NJ’s gun control laws date back to 1897 or so, then around 1924, permits for CCW became required, and during the 30′s various revisions to CCW laws happened with reference to something called ‘The Uniform Firearms Act‘.
Then came 1966……
My hope is to somehow understand why and how something like this happened in the first place with hope it never happens again elsewhere. More importantly, perhaps this research might help out our brothers and sisters in New Jersey to regain their second amendment rights. The law went into effect in 1966, two years before the National Gun Control Act of 1968 and ultimately affected many people, even those that live in other states.
(To those who might be unfamiliar with New Jersey’s gun laws). The 1966 law required law abiding citizens to apply for a permit at their police station, under go a background check, have their fingerprints taken, have their mental health history given out, character references as well as fees and long waits from 30 days or much longer to get the permit. The permit will let you buy long guns, BB guns and muzzle loaders. A separate handgun purchase permit is needed for each pistol including BB gun pistols and black powder pistols. Obtaining a carry permit for the average law abiding citizen is impossible.
(UPDATE Jan 14 2012… I found a reference in a forum that alleges the black powder gun restrictions might have been later under Governor Tom Kean and may not have been in 1966. Perhaps one of the members here might want to clear that up, that would be great if you can include the date and Bill number is possible.)
I have been studying gun laws for awhile, among the areas I been focusing on is on the New Jersey’s gun laws. Among the reasons I focused on NJ was due to the unusual and very draconian nature of the law. It was called (among other things) The ‘Sills Act of 1966′.
Remember, this was two years before 1968 GCA and while gun enthusiasts in the rest of the country were still able to have mail order deliveries of rifles and pistols. New Jersey hoisted upon its citizens what amounted to a martial law approach to firearms laws.
Information on the Sills Act is very difficult to come by. Part of the problem when researching this is that internet searches on the Sills Act, the 1966 NJ FID, NJ Gun Control act of 1966 only seems to only bring up the famous Burton versus Sills challenge and eventual decision of 1968. Further complicating the issue is when new laws are amended, they are replaced with the new wording. Finding the correct original wording even with the right original law number does not turn up the correct results. Looking up something under chapter 60 of the Laws of NJ 1966, yields nothing and the 2A prefix only brings up current 2C statutes.
Very recently I found a great source that explained what was going on at the time. There was a mention of Legislative Alerts as early as February 1966 to NRA members that something was on the horizon in New Jersey. (I do not have the legislative updates but only references to it). A February 1966 alert could imply that the process for this new legislation was maybe even started earlier, perhaps late 1965. (Maybe one of our members here could shed more light on this?).
The Sills Act of 1966, was named after Attorney General of NJ, Arthur J. Sills but actually seems to have started as NJ Assembly Bill 165 by Maurice V. Brady.
March 1966 American Rifleman (What The Law Makers Are Doing)
Assembly Bill 165 by Maurice V. Brady…..”Prohibits the sale and purchase of firearms in certain cases, prescribes standards for dealer registration, obtaining permits and identification cards”
April 1966 American Rifleman -Senate Bill 232 by Ned Parsekian (same as Assembly Bill 165)
July 1966 American Rifleman (What The Law Makers Are Doing) Page 22
Assembly Bill 165 called the “Sills Bill” after Arthur Sills the AG of NJ was signed into law by New Jersey Governor Hughes on June 3 1966. The bill was passed 34-23 May 16. In the Senate 16-12. The reasons behind the passage of the law was a ‘bipartisan effort’ and due to a fatal shooting of a NJ trooper by an out of state ex-convict.
The same disqualifications that appear today for the FID appeared then as well with the additional disqualification is if a person was a member of a ‘subversive’ group.
Interestingly those under 18 could qualify for the card with permission of the guardian and passed a hunter safety course.
There was a provision that specifically provides that a license was needed to carry a handgun openly or concealed or in a vehicle….shall not apply to members of DCM enrolled clubs in going to or from target practice, provided that a copy of the club charter with the members was filed with the Superintendent of State Police annually.
Those who had a hunting license in going to and from hunting as well as those going to target practice was exempted from the carry law as well (according to the article).
