You may not know this, but by a twist of fate of New Jersey's state laws, the standard Marlin Model 60 semi-automatic rifle is seen as a sinister death-dealer. Yes, the same little 22 caliber, tube-fed Model 60 that is the rifle of choice for target practice around the country is seen in the Garden State as being an assault rifle. How did this happen? Read on...
Badly Worded Law
With the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 still in the distant future, the State of New Jersey passed what became N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5f. This statute, which took effect in 1990, defined an 'assault firearm' simply as any gun with a semi-automatic action that could hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition in its magazine. Sure, this law was aimed at AR-15s, MAC-90s, and other so-called black rifles, but it's over simplified definitions cast so wide a net in the sea of firearms that the Marlin Model 60 was caught.
This innocent looking rifle, popular with small game hunters and youth shooting sports programs, had a tubular magazine that could hold 19-rounds (gasp!) of .22LR and even larger quantities (oh the humanity!) of shorter .22 Long, and .22 Short/CB rounds. Even though some 11-million of these firearms had been produced, the State considered them to be 11-million too many.
As such, any of these evil Marlins owned prior to 1990 by New Jersey residents could be grandfathered in --if they were registered. New models with the same 18+1 magazine that Marlin had sold for thirty years were forbidden to sell in the state.
Marlin Changes to accommodate
After N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5f went into effect, the Marlin Firearms Company shortened the magazine to hold just 15-rounds of .22LR ammunition and literature stopped mentioning that it could hold even more rounds of .22 Long/Short if desired. This led to an eventual redesign of the gun to where the barrel itself, after 2000, was shortened to match the length of the smaller capacity tube.
Note the different magazine lengths in these two Marlin Model 60s. Guess which one was made after 1990?
In effect, Marlin redesigned its entire line of Model 60's after 1990 to accommodate New Jersey shooters, which is a tribute to the company's desire to keep a broad market if nothing else.
Today, Remington-owned and run Marlin markets the current model of the gun as its "tubular magazine holds up to 14 Long Rifle rounds."
In New Jersey itself, the State Supreme Court has made clear that the letter of the 1990 law has to be followed, even if such an innocent rifle as the Model 60 is scapegoated because of the bad legislation. In the 1996 ruling "State v. Pelleteri, 683 A. 2d 555 - NJ: Appellate Div. 1996," the court looked at the case of Joseph Pelleteri who was charged with having an illegal 18-shot Marlin Model 60 in his possession that was not registered as an "assault firearm" with the State.
Pelleteri was a competition sports shooter who won the Marlin as a prize in a match (in police combat shooting!) during the late 1980s. This lucky winner never shot the gun; in fact, it was encountered in 1996 still in Pelleteri's safe with the factory tags still on the rifle. When found, he was charged, convicted, and that conviction affirmed on appeal with the state Supreme Court saying, ""When dealing with guns, the citizen acts at his own peril."
Will it ever change?
Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May) has introduced (23 years after the original ban) a measure (S2735) to allow the Marlin Model 60 to be sold in its original form in New Jersey. Not even the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that was defeated recently asked to outlaw this humble gun.
"It's definitely not an assault weapon," Van Drew said. "No terrorist - believe me, nobody is breaking into any type of facility with this weapon."
However, the measure is facing an uphill battle in a state that is already looking to increase its gun control laws. So don't hold your breath.