Like beauty, what constitutes a “sensitive place” probably is in the eye of the beholder.
And in this case, the beholder, or beholders, likely are going to be federal judges.
Monday’s Assembly debate and subsequent passage of a bill regulating concealed carry in New Jersey was punctuated by some colorful exchanges, including an observation by Republican Brian Bergen that one of his adversaries was an “a…hole”
OK, that got attention, but how this issue ends probably will be determined on a more scholarly basis.
Our look begins with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June overturning a New York state law that essentially limited the “right to carry” a weapon to those who established a need to do so. The court observed that constitutional rights should not be subjected to a “need only” basis.
Gun laws in New Jersey at the time were similar to those in New York. To legally carry a gun in New Jersey, one also had to demonstrate a legitimate need for a weapon.
Now that the “need” requirement is gone, the Legislature is looking to do two things: comply with the court decision and also make it hard for anyone to carry a gun.
This, of course, sparks passionate debate.
The love affair some conservatives have with guns is always hard for those with different views to grasp. Full disclosure: I have never owned a gun and have no plans to do so.
Personal preferences aside, the bill the Assembly passed along party lines seems to rely on one part of the court’s opinion.
In it, the majority acknowledged that there are historically “sensitive places,” where firearms have been prohibited. They include polling places, courthouses and legislative meeting locations. That goes back, presumably, 200 years or so.
But the opinion also said the following:
“And courts can use analogies to those historical regulations of ‘sensitive places’ to determine that modern regulations prohibiting the carrying of firearms in new and analogous sensitive places are constitutionally permissible.”
In layman terms, that suggests that lawmakers can establish their own “sensitive places” based on contemporary judgment.
That’s precisely what the state bill in question does.
Besides the aforementioned locales, carrying firearms would be banned in parks, schools, entertainment centers (think MetLife Stadium), libraries, bars and transportation centers.
In some ways, that makes a lot of sense. Do we really want people sitting at a bar getting tanked carrying a loaded gun? Ditto for people at a football game.
But here’s the problem.
New York state responded to the court decision with a law that also defined many “sensitive places.”
That law, however, was blocked by a federal judge who objected to some of the “sensitive places,” including city subways and Times Square. The state appealed and the law is still in effect pending further judicial review.
Here in New Jersey, the bill passed by the Assembly still needs to go through the Senate and be signed by the governor.
For the Democrats who run the state, this really is good politics. There long has been support in New Jersey for strong gun control laws.
Still, if the law is signed, you know it is going to be challenged.
Which brings us back to what constitutes “sensitive places.”
This may again be something for the Supreme Court to decide.
Back almost 60 years ago, then Justice Potter Stewart classically admitted he couldn’t explain “hard-core” pornography, but “I know it when I see it.”
Some may define “sensitive places” the same way.