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New Jersey Sued for Shutting Down Gun Stores During Pandemic

March 23, 2020, 4:14 PM

A group of gun rights advocates sued New Jersey in federal court Monday, challenging the state’s temporary shuttering of gun stores and its online background check portal in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Taken together, these actions amount to a ban on obtaining firearms or ammunition,” the lawsuit says.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, names Gov. Phil Murphy and the state police superintendent as defendants. It targets Executive Order 107, which Murphy signed March 21.

The order, like similar measures adopted in cities and states nationwide, mandates the closure of “the brick-and-mortar premises of all non-essential retail businesses.” It doesn’t classify gun stores as essential businesses, but it should, the suit says.

Although the order didn’t address firearms background checks, the website used by the state police to conduct those checks has allegedly been offline since shortly after it took effect.

Gun stores should be able to stay open as long as they implement the types of public health measures being taken at businesses already designated essential, such as strict occupancy limitations and frequent disinfecting of counters and doorknobs, according to the complaint.

“The plaintiffs bringing this action do not mean to minimize the severity or urgency of the coronavirus pandemic,” the suit says. “However, this emergency (like any other emergency) has its constitutional limits. It would not justify a prior restraint on speech, nor a suspension of the right to vote. Just the same, it does not justify a ban on obtaining guns and ammunition.”

The plaintiffs are a gun store, the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, Second Amendment Foundation Inc., and Robert Kashinsky. Kanshinsky doesn’t own any guns but wants to buy one in case the pandemic stops the government from providing emergency services, according to the complaint.

Cause of Action: Section 1983, which authorizes federal civil rights lawsuits against state officials.

Relief: A declaration that Murphy’s executive order violates the Second and 14th amendments; an injunction prohibiting its enforcement; costs and fees.

Response: Murphy’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Attorneys: The gun groups are represented by David D. Jensen of Beacon, N.Y.

The case is Kashinsky v. Murphy, D.N.J., No. 20-cv-3127, complaint filed 3/23/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Leonard in Washington at mleonard@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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