Judge Stays New Jersey Law Allowing AG Lawsuits Against Gun Industry

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A federal judge has halted the enforcement of a New Jersey law allowing the state attorney general to bring civil lawsuits against the gun industry in that state.

U.S. District Judge Zahid N. Quraishi granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law after finding that the law is in conflict with a federal law restricting civil suits against the gun industry and that the opponents will likely prevail on the merits of their challenge to the law.

Quraishi also found that the law is likely unconstitutional although he stopped short of actually ruling on the constitutional question.

Under the New Jersey law, the state attorney general is allowed sue the gun industry over the “sale, manufacturing, distribution, importing, or marketing” of gun products that contribute to a “public nuisance.”

The Quraishi ruling concerned a challenge by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which has also sued to block similar statutes allowing gun lawsuits in Delaware and in New York. A federal judge dismissed the suit against the New York law. The U.S. Supreme Court has also allowed New York’s revised law to remain in effect for now, while legal challenges play out.

A federal law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), protects gun manufacturers and sellers from being sued over crimes committed with guns they legally sold. The ruling notes that federal law applies over state law where there is a conflict.

While the federal allows for lawsuits in some situations, Quraishi was not convinced that this state law qualifies under the exceptions.

Quraishi found that a preliminary injunction is appropriate because the gun owners face a “credible threat” of being prosecuted by the state.

The ruling against the public nuisance statute is one of several blows courts have dealt to New Jersey’s recent efforts to regulate guns in the state.

Several states, including New Jersey, enacted new laws in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s summer decision in Bruen, which overturned a New York law that limited the carrying of guns in public. Bruen held that the Second and Fourteenth Amendments grant broad protection of an individual’s right to carry a gun outside the home.

The Quraishi ruling blocking New Jersey’s lawsuit statute came one day after another federal judge expanded on her previous order limiting another New Jersey law on guns.

In December, New Jersey enacted a measure that restricts gun owners from carrying guns in certain “sensitive” places such as schools, libraries, bars and sports arenas among others. The law also added additional insurance and training requirements to obtain permits.

A group of gun owners challenged certain provisions of that law as unconstitutional in light of the Bruen ruling expanding gun owners’ rights.

In early January U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb sided with the gun owners and placed a temporary hold on certain provisions of the new law that opponents argued effectively makes much of the state a “sensitive place” where carrying a firearm is barred.

On January 30, in a separate but related case, Bumb granted a temporary restraining order on additional provisions of the law, including against restrictions on carrying guns in parks, beaches, recreational areas, public libraries or museums, bars, restaurants, places where alcohol is served, entertainment facilities, casinos, on private property and in vehicles.

According to Judge Bumb, both sets of plaintiffs contend that the legislation “saps the Bruen ruling of any significance, as it makes the lawful carrying of arms effectively impossible in almost all of New Jersey.”

The temporary restraining order will be in effect pending a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction.

The NSSF firearms trade association welcomed the Quraishi ruling and agreed that Congress “specifically addressed these sorts of harassing and baseless lawsuits” when PLCAA was passed. Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF general counsel, said the decision should “give pause to other states considering similar bills modeled on New Jersey’s law before they enact similarly unconstitutional laws that NSSF will challenge on behalf of the firearms industry.”

New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin is expected to challenge the rulings.

New Jersey
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