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If golf courses can open, gun ranges should too, group says in lawsuit against NJ

Gov. Phil Murphy is pictured in Trenton in March. (Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media/TNS)

A New Jersey gun group has filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Phil Murphy on the basis of one question: If golf courses can be open during the coronavirus pandemic, why can’t outdoor gun ranges?

The Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of its thousands of members.

“Given that the Governor has opened golf courses, there is absolutely no basis for keeping outdoor shooting ranges closed,” the lawsuit says.

On Wednesday, the New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs said it was also filing a motion in which the organization is asking a federal court judge to “immediately force the re-opening of outdoor ranges,” said executive director Scott Bach, despite a Murphy executive order that has kept them closed since mid-March.

The group alleges that “prohibiting training with firearms is akin to prohibiting the exercise of Second Amendment rights altogether.”

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A spokesperson for the governor’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit comes nearly two months after Murphy signed an executive order in March that closed all “non-essential businesses” in an effort to slowly curb the spread of the coronavirus. Murphy originally closed all gun stores, but after the state was sued by a different Second Amendment organization, the governor lifted the restriction.

But the recent lawsuit filed Tuesday said the “existence of the COVID-19 pandemic does not justify” closing outdoor gun ranges, while the governor has lifted some other restrictions as the number of new hospitalizations and statewide cases of the virus continue to decrease.

On April 29, Murphy signed an executive order that re-opened some outdoor recreation for residents, like hiking in state parks and golfing, as long as proper safety measures were adhered too. The order did not include outdoor gun ranges.

The lawsuit says it is “inexplicable” that Murphy would allow golf courses and state parks to open earlier this month but not outdoor gun ranges, where social distancing and other safety measures can also be enforced.

The lawsuit highlights a 59-year-old female healthcare consultant who recently purchased a handgun for self-defense, but who has been unable to become proficient in using the firearm because the state has closed gun ranges.

Other members of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs have “expressed grave concern over the developing emergency” and their inability to use gun ranges, according to the lawsuit.

“(Murphy’s order) effectively bans the protected Second Amendment activity of training and building proficiency with firearms at the precise moment when the right to keep and bear arms is most essential,” the lawsuit says. “The citizens of New Jersey face unprecedented social disruption due to the COVID-19 emergency.”

The lawsuit says police departments have been strained by the virus and “public acts of lawlessness are becoming increasingly common and state officials have taken the unprecedented step of releasing inmates back onto the streets.

If allowed to open, the gun group said it would “would implement important sanitary and safety procedures, including limiting the number of members on each range at any one time and strictly observing, enforcing social distancing protocols, and requiring employees to wear masks or other face coverings.”

The lawsuit also names Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Col. Patrick J. Callahan, the superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, for their implementation and enforcement of the order that prevents outdoor gun ranges from being open.

This story has been updated to reflect that Gov. Murphy’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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© 2020 NJ Advance Media Group