The NJ Supreme Court recently issued a major ruling in a weapons possession case, marking the first time in 26 years that the state’s highest court has ruled on a firearms issue. The court, in a unanimous opinion, held that New Jersey’s domestic violence prevention law does not violate a citizen’s right to bear arms under the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution. The NJ domestic violence prevention law relates to the right to bear arms because it allows law enforcement to confiscate weapons from alleged domestic violence offenders who have had a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a final restraining order (FRO) issued against them.
The forfeiture of weapons by anyone, whether it’s an accused domestic violence offender or an individual who has been convicted, is a major issue because it implicates constitutional rights. As such, the opinion, which was written by NJ Associate Justice Lee Solomon, specifically addressed the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Solomon, writing for the court, said that this constitutional right is “subject to reasonable limitations.” One of those limitations, said Solomon, is that “the police power of the state provides our Legislature with the authority to regulate firearms.”
Morris County NJ Domestic Violence Charges
In this case, the defendant’s wife accused him of domestic violence in Morristown, New Jersey, resulting in a restraining order. Additionally, police invoked the NJ Prevention of Domestic Violence Act to force the defendant to surrender his firearms because the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office argued that his “volatile marital history” raised serious concerns about his wife’s safety.
The lower courts actually ruled in favor of the defendant because his ex-wife was found to be lacking credibility. Moreover, said the lower courts, the defendant’s previous domestic difficulties did not outweigh his constitutional right to bear arms.
However, the NJ Supreme Court has now issued the final ruling in the case and declared that the weapons forfeiture was justified because the ex-cop had a history of domestic violence that includes numerous altercations during his previous marriage.
Tough Gun Laws in New Jersey
New Jersey is known for having some of the strictest handgun possession laws in the entire country. It appears that the NJ Supreme Court wants to ensure that the state’s gun crime laws remain incredibly tough.
The New Jersey Supreme Court last ruled on a firearms case in 1990, when the justices upheld the denial of firearms permits to two private detectives. In the most recent case, which implicated the NJ Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991, the court ruled that a former Roseland NJ police officer must forfeit his weapons, as well as his firearms ID card, based on a prior history of domestic violence. This was a particularly limiting ruling on gun ownership rights because former police officers are typically afforded more leeway in New Jersey, with ex-cops remaining some of the few in the state who are actually allowed to have concealed carry permits for firearms.
The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act authorizes NJ state officials to revoke gun ownership rights for anyone who poses a risk to the “public health, safety, or welfare.” In a domestic violence case, the victim may be worried about a threat posed by the alleged domestic violence offender. That’s why NJ lawmakers decided to grant the authority to local law enforcement agencies to seize potentially deadly weapons from anyone accused of a domestic violence offense.
The Standard of Proof in NJ Domestic Violence Weapons Cases
New Jersey judges often take their cue from state legislators and err on the side of protecting public safety in domestic violence matters. Ultimately, a court needs to sign off on a police department’s seizure of handguns and other weapons from a person who has been hit with a temporary restraining order.
When considering these types of cases, courts must base their legal rulings on a civil standard of “preponderance of the evidence,” which essentially means that the threat of violence posed by the alleged domestic violence offender is more likely than not to lead to violence. This is the same standard of proof that is applied in restraining order hearings. By contrast, the criminal standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is significantly harder for a prosecutor to prove.
Response to the NJ Supreme Court Ruling on Domestic Violence Firearm Ownership Rights
After the NJ Supreme Court’s latest gun control ruling was handed down, Nancy Erika Smith, founder of Wynona’s House in Newark NJ and a legal advocate for domestic violence victims, praised the decision. “If you can’t control yourself, if you have to be violent to your own family,” said Smith, “of course you shouldn’t have a gun.”
Meanwhile, Alexander Roubian, the president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, echoed Smith’s sentiments. Roubian declared that “anybody who’s given due process and is guilty of domestic violence should not be allowed to own any type of weapon.”