(This implies that before this law, open carry in New Jersey was tolerated in some areas. While a license was needed for conceal carry since about 1924. The exemption for target practice and hunting seem to imply that open and concealed carry was tolerated for these purposes after the act was in place. Open carry in NJ was mentioned in some of the posts I have run across in various forums in my research.)
There also was another bill to counter Assembly Bill 165 with a more ‘reasonable approach’ it was written by the “Citizens Committee to Firearms Legislation” and that was Assembly Bill 789. And there was an identical bill in the Senate Bill 436. I do not have the details of this legislation.
Already there was an effort to repeal the new firearms act, it was Assembly Bill 864. It was sponsored by Douglas E. Gimson and Joseph J. Maraziti. It was referred to the Senate Committee on law and Public Safety.
September 1966 American Rifleman
“The new firearms laws was going to take effect August 02. The Citizens for Firearms legislation and others filed suit against the law on July 22 and a temp restraining order on July 25 which postponed the effective date of the law to Aug. 5. The restraining order was lifted July 29 by application of the Attorney General. Argument for permanent injunction Aug 05 but extended to Aug 11.”
Second Amendment is a Public Convenience?
August 11 1966 Judge Milton B. Conford rules that “the balance of public convenience is not for interference of enforcement of this statute” . The next day, August 12 1966, the law took effect.
(This statement is the sole basis for overturning the stay! Where was the reason, citing prior legal decisions and/or cases that the judge could use for overturning the stay? At what point does the second amendment no longer applies to citizens of a State of the Union? Perhaps, because 1947 Constitutional Convention in NJ that left out the second amendment was the judge’s basis for overturning the stay…because the second amendment was no longer in the state constitution?)
In the December 1966 American Rifleman, there was a comprehensive write up on the NJ law. The article is called “Strangulation By Law In New Jersey” by Ashley Halsey Jr. If you have a chance to read the whole article, please do.
Where was the opposition?
According the article, “Citizens Committee for Firearms Legislation” headed by NRA Executive Committeeman Louis A. Benton and composed of hunters, shooters, collectors and article goes on to state that Council For The Citizens Committee (State Senator William Ozzard) will argue on December 15 1966 in Superior Court that the whole law should be thrown out because it violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms and interferes with interstate commerce.
Believe it or not the ACLU was opposed to the law as well! A separate suit was filed in Freehold, the county chairman of the ACLU contended the law violates the Fifth Amendment by requiring applicants for firearms permits to state whether they belonged to so called subversive organizations. The suit was thrown out.
Also opposing the new law were firearms dealers and they complained that their ‘sales have slumped and some were laying off clerks’… (Since this was before the 1968 GCA comes this very telling statement)….”In addition, roadside stands had been set up in nearby states to serve New Jersey buyers“. So NJ residents could just travel and bypass the FID law, that is of course until the 1968 GCA became law.
There was yet another challenge to the law in Burton Vs Sills and in 1968 the law was allowed to stand. I don’t know why this information wasn’t more easily found on the internet. The law affected a lot of people, not just the residents of NJ. But also those who have visited the State or just passed through it. The law inspired Illinois to pass its FOID law as well as Massachusettes with its own FID law. It was two more years before the 1968 GCA would have been signed into law. Despite the opposition…the politicians won and the law abiding people lost.
More research is needed to see if there were any attempts to challenge the Sills Act of 1966 after the unsucessful Burton vs Stills 1968 challenge. Another valid argument for repealing the Sills Act would have been when the 1968 Gun Control Act became law. Replacing the Sills Act and thus using the 1968 GCA as New Jersey’s primary firearms law would have made the most logical choice at the time…and still does today.
Hope for the future
I wish the fine people of New Jersey good luck in regaining their second amendment rights. Besides the hope of HR 822 for the citizens of the good State, the old ‘outdated’ 1966 Sills Act should just be replaced with the 1968 GCA and in turn will restore gun rights to the law abiding gun owners through out that fine state.
In addition it will save the State of NJ a ton of money in paperwork and shift law enforcement from behind the desks and back to the streets where they are needed the most. Replacing the Sills gun control Act of 1966 would finally bring New Jersey into the 21st Century and hopefully join the other free states out there.
Originally posted on NJGunForums, and written by Midwest