The New Jersey Supreme Court has come down hard against firearms ownership rights for domestic violence offenders in NJ. The court recently issued a ruling that will likely affect the gun possession rights of certain individuals in New Jersey for a long time going forward. The court’s ruling generated great deal of media attention as it is the first time in 26 years that the highest court in NJ has made any kind of ruling on firearms ownership rights.
The court, in a unanimous decision, upheld certain provisions of the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991 and clarified that the statute does not violate the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Under the state domestic violence prevention law, police officers and prosecutor’s offices can seize weapons, including handguns and other firearms, from people who have been accused of domestic violence offenses and who are facing a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a final restraining order (FRO).
After the court handed down the controversial ruling, members of both sides of the gun rights debate came forward to either praise or criticize the decision. There are many people who believe that no one should be deprived of their Second Amendment right to bear arms by being forced to
turn over their guns to the state because of an allegation of domestic violence.
Associate Justice Lee Solomon, the member of the NJ Supreme Court who wrote the official opinion in the case, addressed the gun rights debate and said that a person’s right to bear arms can be restricted by the state in certain circumstances because it is a right “subject to reasonable limitations.” Solomon also noted that “the police power of the state provides our Legislature with the authority to regulate firearms.”
Do Domestic Violence Offenders in Bergen County Have an Unchecked Right to Bear Arms?
The case that the NJ Supreme Court heard revolved around a former cop whose wife accused him of committing domestic violence against her in Morristown, NJ. When the alleged victim was able to secure a restraining order, local law enforcement relied on the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act to justify seizing the defendant’s firearms. Prosecutors said that the seizure was necessary because the suspect had “volatile marital history” and posed a risk of future violence.
The lower courts actually ruled that the defendant should not have to forfeit his weapons because his ex-wife was not credible. Now the NJ Supreme Court has stepped in and overruled the lower courts. According to the state’s highest court, a defendant with a history of domestic violence does not get to maintain their otherwise constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms. The implications of the ruling are clear: a domestic violence offender can be forced by police to forfeit their deadly weapons.
Strict Enforcement of Gun Laws in Bergen County, New Jersey
New Jersey is known for having very tough handgun possession laws. These laws impose strict penalties that include mandatory prison sentences. The NJ Supreme Court’s latest ruling likely means that the state’s already-stringent laws will be even more stringent in the future, as law enforcement now has the clear legal authority to confiscate weapons in domestic violence matters.
The last time the NJ Supreme Court handed down a ruling on gun rights was in 1990, a year before lawmakers passed the NJ Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. The earlier case involved two private detectives who wanted NJ firearms permits. The court ruled against the detectives and said that they could not obtain the weapons permits. The recent case involved a defendant who had previously served as an officer with the Roseland Police Department. Due to the defendant’s prior history of domestic violence, he had been ordered to surrender his firearms and his firearms ID card.
Standard of Proof for Prosecutors in NJ Domestic Violence Handgun Forfeiture Cases
New Jersey judges typically don’t take chances in domestic violence matters because they want to ensure that potential victims are protected against harm. (The precise language usually cited by NJ judges is protecting the “public health, safety, or welfare.”) So a domestic violence defendant can expect the court to rule against them and order that they have to surrender their weapons to police.
In these types of domestic violence cases, NJ judges use the civil standard of “preponderance of the evidence,” which means “more likely than not.” In other words: New Jersey prosecutors must show that the threat of violence posed by a domestic violence defendant is more likely than not to result in violence. This is the same legal standard of proof used at NJ restraining order hearings. However, the standard of proof is much higher in criminal cases, with criminal prosecutors needing to establish the elements of a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
So What Happens Now That the NJ Supreme Court Has Issued Its Ruling on Weapons Forfeiture in Domestic Violence Cases?
Once the recent ruling was issued, a number of people spoke out in favor of the decision. Nancy Erika Smith, a legal advocate for domestic violence victims in New Jersey and founder of Wynona’s House in Newark, NJ, 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.”
Meanwhile, Alexander Roubian, president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, said that domestic violence offenders who pose a real threat of violence should not be given access to dangerous firearms.