Legislation governing the ownership and use of firearms, and the operation of gun shops, typically originates on the federal and/or state level. As any New Jersey gun owner knows, our State already has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country. Certain cities and towns in different states including New Jersey are, however, apparently attempting to take action on the municipal level by implementing local ordinances that sharply restrict the operation of gun shops in their areas.
Officials in New Jersey who are purportedly fed up with what they perceive as insufficient federal or state action on gun control are using local-level policy rarely used to regulate gun dealers by adopting local zoning regulations that effectively ban gun shops from their municipalities. Piscataway, a suburb of New Brunswick, does not have a single licensed gun dealer, and almost certainly will not at anytime in the near future. A Town Council resolution adopted on June 14 of this year is, in essence, designed to guarantee that a gun dealer cannot open in that town. The resolution bans gun stores from opening within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, health care facilities, and other locations that are viewed as sensitive. While the new zoning law does not explicitly forbid gun stores from opening in the town, it makes dealers subject to conditions that cannot be satisfied from any location in the municipality.
This is the first such ordinance in New Jersey, and one of several that have appeared in different municipalities all across the country. There are 24 municipalities in California with such location restrictions, and another two in New York. “There’s a growing concern about gun violence and the federal government’s inability to do anything comprehensive,” said Steven Cahn, the council member who drafted the ordinance. “The point is to demonstrate that as local officials, we’re not helpless. We can use our authority. Hopefully, other communities will do something similar.”
It has been suggested that the Piscataway ordinance is a progressive version of regulations typically targeted against abortion providers, which are common in deeply conservative states. Further, the concept of prohibiting such businesses from operating within a thousand feet of schools and parks was almost certainly inspired, at least in part, by the state’s drug laws which carry increased penalties for illegal narcotics activities within that distance from such locations. The Piscataway ordinance, like the abortion regulations, does not explicitly ban gun shops; rather, it places so many burdensome conditions on them that it becomes impossible for them to operate in the town. The Piscataway resolution was inspired by a law in Alameda County, Ca., outside San Francisco, that survived a federal court challenge last fall.
The Piscataway resolution has obviously not been tested in Court. It is probably only a matter of time before it is. If the resolution survives such a challenge, it is inevitable that municipalities all over New Jersey will follow with similar localized action. At least one question before any court hearing a challenge to the ordinance will be whether a town council has the authority to regulate subject matter that is already heavily regulated by the federal and state governments. We will, of course, be tracking developments on this issue.
James S. Friedman, LLC, centrally located in New Brunswick, New Jersey, represents gun permit applicants and gun owners on a variety of issues concerning New Jersey Firearms Purchaser Identification Cards and carry permits. Contact us if you have a question or issue concerning gun ownership.