Thursday, August 1, 2013

Divided Third Circuit Upholds New Jersey's Handgun Permit Law

In its opinion in Drake v. Filko, a panel of the Third Circuit has rejected a Second Amendment challenge to New Jersey's handgun permit law, N.J.S.A. § 2C:58 - 4.  Affirming the district judge, the majority opinion by Judge Ruggero Aldisert (who was appointed to the Third Circuit by President Lyndon Johnson) upheld the statutory "justifiable need” standard for a permit to carry a handgun in public.

Handgun_collection

The majority declined to "definitively declare that the individual right to bear arms for the purpose of self-defense extends beyond the home, the “core” of the right as identified by Heller," referring to the Supreme Court's controversial 2008 decision of Heller v. District of Columbia finding that the Second Amendment should be interpreted as including an individual right. Yet the majority moved on to assume that even if the individual right extended beyond the home, does a "requirement that applicants demonstrate a “justifiable need” to publicly carry a handgun for self-defense burdens conduct within the scope of that Second Amendment guarantee.  It concluded that the “justifiable need” standard of the Handgun Permit Law is a longstanding regulation that enjoys presumptive constitutionality under the teachings articulated in Heller, noting that a "close analogue to the New Jersey standard can be found in New York’s permit schema," which was upheld by the Second Circuit as we discussed last November.

The majority acknowledged that this could well settle the matter.  But "in this new era of Second Amendment jurisprudence," it decided it was important to proceed to apply the means-end scrutiny under its circuit precedent.  And as in most means-end inquiries, the level of scrutiny was a central issue.  Predictably, the challengers argued for strict scrutiny, but their argument rested upon an analogy to First Amendment prior restraint doctrine.  The court rejected that analogy, canvased the Second Amendmen levels of scrutiny being applied in the circuits, and concluded that "intermediate scrutiny" was the correct standard, and articulated it thusly:

under intermediate scrutiny the government must assert a significant, substantial, or important interest; there must also be a reasonable fit between that asserted interest and the challenged law, such that the law does not burden more conduct than is reasonably necessary.

After an extensive discussion, the majority found that the NJ law satisfied this standard.

In a dissenting opinion as lengthy as the majority opinion, Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman disagreed with almost every aspect of the majority's well-reasoned opinion.  Judge Hardiman argued that the Second Amendment should apply outside the home, argued that NJ's gun restriction was historically not longstanding, and while agreeing that intermediate scrutiny was the correct standard, disagreed that it was satisfied.

While the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in the Second Circuit opinion upholding NY's limitation on concealed gun laws, a petition for certiorari will most probably be filed in this Third Circuit case.  At some point, the Court may again take up the confusing issues left in the wake of its two controversial decisions in Heller v. District of Columbia and McDonald v. City of Chicago.

RR
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