidence to support her claims of domestic violence. The courts ruled that the defendant had a constitutional right to bear arms and that this right ought not to be trumped by his prior marital difficulties.
Now the NJ Supreme Court has overruled the lower courts and declared that the ex-cop’s history of domestic violence, which included multiple altercations during his previous marriage, made him a safety risk. As a result, the court said that the police should be allowed to seize his weapons.
Tough Weapons Offense Laws in the State of New Jersey
The State of New Jersey is known for having some of the toughest handgun possession laws in the U.S. These tough gun crime laws have now been backed up the NJ Supreme Court.
Until recently, the NJ Supreme Court’s last ruling in a firearms case was issued in 1990. In that earlier case, the court upheld a denial of firearms permits to a couple of private detectives. The most recent case was different because it involved the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, which was not passed until 1991. The court relied on that law to rule that the defendant, an ex-cop with the Roseland Police Department, can be ordered to forfeit his firearms and his firearms ID card due to his prior history of domestic violence. Keep in mind that this ruling sets the bar extremely high for NJ residents because ex-cops like the defendant typically receive more latitude when it comes to gun ownership rights. In fact, former police officers are some of the only individuals in the Garden State who are able to get concealed carry permits in the first place.
Under the NJ Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, state officials, including local police departments, have the right to seize potentially deadly weapons from anyone deemed to pose a risk to the “public health, safety, or welfare.” In most domestic violence cases, victims could find themselves concerned about a threat, or retaliation, from a domestic violence offender.
What Is the Standard of Proof in NJ Domestic Violence Weapons Cases?
New Jersey judges can be expected to take very few chances when deciding whether a domestic violence offender poses a threat to public safety. In the end, a court has to sign off on a request by the police department to seize handguns and other weapons from an individual charged with a domestic violence crime and/or facing a final restraining order.
The standard of proof utilized by judges in these domestic violence weapons cases is a civil standard of “preponderance of the evidence.” In other words: the threat of violence posed by the alleged offender must be more likely than not to result in violence. This is the same standard of proof used by New Jersey judges at restraining order hearings. For comparison, the standard of proof in criminal cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a significantly higher threshold for prosecutors to meet.
What Does the NJ Supreme Court’s Ruling Mean for Domestic Violence Weapons Cases?
Shortly after the state Supreme Court made its ruling in the domestic violence firearms possession case, one proponent of the NJ domestic violence prevention law spoke out. Nancy Erika Smith is a legal advocate for victims of domestic violence in New Jersey and the founder of Wynona’s House in Newark, NJ. Smith said, “If you can’t control yourself, if you have to be violent to your own family, of course you shouldn’t have a gun.”
Alexander Roubian, president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, echoed the sentiment that domestic violence offenders should not have access to dangerous weapons such as firearms and handguns. According to Roubian, “anybody who’s given due process and is guilty of domestic violence should not be allowed to own any type of weapon.”