How Can I Legally Use My Firearm?

August 6, 2020

Once you have legally obtained your firearm it is important to be aware of what you can and cannot do in the State of New Jersey. The biggest question is: how can I legally use my firearm?

First and foremost, New Jersey is not an open carry State, which means that even if you have lawfully obtained a gun you cannot carry it around with you anywhere you want. A permit to purchase a firearm and a firearms identification card are not permits to carry a firearm. You need  a separate permit to carry a firearm in the State of New Jersey. The laws are very strict and the penalties very severe, so you should always proceed with caution. It is imperative that every gun owner make themselves aware of the laws pertaining to guns in this state particularly if you have ever lived in another state where the laws may be less strict.

Although New Jersey has a procedure for granting open carry permits, the standard is such that it is virtually impossible to obtain one. The standard is that the applicant must establish a justifiable need to carry a firearm. The reason it is virtually impossible to obtain a permit to carry in New Jersey is that unlike other states, such as our neighbors in Pennsylvania, the New Jersey Courts have determined that self- defense is not a justifiable need.

So, if all of that is true, what is the sense of having a gun in the State of New Jersey? Although, you cannot carry a handgun in public, there are many exemptions from the law that allow legal possession and usage.

As I see it, the most important exemption is that nothing in the law “shall be construed to prevent a person from keeping or carrying about his place of business, residence, premises or other land owned or possessed by him, any firearm, or from carrying same in the manner specified by law from any place of purchase to his residence or place of business, between one place of business or residence and another when moving, or between his dwelling or place of business and place where such firearms are repaired, for the purpose of repair”. (N.J.S.A. 2C: 39-6e).

What that means is that you may have any  gun in your home for protection and you may carry it on lands owned or possessed by you without fear of prosecution. This is true even if the gun is not registered.  Although lawful self-defense is a complicated term, you may lawfully use a firearm in self-defense, in your home or on lands owned or possessed by you, if self-defense is  justified under the circumstances.  It is important to note that any gun is permitted as long as it is not an illegal gun like an assault rifle, sawed-off shotgun or defaced firearm. Those firearms are per se illegal and cannot be possessed under any circumstances.

You may have a legal firearm at your place of business as long as the business is owned by you. This is what allows a store owner to protect his/her business. This does not apply to every employee of a business. If you are working at the counter at McDonald’s or want to take a gun to your job at the mall, this exemption does not protect you. For purposes of this section of the criminal code, a place of business is deemed a fixed location.

There are also a host of exemptions for legally transporting firearms from one place to another, such as directly to or from a rifle or pistol club, gun range, hunting or fishing area, or place where guns are exhibited. Again, the rules are very strict. The gun or guns must be transported unloaded and contained in a closed and fastened case, gun box or securely tied package, or locked in the trunk of an automobile in which it is being transported. In the course of travel, you must include only such deviations as are reasonably necessary under the circumstances.

These are rules not suggestions. You cannot transport a gun, even if unloaded in the passenger area of your vehicle. Failure to transport a weapon properly, even if for an exempted purpose, will result in you being charged criminally and being exposed to all of the penalties for illegal possession of a firearm. Also, while transporting a gun, the travel must be directly to and from the locations and only reasonable deviations are permitted. So driving from Moorestown to Mount Laurel via Atlantic City would not be a reasonable deviation. What is a reasonable deviation is an objective standard, but the law requires the exemptions to be interpreted narrowly.

The right to bear arms is a constitutionally protected right that is limited in the State of New Jersey. Due to the strict laws and harsh penalties imposed in New Jersey, it is imperative that gun owners be aware of their  rights and responsibilities. In my career, I have seen people get themselves into trouble by ignorance of the law, carelessness, or a lack of appreciation of the State’s zealousness in prosecuting perceived offenders.  The penalties for unlawful possession of a firearm, including imprisonment, are mandatory.

In my former career as a prosecutor, I was responsible for the prosecution of gun offenses for over a decade. I can tell you first hand that it is very difficult to get around these mandatory penalties. So many problems can be avoided by increased awareness of the potential pitfalls of gun ownership.

I have the experience the compassion and the credentials to help you with your legal issue. If you have a legal issue with the possession or use of a firearm contact me for a free consultation.