On Friday, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court in New Jersey overturned the trial court in a case involving the denial of a firearms permit and ordered the return of Justin Blasko’s firearms absent any new disqualifying events. They made their decision on Second Amendment grounds.
Mr Blasko’s troubles started when his apartment’s building superintendent entered to fix his air conditioner and saw “assault weapons” along with other stuff including a four foot alligator. The super called police and they entered the apartment, seized his firearms, and issued him a summons for the alligator, a snake, and a leg-hold trap. They also filed a complaint that he had an illegal assault weapon.
Blasko entered a Pre-Trial Intervention program and the charges were eventually all dismissed. Moreover, the state later acknowledged that the alleged “assault weapons” were not in fact assault weapons as covered by NJ law. Following the dismissal of the charges, Blasko requested his firearms back.
The Superior Court in Passaic County denied Blasko’s request and ordered him to surrender his Firearms Purchaser Identification Card. They also permitted the State of New Jersey to sell his seized firearms and ammunition. The trial judge said that because Blasko’s firearms were “in plain view, accessible to a third party” his conduct was contrary to the public health, safety, and welfare which is a disqualifying factor for gun ownership in NJ. It should be noted that Mr. Blasko’s apartment was in a building that had locked access and that only the super had a key with which to enter his apartment (with prior notice and permission).
[T]he police report shows that Blasko kept his firearms in an extremely negligent and unsafe manner because he kept dozens of unsecured firearms and abundant ammunition in plain view in his apartment. . . . [He] chose to store these items in this manner knowing that his apartment was never truly “locked” since the building superintendent had a master key that he was permitted to use (or give to a maintenance worker to use) at any time even if [he] was not home. [He] in fact signed an agreement which permitted such access.
The Appellate Division examined all the instances that allowed for the forfeiture of firearms in NJ based upon negligent conduct. They found that Mr. Blasko’s past behavior and conduct did not rise to the level of negligence as needed by the law to seize his firearms.
The facts at hand present none of the circumstances found in the prior authorities to result in disqualification under N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3c(5). No weapon was discharged as found in Cunningham; no possession of narcotics occurred as cited in Sbitani; no domestic violence, drunkenness, or criminal conduct while intoxicated (assault, hit and run, and DWI) existed as relied upon in Freysinger, or a disregard of the gun laws as found in Osworth. Here, after eliminating the erroneous finding that Blasko possessed an assault rifle, the remaining facts 13 A-3848-10T2 underpinning the trial judge’s conclusion Blasko was disqualified under N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3c(5) were that he owned a significant arsenal of weapons, which were strewn haphazardly in his small studio apartment.
The court then examined whether New Jersey law required Mr. Blasko to keep his firearms locked up in a safe or with other devices such as a trigger lock. More importantly, they examined this in the context of the US Supreme Court’s rulings in Heller and McDonald. They concluded safe storage laws did not apply to Mr. Blasko as he was neither a commercial enterprise nor did he have minor children. They also concluded that based upon the Heller decision he was allowed to have his firearms accessible.
Despite a preference for the safe storage of weapons with safety locks, we conclude a law abiding adult, living alone without children, who openly leaves weapons in a locked apartment, insufficiently supports a finding of conduct contrary to the interest of the public health, safety or welfare pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3c(5). See Heller, supra, 554 U.S. at 635, 128 S. Ct. at 2822, 171 L. Ed. 2d at 683 (holding “the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment.
Mr. Blasko’s attorney was well-known gun law attorney Evan Nappen. More on the case can be found here. Nappen notes that this is the first time a higher court in New Jersey expressely applied the Second Amendment to a gun seizure case. This is definitely a win for gun rights in New Jersey and it was made possible by the careful building of Second Amendment case law by Alan Gura and others.