After the Charleston, S.C., church shootings this June, two New Jersey pastors decided to do whatever they could to take preventive, pre-emptive action to protect themselves and their congregations—by obtaining carry permits. I know how they work here: They tell you, “You need this, you need that.’ But they don’t tell you everything. And then when you turn it in, and some small detail is wrong, they kick it back.
But as both ministers—Pastor Kevin Bernat of New Life Assembly in Egg Harbor Township and Pastor Jeffrey Kovach of Calvary Bible Church in Mount Laurel—recently told America’s 1st Freedom, New Jersey’s gun laws seem intended to keep good, honest, lawful citizens disarmed.
As part of their ministries, both of these pastors routinely counsel troubled souls—drug addicts, alcoholics, abusers and the abused—in scary sections of dangerous cities like Camden and Newark. One of them has been threatened. One of them commonly carries quantities of cash to deposit at the bank. Both have good reasons to carry a firearm. Yet both have found that New Jersey does everything imaginable to keep them defenseless.
In the latest chapter of New Jersey’s gun control insanity, both of these clergymen are finding that the Garden State’s concealed-carry permitting process is a nightmarish paper chase filled with:
Requirements that are contradictory, depending on which police agency you ask;
Laws that are vague, undefined and ultimately indefinable outside a courtroom;
Arbitrary restrictions that vary depending on the town in which you live;
Delays that can run into months, despite the law requiring the process be completed in 30 days; and
Enough frustration, fear, uncertainty and doubt to make you give up trying before you’ve even begun—which seems to be the intent right from the beginning.
Worst of all, in the final crowning insult, even if you’re clever enough to answer all the Sphinx’s riddles correctly and lucky enough to be issued a N.J. carry permit—a permit that merely confirms your constitutional right to keep and bear arms—you’re forced to navigate that same labyrinthine maze every two years, beginning to end, all over again.
How To Access Your God-Given Freedom In 1,000 Easy Steps
When Pastor Bernat decided to try to get a carry permit, he went to his local police station, where they gave him his sheaf of paperwork. After he went home, he found that the forms they gave him were for voluntarily registering a gun—not what he needed to apply for a carry permit.
“When I called them back for the carry permit paperwork, they said, ‘Oh, we don’t have that. You have to go to the state police website and download the paperwork there,’” Bernat explained. “So I downloaded the form from the state police website, but there are no real instructions on what you need, or what’s required. So I called the state police, and they said, ‘You’ve got to get that from your local police department.’ So I called the local police department, and they said, ‘Yeah, we do have the form.’ When I said, ‘Well, when I was there, the girl told me you didn’t have the form,’ they said, ‘Well, I don’t know why she told you that.’”
If this sounds like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First?” routine, imagine this dragging on for months instead of minutes. Because as Bernat explained, long before he even got to the point of applying for a permit, he had to jump through many prerequisite hoops.
If you want to buy a handgun in New Jersey, first you must obtain a Firearm ID Card (FID), which requires you to be fingerprinted, give consent for a mental health records check and provide the names of two personal references. But an FID card permits you to purchase only long guns—like shotguns, rifles and even BB guns—not handguns. “Every single law enforcement officer that I asked about this gave me a different answer,” Kovach said.
Once you get an FID card, then and only then can you apply for a permit to purchase a handgun in New Jersey. Bernat said the whole process took him five to six months the first time he went through it, and about three months last time. Yet it’s only supposed to take 30 days.
Once you get your FID card and a permit to purchase a handgun, then you can begin the odyssey of trying to get a carry permit. And the nagging details, as Bernat enumerated them, seem intended to confuse and confound. You’re required to submit duplicate forms—but they must be hand-written copies; photocopies get bounced back. You have to pay your fees with a money order, not with a check. The state police say the money order has to be for $50 but the local police say $20—and if you show up with a $50 money order and tell the local police to “keep the change” out of aggravation, they send you away again (and money orders are non-refundable). If you then come back with a money order for $20, only then do the local police realize that their forms are out of date and you actually need a money order for $50. Lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseum infinitum.
As Bernat summed it up, “I know how they work here: They tell you, ‘You need this, you need that.’ But they don’t tell you everything. And then when you turn it in, and some small detail is wrong, they kick it back. It’s like they just keep stringing you along.”
Gun Rights Stranded In The Wilderness Of Undefined “Gray Areas”
Pastor Kovach agreed. In fact, he couldn’t even get a clear, consistent answer on whether he could legally carry a firearm where he lives.
Although New Jersey law allows a resident to carry a concealed firearm without a permit in his home or on his property, the property on which Kovach lives—the parsonage, which is owned by the church—has the unique characteristics of both a private home and a public house of worship. So, being a diligently lawful person, Kovach tried to find out exactly what was allowed.
“Every single law enforcement officer that I asked about this gave me a different answer,” Kovach said. “I went to the state police and asked. Two or three days later, when they got back to me, they basically said, ‘We have no idea; we would pursue legal counsel.’”
Other state agencies gave similarly vague answers.
