Challenge to New Jersey gun liability law is dismissed

August 20, 2023
Robert Ayers

The Associate Press reports that a federal appellate court has just dismissed a lawsuit that challenged New Jersey's new gun liability law. 

But, this does not mean that the law is safe. As will be demonstrated, it will almost certainly be challenged again.

At issue here is a measure that was passed and signed into law, by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), in July 2022.

Reuters reports:

New Jersey's law, which was passed in July 2022, clears a path for the state’s attorney general to file lawsuits against local gun businesses based on an exception to the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which broadly protects the industry from liability.

The legal challenge

In November, roughly four months after the law went into effect, it was legally challenged by the Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

NSSF argued that the New Jersey law directly conflicts with federal law - the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) - and that the New Jersey Law is overly broad.

Accordingly, NSSF sought a preliminary injunction stopping the New Jersey law from being enforced while litigation over its legality continued.

In January, a district court granted NSSF's preliminary injunction request.

This ruling was subsequently appealed, which brought the matter before the Philadelphia-based Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Order vacated

The Third Circuit has now vacated the order given by the district court, which means that New Jersey is now allowed to implement its law.

The important thing to note, here, is that the court made this decision on procedural grounds, rather than on the merits. The court specifically found that the matter was not ripe - which basically means that the matter is not ready to be heard by the courts.

The Associated Press reports:

The appellate court, though, found the NSSF “jumped the gun” in challenging the measure because the state’s attorney general hasn’t tried to enforced it yet and there was little evidence that enforcement is looming.

There are situations in which a federal court can hear a matter even though an actual legal injury has yet to occur, such as if the challengers are threatened with an imminent injury. But, in this case, the appellate court found that this is not the situation.

What this all means is that the New Jersey law will almost certainly be legally challenged again when it is enforced and, therefore, ripe for judicial review.

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