It goes without saying that some states have stricter gun laws than others. Guns & Ammo magazine ranks New Jersey as the 49th best state for gun owners, which is unsurprising when one considers the Garden State’s reputation for rigid firearms regulations. In this article, our Cape May gun crime lawyers will explain which weapons are prohibited in New Jersey, go over the possible criminal penalties, and visit the current status of the controversial “smart gun” law which was passed in 2002.
Penalties for Possession of Prohibited Firearms and Other Weapons
First, let’s clearly define exactly what New Jersey means by “firearm,” because the scope of the term is broader than you might think. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:39-1 (Definitions), the term “firearm” includes all of the following weapons:
- Automatic Rifles
- Machine Guns
- Semi-Automatic Rifles
It also includes any item which is capable of firing a “projectable ball, slug, pellet, missile or bullet,” or “any gas, vapor or other noxious thing.”
N.J.S.A. § 2C:39-3 (Prohibited Weapons and Devices) expressly bans the following guns, gun accessories, and explosives:
- Defaced Firearms – Fourth Degree Crime
- A “defaced” gun is one which has been tampered with or modified (e.g. the manufacturer’s serial number has been erased or altered).
- Antique firearms are exempt from this prohibition. A firearm is an antique if it cannot be fired or discharged, or if it was made before 1898.
- Destructive Devices – Third Degree Crime
- This means “any device, instrument or object designed to explode or produce uncontrolled combustion” (e.g. bombs, grenades).
- Sawed-Off Shotguns – Third Degree Crime
- Silencers – Fourth Degree Crime
- Stun Guns – Fourth Degree Crime
It’s important to point out that the statute also prohibits numerous weapons which aren’t guns or explosives. State residents should be aware that it is a fourth degree crime to possess any of the following items in New Jersey:
- Ballistic knives (knives which can be fired/ejected)
- Blackjacks and billy-clubs (batons/nightsticks)
- Brass knuckles
- Dirks and daggers
- Gravity Knives
Defendants who are convicted of illegal weapons possession in New Jersey face the following penalties, depending on how the underlying offense is graded:
- Fourth Degree Crime
- Fine – Up to $10,000
- Sentence – Up to 18 months in jail
- Third Degree Crime
- Fine – Up to $15,000
- Sentence – Up to 5 years in prison
These penalties apply merely to the possession of illegal weapons. If the defendant is in possession of the weapon specifically “for unlawful purposes,” such as planning to commit theft or assault in New Jersey, then the defendant may be charged with a second degree crime. If this were the case, the defendant would face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, while the potential fine skyrockets to $150,000.
What’s the Status of Smart Gun Laws in New Jersey?
Shortly before Christmas of 2002, New Jersey passed a controversial law called the New Jersey Childproof Handgun Law, commonly referred to as the “smart gun” law, in an effort to reduce the number of accidental gun deaths caused by children and toddlers. Smart guns will not fire unless they recognize the fingerprint of a specific user, which theoretically makes accidental discharges by children impossible.
Despite its positive intentions, this piece of legislation has been troubled from its earliest days. The law, which was structured to take effect in 2005, has faced resistance because it broadly bans the sale of all handguns which are not smart guns. The fact that consumer smart gun technology was essentially non-existent prior to 2013 – eight years after the law took effect – has further added to the ongoing debate surrounding this piece of legislation.
As of May 2015, New Jersey legislators are in the process of replacing the law with more relaxed regulations, which would merely encourage gun shop owners to carry and sell smart gun products. As Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Camden) explains, “The legislation from a decade ago was designed to stimulate technology. It worked. But if that legislation is now having the effect of restricting access to that consumer product, it needs to be reexamined.”
Governor Chris Christie, who in July 2014 vetoed a bill which would have reduced the maximum legal magazine capacity from 15 rounds to 10 rounds, has suggested that in its current form, the New Jersey smart gun law is ineffective. At a meeting in Dover, NH during May, Gov. Christie told his audience, “The problem for me in my state is, we’re getting gun laws that go in the other direction from our legislature.” The Governor said he would use “the executive clemency authority I have to right wrongs that have been produced by laws that overreached.”
New Jersey’s gun laws are highly nuanced, and the potential consequences of violating these laws can vary depending on factors like the extent to which the weapon is prohibited and the intended manner of use for the weapon. Thus, it is critical for defendants who have been charged with weapons crimes in New Jersey to seek highly experienced legal counsel.
At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, our Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys have more than 45 years of combined experience handling a wide variety of weapons crimes. We offer free initial consultations and will keep your information confidential, so call us right away at (609) 616-4956 to start discussing your legal matter. We represent both adult and juvenile clients. Se habla español.