Consider Steffon Josey-Davis, Shaneen Allen, Gordon Van Gilder and Carol Bowne. When it comes to ordinary, well-meaning, honest, peaceable people being ensnared or devoured by the state’s Byzantine anti-gun laws, New Jersey might as well be the old Soviet Union.
The irony is that these pastors are the good guys—lawful, peaceable, upstanding members of their communities—and chances are, they’re better trained and more knowledgeable about firearms than the politicians who assume they can’t be trusted.
Pastor Kovach said the only run-in he’s ever had with the law was decades ago when he received a speeding ticket that was dismissed in court. Pastor Bernat is the son of a policeman and grew up in Pennsylvania, where he owned handguns all his life. In fact, Bernat said, to qualify for a carry permit, he had to fire 800 rounds in training. Moreover, he took his training from a certified law enforcement trainer, and qualified in both the daytime and nighttime training disciplines.
Bernat was also told that he had to have a one-time psychological evaluation from a psychologist certified by the state to qualify for a permit. “I’ve had psychological courses that I’ve taken to be a counselor as part of my credentialing with the Assembly of God,” Bernat said. Yet after he had paid $500 for his own psychological evaluation, Bernat found out that local police departments had been enjoined by the courts from demanding additional requirements—such as psych evaluations—from carry permit applicants. In other words, another $500 down the drain. In the end, they have the discretion to deny permits on a whim and for any reason if applicants don’t prove to officials’ satisfaction that they have a justifiable “need” to carry.
A Frustration Strategy Aimed At Getting You To Give Up
So far, Bernat estimates that his expenses for trying to get a carry permit in New Jersey—including the costs of the psych evaluation, 800 rounds of ammunition, training, paperwork fees and so on—are in the neighborhood of $1,000. “You have to go through the same training and the same amount of trigger time as police,” Kovach asserted.
Kovach said he figures he’s probably spent six to eight months just researching the laws and requirements involved in getting a carry permit. “Basically getting nowhere,” he added.
“After downloading all the forms and starting the process, I finally realized this is going to cost an awful lot of money, and at the end of it, I’m likely to be told, ‘No,’” Kovach said. “And as the pastor of a small church, I can’t afford to just throw money away.”
Indeed, the law seems to be written and applied to achieve that exact objective. Both Bernat and Kovach said that most people they asked about carry permits in New Jersey—including current and former law enforcement sources—told them, “Don’t even bother, you’ll be wasting your time.”
As Alexander Roubian of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society told WWOR-TV’s “Chasing News” program, “In a state of about 9 million people, you have 1,600 people that have concealed-carry permits, and those are all judges, politicians, friends of the politicians and judges. The criteria is basically a de facto ban on concealed carry.”
Why? Because in the end, even if you jump through all the hoops and over all the hurdles that New Jersey state and local officials erect to try to stop you from even applying for a permit, in the end, they have the discretion to deny permits on a whim and for any reason if applicants don’t prove to officials’ satisfaction that they have a justifiable “need” to carry. This is how they turn the whole process into an exercise in squaring the circle.
So most applicants don’t even try.
One likely key reason, as Bernat explained, is that denial of a carry permit brings future repercussions: “Even former police officers told me, ‘We don’t even apply, because once you apply for a permit and get turned down—and you are going to get turned down—whenever you go to get another handgun purchase permit, you’re required by law to check the box saying you’ve been turned down for a carry permit. And then it holds up everything while they figure out why you were denied a carry permit. That’s the catch.’”
So for now, Kovach said he’s holding out on applying for a carry permit in New Jersey. He’s waiting to see how Bernat fares in his application process to decide whether to continue pursuing a permit for himself.
Use Your Power!
If you want to prevent the tragedy and travesty of New Jersey from becoming the norm nationwide, help fight back by becoming a member of the National Rifle Association of America. With your help, we can win.
Meanwhile, at the national level, some presidential candidates seem to be trying to outdo one another in making the entire United States more like New Jersey—or worse—when it comes to gun control, rather than vice-versa.
It’s bad enough that Hillary Clinton is on record supporting everything from reimposing the Clinton semi-auto gun ban (“I will work to reinstate the assault weapons ban,” she’s said), to national gun registration and owner licensing.
What’s worse is that her fellow presidential candidate, Martin O’Malley, is now challenging Democrats to redouble their efforts on gun bans. In a piece that appeared recently on CNN.com, O’Malley said, “For far too long, Democrats have been too afraid to stand up to the gun lobby. It’s time for that to change.”
“If I am elected president,” O’Malley continued, he plans to impose a “comprehensive” gun-ban agenda including licensing and fingerprinting of gun owners, bans on handgun ownership for those under age 21, and much more.
And the fact is, some Americans may be buying into their anti-gun agenda.
Earlier this fall, CNN released the results of a poll that found that 42 percent of registered voters said “gun policy” would be “extremely important” to their vote for president next year. That’s almost double what it was three years ago. What’s more, that number among registered Democrats was 42 percent, versus just 36 percent for Republicans—so you can guess which way the results could tilt against your firearm freedoms.
With the U.S. Supreme Court where it stands today, when it comes to the Second Amendment-protected right to keep and bear arms, next year’s elections will be more decisive, and farther-reaching, than any election in decades.