Gun sales have been going up across the country since the beginning of 2020, with more than 21 million background checks conducted for the sale of a firearm in 2020 alone. That’s a 60% increase from 2019′s total of 13.2 million, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Gun laws differ from state to state, so it’s important to know what the rules are where you live.
But finding answers can be complicated, and the laws can be pretty different even in the same region. Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence rates the “quality of comprehensiveness” for gun laws in different states, looking at the strength of state gun laws and comparing them to gun death rates.
According to the group, Pennsylvania’s gun laws get a C+. But across the river, New Jersey’s get an A. “New Jersey, along with California, is an ‘A’ — those are the only two in the country,” says staff attorney David Pucino.
So what are New Jersey’s gun laws, and how do they work? Here, we break down some of the basics of buying and carrying firearms in the Garden State:
Who can buy a gun in New Jersey?
The state requires that you first get a firearms purchaser identification card (FPIC) if you are buying a rifle or shotgun, or a permit to purchase a handgun if you are buying a handgun. You also need one of those licenses, or a permit to carry a handgun, to buy handgun ammunition.
Once you get a permit to buy a handgun, it’s valid for 90 days, and you can only buy one handgun (so, if you want to buy more, you need to apply for multiple licenses — though there is a 30-day waiting period between purchases). An FPIC is valid indefinitely, and doesn’t limit the number of firearms you can buy or the number of times you can use it.
To get those permits, you need to apply through your local police department, or the New Jersey State Police if your area doesn’t have a municipal police department (and you can do it online). The process involves a background check, two references who aren’t relatives, and you have to consent to a search of mental health records. You also have to pay several fees, ($2 for a permit to purchase a handgun and $5 for an FPIC, and $20 for a criminal-background check). And if you are a first-time applicant, you will need to be fingerprinted. If you qualify to receive an FPIC or permit to purchase a handgun, it should be issued within 30 days.
Who is prohibited from buying a gun in New Jersey?
There are federal and state laws that prohibit you from getting either license, such as if you:
have been convicted of a crime (a crime in New Jersey is defined as something for which a sentence “in excess of six months is authorized”) or disorderly persons offense that involved domestic violence
are drug dependent, a “habitual drunkard,” or have even been confined to a mental institution for a mental disorder
have a “physical defect or disease” that makes it unsafe for you to handle firearms (unless a doctor or psychiatrist certifies that you no longer “suffer from that particular disability”)
knowingly lied on your application for either permit
are under 18 for an FPIC, or under 21 for a permit to purchase a handgun
have a juvenile record with offenses that would be considered crimes if committed by an adult, and they involved unlawful possession or use of weapons, explosives, or destructive devices
are subject to a restraining order that prohibits you from possessing firearms, or have had firearms seized as part of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991, and the firearms have not been returned
are on the terrorist watch list
You also may not be able to buy a firearm if someone has filed an “extreme risk protection” order against you. The state allows family members, members of your household, or law enforcement to petition the court to take away your firearms if you are in crisis, Pucino says. Those laws (sometimes known as “red flag” laws) also mean there’s a one-year ban on buying or possessing firearms if a court finds that you are at significant risk of harming yourself or others.
What kind of guns are banned in New Jersey?
New Jersey law places some limitations on what you may and may not own — particular on weapons that are considered “assault firearms.” New Jersey prohibits the possession of dozens of makes and models of assault firearms without a special license — such as Colt AR-15s and Avtomat Kalashnikov semiautomatic rifles — as well as firearms that copy those specific weapons.
Firearms are considered assault weapons, and banned in New Jersey without a special license, if they are:
semiautomatic rifles with fixed magazines that hold more than 10 rounds
semiautomatic shotguns that have a magazine capacity above six rounds, a pistol grip, or a folding stock
parts (or combinations of parts) that are “designed or intended to convert a firearm into an assault firearm,” or any combination of parts “from which an assault firearm may be readily assembled”
Also prohibited in New Jersey:
high-capacity magazines, defined as magazines for semiautomatic weapons that hold more than 10 rounds
ghost guns, or weapons that don’t have serial numbers (and therefore are untraceable) and can be assembled at home
Hollow-point ammunition, which New Jersey law refers to as “hollow nose” ammo or “dum-dum” bullets, is a little more complicated. According to the New Jersey State Police, it is legal to purchase and possess, but you can only have it in your home, at a gun range, when hunting, or when “traveling to and from such places.”
Can I carry a gun in public in New Jersey?
In order to carry a handgun in public — either openly or concealed — New Jersey requires you to have a permit to carry a handgun. It is considered a “may issue” state, meaning that law enforcement has more discretion in deciding whether to issue you a permit or not, as opposed to a “shall issue” state (such as Pennsylvania) where you will be granted a license if you meet all the application criteria.
In order to get a concealed-carry permit, you must submit an application through either your local law enforcement, or with the New Jersey State Police, depending on where you live. The application, which is open to anyone 21 or older, must include:
a written certification showing your “justifiable need” to carry a handgun, which can be “evidenced by specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger” to your life that “cannot be avoided by means other than by issuance of a permit to carry”
endorsements from three “reputable persons” who have known you for at least three years, and can attest that you are “of good moral character and behavior”
certification that you have a “thorough familiarity” with the safe use of handguns, which requires completion of a firearms training course, submission of handgun qualification scores from a test administered by a certified firearms instructor, or passing a test of New Jersey’s use-of-force laws administered by a certified instructor
If law enforcement approves your application, New Jersey law states that you must then present it to the Superior Court of the county where you live. If the court is satisfied, it can issue you the permit, which will be valid for two years.
However, even with a concealed-carry permit, there are places where you cannot legally carry a handgun, including schools and universities, casinos, and state parks.
What about transporting guns in New Jersey?
In general, you’re not allowed to travel with a firearm in New Jersey unless it is unloaded and “contained in a closed and securely fastened case” or locked in your car’s trunk. If you do not have a concealed-carry permit, you can only transport a firearm under a few circumstances, such as when traveling between your home and business, between your home and business and a firearms repair shop, or to or from a shooting range or hunting site. (And you need to go directly to and from these locations.) Per New Jersey law, your “course of travel” can only include “deviations as reasonably necessary under the circumstances,” so no stopping at the grocery store, for example, on your way back.
And if you are a nonresident traveling through New Jersey with a firearm, there are a few rules to keep in mind under the federal Firearm Owners Protection Act. The firearms must be unloaded, neither the ammunition nor the firearm can be “readily accessible,” and they must be locked in containers “other than the glove compartment or console.”
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David Pucino, staff attorney with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.