Politics

Christie Declines to Defend State's Gun Laws in Court

January 2, 2014
 

Gov. Chris Christie’s administration declined to defend two of New Jersey’s toughest gun laws in a high-profile case decided Monday by a state appeals court.

The court upheld both laws anyway, finding that New Jersey has a "well-established record" of policing firearms and can place strict requirements on people seeking permits to carry concealed handguns.

But in an 86-page opinion by Judge Jane Grall, the court added that Christie’s attorney general "regrettably" chose not to defend the state’s laws — an unusual move that administration officials did not comment on Monday.

The appeals court ruled against two retired arson investigators in the Newark Fire Department, who were denied permits to carry concealed handguns after more than a decade on the job. The two men argued that New Jersey’s gun controls were so severe they were unconstitutional.

New Jersey has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, and dozens of residents have lost similar challenges over the years. But legal experts said they could not recall the last time a New Jersey governor refused to defend a gun control law.

"The attorney general participated in the (trial court) but, regrettably, declined to participate here," Grall wrote for the three-judge panel. "This matter implicates criminal laws, involves a determination of the (trial court) and presents constitutional challenges to state statutes. The attorney general is the state’s chief law enforcement officer; the head of the Department of Law and Public Safety ... and is entitled to defend a challenge to a statute."

Officials in Christie’s office and the Attorney General’s office did not respond to several requests for comment Monday.

The Republican governor’s move renewed a long debate over firearms in New Jersey. Democrats and gun control advocates criticized Christie for refusing to defend public safety laws while gun rights activists and Republicans praised him for taking a stand for gun rights.

Bryan Miller, executive director of the nonprofit group Heeding God’s Call, said Christie sat out the case to bolster his chances of winning the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

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