Law360 (March 23, 2020, 7:24 PM EDT) -- A New Jersey firearms store and gun rights groups fired off a lawsuit Monday accusing Gov. Phil Murphy and the state police of violating the right to bear arms by shutting down their businesses as part of the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Legend Firearms, the New Jersey Second Amendment Society and Second Amendment Foundation Inc. claimed in their federal lawsuit that Murphy ran afoul of the state and federal constitution by including firearms and ammunition retailers among the "non-essential" retailers that must shutter for now, per an executive order he signed Saturday.
That same day, the state police stopped online background checks for would-be gun purchasers, according to the complaint, which names State Police Superintendent Patrick J. Callahan as a defendant. The plaintiffs made clear they "do not mean to minimize the severity or urgency of the coronavirus pandemic."
"However, this emergency (like any other emergency) has its constitutional limits. It would not justify a prior restraint on speech, nor a suspension of the right to vote. Just the same, it does not justify a ban on obtaining guns and ammunition," the complaint said.
The complaint, which seeks to enjoin the state from enforcing the closure of gun stores and to resume online background checks, comes as experts predict a deluge of litigation by businesses challenging the government-mandated closures as the coronavirus crisis unfolds.
Murphy's Executive Order No. 107 was among a wave measures instituted in New Jersey in recent days as the number of reported coronavirus cases grew exponentially — and the death toll climbed — after the state's testing capacity expanded. As of Murphy's Monday briefing, more than 2,800 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 27 have died.
The executive order didn't include licensed firearms dealers in its list of "essential" businesses, which means they'll have to close to the public until further notice, the complaint said.
Shortly after Murphy issued the order, the Division of State Police posted a notice on its website indicating that the force would no longer conduct background check, according to the complaint.
Legend Firearms customer Robert Kashinsky, who is named as a plaintiff in the suit, visited its Monroe Township store on Saturday and narrowed his choices down to a rifle and shotgun, planning to return on Tuesday to purchase one of them, the complaint said.
But those plans were dashed once he learned of the executive order, according to the complaint.
Legend Firearms has instituted safety measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New Jersey authorities, including "routine cleansing of doorknobs and countertops" and limiting the number of people in the store to 10 at a time, the complaint said.
"While state and local governments have the power to reasonably regulate the keeping and bearing of arms, they do not have the power to prohibit the keeping and bearing of arms, nor do they have the power to close the channels of distribution by which people obtain firearms and ammunition," the complaint said.
A representative for the state police declined to comment. A representative for Murphy didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The plaintiffs are represented by David D. Jensen of D. Jensen & Associates.
Counsel information for the state could not be determined on Monday.
The case is Kashinsky et. al. v. Murphy et. al., case number 3:20-cv-03127, in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
--Editing by Adam LoBelia.
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