Support is mounting for a lawsuit that challenges New Jersey's tight restrictions on handgun ownership and its high standard of "justifiable need" for carrying a weapon outside the home.
Nineteen states as well as the powerful National Rifle Association have joined the case's plaintiff John Drake, who in his lawsuit claims he was denied a permit following a thwarted robbery attempt on his Sussex County business.
Drake lost his appeal before a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year and now a growing number of states, led by Wyoming, are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, claiming New Jersey was wrong when it determined that the business owner failed to prove "justifiable need" to carry a gun under state statute.
Drake's suit also claims that his right to bear arms under the Second Amendment has been violated.
Wyoming's Republican Gov. Matt Mead said: "If the current decision stands, states providing greater protections than New Jersey under the Second Amendment may be pre-empted by future federal action."
Drake runs an ATM servicing business and carries large amounts of cash, making him vulnerable to robbery attempts, and wants to carry a weapon as protection.
Drake joined in an existing lawsuit filed by a New Jersey pet shop owner who was kidnapped and savagely beaten, yet also had been denied a gun-carry permit. That man dropped out of the case when his permit for a weapon was approved.
"It seems unreasonable to me to have to wait until you're beaten up or shot at to get a permit," Drake told New Jersey's Star-Ledger.
Other gun-rights supporters agree.
"Americans should not have to ask their government for a permission slip to own a gun," Dudley Brown, executive director of the National Association for Gun Rights, told Newsmax.
"The Second Amendment is a protected right, not a privilege," Brown said. "New Jersey officials have overstepped their authority and New Jersey residents should have their right to self-defense upheld."
The NRA announced in February that it will join the states in filing an amicus brief in the case.
"Law-abiding citizens have a constitutional right to defend themselves beyond their front doorstep," Chris W. Cox,
the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement. "New Jersey law unconstitutionally forces lawful gun owners to prove 'justifiable need' in order to carry a handgun for self-defense, showing specific threats or prior attacks. This is absurd. Our fundamental, individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms is not limited to the home."
Wyoming, a deeply pro-gun state, has taken the lead in the case, spurred by Gov. Mead, who called the New Jersey law a threat to citizens' freedom everywhere.
"This decision out of New Jersey impacts the right to keep and bear arms outside the home," Mead said. "So I felt it was necessary to have the [state] attorney general support a petition to the Supreme Court to hear this case."
Some in New Jersey are pushing back on the intervention from outsiders. A Feb. 18 editorial published by the website NJ.com
called on them to "butt out."
"States have broad powers to set gun policy, and in ours, a strong majority supports strict laws," the editorial noted. "Most New Jerseyans don't want to have to worry that the guy they're fighting with over a parking spot might be packing heat. That's why you need to show justifiable need to carry a handgun here."
The editorial called out Wyoming for having the highest rate of gun deaths per capita in 2010. It continued: "Other states complain that if our policy is upheld, it could threaten their laxer standards. Please. Do they want us meddling in their gun laws? Because they actually do threaten our citizens by making it easier for dangerous people to acquire guns and bring them back East."
New Jersey is asking the Supreme Court not to take the case, while at least three dozen members of Congress are urging the high court to take it up, according to the conservative website GOPUSA.com.
The case is not only being watched by gun rights proponents but also political observers who see an opportunity for New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a possible 2016 presidential contender, to take a bold stand on the issue and shore up relations with the right.
Christie in the past has defended his state's gun laws as "sensible" even as they have been described as among the nation's most restrictive.
"Gov. Christie can burnish some important right-of-center credentials for a GOP presidential primary by supporting revisiting the requirement to prove 'justifiable need' to carry one's handgun outside the home," Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus told Newsmax.
"With 19 states joining in the lawsuit, this could be an important opportunity for him," Jacobus said.
Jacobus said it might be easier to gather broad support against the law than against other gun-control measures.
"That New Jersey's 'justifiable need' requirement prohibits people who have or carry large sums of money on them as part of their jobs from also carrying a handgun for protection is something even many who favor some gun restrictions can understand," Jacobus said. "It is a mainstream concept that is not polarizing in the way the debates on assault rifle bans or waiting periods are."
The coalition of states joining Wyoming in support of Drake includes: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia.
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