Gun Group’s Pre-emption and Due Process Challenges to “One Gun Law” are Shot Down

Association New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs v. Governor of the State of New Jersey, 707 F.3d 238 (3d Cir. 2013). In this opinion by Judge Sloviter, the Third Circuit deservedly gave the back of its hand to arguments by a gun group and gun owners that New Jersey’s “One Gun Law,” N.J.S.A. 2C:58-2(a)(7) and 2C:58-3(i), is unconstitutional. That statute prohibits the purchase or delivery of more than one handgun to any person within a 30-day period but also provides a mechanism to apply for an exemption from that limitation.

Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction against the One Gun Law. The district court denied an injunction and dismissed plaintiffs’ claims. They appealed, and the Third Circuit affirmed.

Plaintiffs argued that the One Gun Law was pre-empted by 15 U.S.C. §5001(g)(2). That statute forbids states from “prohibit[ing] the sale (other than prohibiting the sale to minors) of traditional B-B, paint ball, or pellet-firing air guns,” all of which are concededly covered by the One Gun Law. Judge Sloviter was not impressed with the pre-emption contention. The federal statute does not preclude states from regulating those weapons, as opposed to prohibiting them. The One Gun Law was not a “complete prohibition” or even a “de facto prohibition.” As a mere “regulation” of those weapons, the One Gun Law was not pre-empted by the federal statute.

Plaintiffs also asserted a due process argument. Though they did not challenge the exemption provision of the One Gun Law itself, they did argue that the implementation of that provision makes its exemptions illusory by requiring a prospective gun purchaser to list, by serial number, the guns that he or she wishes to buy. Plaintiffs contended that this makes it difficult or impossible to obtain an exemption, since the seller of the weapons would have to agree to take those particular guns off the market while the buyer waited, potentially for months, to see whether the exemption would be granted, and sellers would not want to do that.

Judge Sloviter did not even reach the issue of whether plaintiffs had a property right of some sort that was violated without due process. Assuming there were such a right, she said, the One Gun Law, whose terms plaintiffs did not challenge, itself expressly requires buyers to identify, on a prescribed form, “the particular handguns to be purchased.” The implementing forms did not “add further requirements that are so onerous as to deprive Appellants of any property interest they may have in the exemptions.”

The panel’s opinion was not long. It did not have to be. Plaintiffs’ arguments were plainly groundless. Judge Sloviter rightly rejected them.