For reversal -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford and Schreiber. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Clifford, J.
[70 NJ Page 554] We are called upon in this litigation to construe that section of the New Jersey Gun Control Law of 1966 (L. 1966, c. 60; N.J.S.A. 2A:151-1 et seq.) which exempts antique firearms from the regulatory provisions and sanctions of the statute. Specifically we must determine
if the replicas of antique muzzle-loading pistols, revolvers, and rifles which the corporate plaintiffs manufacture and sell and the associational and individual plaintiffs collect are indeed "antique firearms" and thus excluded from the Act.
The history behind this case is set forth in the opinion of the Appellate Division, 131 N.J. Super. 38, 43-45 (1974). Briefly, that history reveals that for seven years after the Gun Control Law was passed, it was the position of the Attorney General's office that replicas of antique firearms were, by virtue of N.J.S.A. 2A:151-18, not subject to regulation. On July 10, 1973, in response to an inquiry by the Bergen County Prosecutor, then Attorney General Kugler advised law enforcement officials that the replicas were to be treated as any other regulated firearm and hence were to be made subject to the licensing, recording, and permit provisions of the statute. Firearms dealers in New Jersey were duly notified by the State Police of the applicable restrictions. Plaintiffs -- four corporations dealing in muzzle-loading firearms using black powder, a sportsmen's organization, an association of Civil War firearms enthusiasts, and an individual collector of Revolutionary War antique firearms -- brought an action in the Appellate Division seeking a review of the Attorney General's opinion and challenging the State Police notification based thereon. That case was dismissed on the grounds that neither the Attorney General's opinion nor the notification was a final decision or action reviewable by the court within the contemplation of R. 2:2-3(a).
Plaintiffs then, by a separate proceeding in the Law Division, sought (a) a declaration that the exemption applied to replicas and (b) an injunction against enforcement of the Gun Control Law's regulations as interpreted in the revised position of the Attorney General's office. On cross-motions for summary judgment plaintiffs prevailed. Thereupon the State applied for a stay of the trial court's judgment, which was granted by the Appellate Division. We reviewed that stay on an emergent basis and declined to dissolve it. Subsequently
the Appellate Division heard argument and affirmed the lower court's decision in plaintiffs' favor. 131 N.J. Super. 38 (1974). We granted the State's petition for certification. 67 N.J. 80 (1975). We now reverse.
The statute at issue, N.J.S.A. 2A:151-18*fn1 exempts three types of antique firearms while leaving the term "antique firearm" undefined. Excluded from the Gun Control Law are: (1) antique firearms which are inoperable; (2) antique firearms which do not fire fixed ammunition; and (3) antique firearms manufactured before 1898 for which cartridge ammunition is unavailable commercially. These guns must be possessed as curiosities or for their ornamental or historical value to qualify for the exception.
Plaintiffs manufacture, sell, and collect replicas of black powder muzzle-loaders, and they argue that these firearms, which are operable but which do not fire fixed ammunition, are identified in N.J.S.A. 2A:151-18 and thus fall within the exception set out by the statute. This contention is supportable if the term "antique" contemplates a replica.
Our concern, then, being with the meaning of what the Legislature said, we resort to that overriding principle of statutory construction that in the absence of an explicit indication of special meaning, words will be given their ordinary and well-understood meaning. Safeway Trails Inc. v. Furman, 41 N.J. 467, 487, cert. den., 379 U.S. 14, 85 S. Ct. 144, 13 L. Ed. 2d 84 (1964); Fahey v. City of Jersey City, 52 N.J. 103, 107 (1968). The pertinent definitions of the term "antique" when used as an adjective are set forth
in Webster's Third New International Dictionary as follows:*fn2
1: existing since ancient or former times; among the oldest of its class. * * * 2: of or belonging to earlier periods: ANCIENT. * * * 3: exhibiting the style or fashion of ancient or former times: OLD-FASHIONED, ARCHAIC. * * * 5: * * * b: having the appearance of age: suggesting the crafts of an older period. * * *
Plaintiffs champion the third sense, "exhibiting the style or fashion of ancient or former times"; and the fifth sense, "having the appearance of age," also lends credibility to their argument. We discern an emphasis on age, however, permeating the senses listed in Webster's. For example, Webster's directs the reader to the adjective "old" as a synonym of the word "antique." ...