TRENTON - Gov. Christie called Monday for loosening New Jersey's "extraordinarily strict and expansive gun control laws," endorsing a report he commissioned that said state regulations had placed unfair burdens on law-abiding residents who want to obtain, carry, and transport firearms.
Christie released the report six months after he announced he had created a commission to review the state's gun laws. A day after he signed an executive order announcing the commission, Christie officially declared his candidacy for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
On the campaign trail, some conservatives have expressed reservations over Christie's record on gun rights in New Jersey.
The commission said some local police departments had failed to process firearms applications in a timely manner; argued that the standard by which individuals can obtain a permit to carry a handgun was too vague and onerous; and addressed various troubles New Jersey residents and out-of-state visitors have experienced with regard to transporting their handguns.
It recommended that the state attorney general issue directives with regard to processing firearms applications and interpreting a law that limits where residents may travel with their guns within the state. The report also said New Jersey should broaden a regulation governing whether individuals should be able to obtain concealed carry permits.
"New Jersey's extraordinarily strict and expansive gun control laws and regulations have given rise to rules and restrictions that are complicated and unfair to law abiding New Jerseyans," Christie said in a statement Monday.
Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, praised Christie's actions.
"New Jersey is notorious for its medieval treatment of gun owners and contempt for the Second Amendment, and the commission's recommendations would address some of the most blatant abuses," Bach said in a statement.
Bryan Miller, executive director of the advocacy group Heeding God's Call to End Gun Violence, had a different take. The panel's recommendations "run directly contrary to the wishes of the overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans, but since he virtually moved out of the state months ago, Christie cares not what Garden Staters want," Miller said.
"Christie has ignored the great body of evidence that the state's gun laws work to reduce violence in favor of kowtowing to the demands of pro-gun extremists in another state. Shameful," he said.
In his June executive order, Christie cited the death of 39-year-old Carol Bowne of Berlin Township after being stabbed in her driveway that month by her ex-boyfriend. Bowne had a restraining order against Michael Eitel, and six weeks before her death had applied for a handgun permit. Prosecutors said the man hanged himself three days after the stabbing.
"The terrible tragedy involving Berlin resident Carol Bowne this past summer, and far too many instances of gun owners facing severe criminal penalties when they have no intent to violate the law, compelled the need to take a fresh look at whether our laws and rules around gun ownership are working," Christie said Monday.
Christie appointed the three commission members: Adam J. Heck, a former associate counsel to Christie; Eric H. Jaso, a former federal prosecutor under Christie at the U.S. Attorney's Office; and Erik Lillquist, a professor of criminal law at Seton Hall University.
The commission found that some police departments had not complied with a requirement that they issue handgun permits to eligible applicants within 30 days of receiving an application. Provided with examples from Rifle and Pistol Clubs, the commission said it had found application processing delays in some 100 different jurisdictions. Some delays were needed for extensive background checks, the report said.
Some police departments had unlawfully imposed extra requirements on applicants seeking permits, such as requiring spousal consent, the report said.
Victims of domestic violence face undue delays in being able to purchase firearms, the report said. Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman previously issued regulations to expedite application review in the case of domestic violence.
To ensure that authorities issue permits to eligible residents without "unnecessary delay," the commission recommended that Hoffman establish uniform criteria for state and local police for processing applications.
The commission also scrutinized New Jersey's concealed carry laws and regulations. To obtain a permit authorizing an individual to carry a handgun outside the home, an individual must prove to a judge that he or she has a "justifiable need" to do so.
The term is not defined in statute, the report said, but New Jersey regulations say it means "the urgent necessity for self-protection, as evidenced by specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant's life that cannot be avoided by means other than by issuance of a permit to carry a handgun."
Under this standard, the report said, "very few applications are granted, and many people are likely discouraged to obtain a permit because the standard is so high."
The commission recommended changing the standard so that a permit would be issued "where the dangers to the applicant's life cannot reasonably be avoided other than by issuance of the permit."
"Without this change," the report said, "the regulation appears to suggest that if there is anything the applicant could do to avoid the danger - including move to another state or even another country - the permit should not issue."
Finally, the commission said New Jersey laws can "ensnare law-abiding individuals" transporting firearms within the state. There are exemptions to unlawful possession charges, including "point-to-point travel," such as from one's home to work, provided the firearm is unloaded and properly secured.
The exemption permits "reasonably necessary" deviations from that point-to-point travel, but the law doesn't explain what that means, the report said.
As such, the attorney general should advise law enforcement authorities as to what constitutes a "reasonably necessary" deviation and provide specific examples, the commission said.
"We will work through the attorney general to put these changes into effect as quickly as possible," Christie said.