New Jersey Gun Owners Decry Ban Critics Were Legion At A Sports Shop. They Hope For A Senate Override Tomorrow Of Florio's Veto.

Posted: March 14, 1993

It was on everyone's lips at Bob's Little Sport Shop in Glassboro. Amid displays of shotguns, rifles and handguns, enthusiasts were railing against New Jersey's gun ban, venting their frustration and wondering what tomorrow will bring.

Will the ban survive the Senate vote or go down to defeat?

"I'd like to see the ban get overridden," said Jim Craft, a sales representative at the shop, as he stood in front of a forest of shotgun barrels lining the wall. "Go after the people who are committing the crimes."

"It's like Prohibition," added sales representative Allen Kargman. ''Booze was banned and that didn't work either."

A customer, Kevin Sola, said people would get guns "no matter how you look at it. It's the ones trying to protect their homes that get hurt."

The Senate is scheduled to vote tomorrow on whether to override Gov. Florio's veto of a bill passed in August to repeal the three-year-old gun ban. The decision comes after one of the fiercest lobbying efforts in the state's history.

The National Rifle Association has launched an intensive campaign to kill the ban, and people on both sides of the issue have bombarded senators with calls, letters and petitions.

New Jersey bans possession and sale of semiautomatic guns - those that fire each time the trigger is pulled and that can hold more than 15 rounds. Also banned were shotguns that hold more than six rounds.

That includes the short-barreled Mac-10 and Tec-9 handguns, the semiautomatic version of the Uzi used by the Israeli army, and the AK-47 and AR-15, civilian versions of the infantry rifles used by the former East Bloc and U.S. Armies.

But critics, including those who come in every day to Bob's Little Sport Shop and other gun stores, fault the measure for being overly broad and banning guns such as the .22-caliber Remington 550, commonly used for shooting targets or hunting small game.

The Attorney General's Office exempted semiautomatic BB guns from the ban at the behest of the Coalition of New Jersey Sportsmen. The state would consider exemptions for other guns but had not been asked.

"We have a lot of people, young and old, who bring in .22 rifles to be repaired," said Kargman, 36, of Clayton, as he leaned against a display case filled with handguns. "We say, 'Sorry. We can't repair it. You'll have to get rid of it or make it inoperable. Under New Jersey law, that's now an assault weapon.' "

Craft, 46, of Glassboro, said criminals were finding guns - just as drug users found drugs.

"The ownership, manufacture and importation of heroin is illegal, but you can go any place you want and buy it," said Craft, as customers stood nearby listening - and agreeing. "There are places even in this town, as small as it is.

"The people who want to sell heroin are breaking a greater law and they don't care about it."

Customer Kevin Sola, 27, of Washington Township, was equally opposed to the gun ban. He came in to purchase a new barrel for a shotgun. "I'd like to see things the way they were before the ban," he said.

Another customer, Richard Padulese, 19, of West Deptford, said he owned "a lot of semiautomatics and can't take them to the range anymore."

"I think (the ban) is real stupid," said Padulese, who signed a petition in the shop calling for the override of the governor's veto. "I mean, Florio really messed it up. The ban's got to be lifted."

Customer Paul Mensch, 22, of Williamstown, was browsing nearby. "I own shotguns, handguns, and a .22," he said. "I think the gun ban is stupid, too, and I'd like to see the vote go against Florio."

"Does anybody wonder why the right to keep and bear arms (in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) is directly after the right to free speech (in the First Amendment)?" Craft asked. "Could it be that it was there to protect free speech?"

Craft, a long-time veteran of the Navy and Army National Guard, said the state had misled the public about the gun ban.

"Some of the things that have to be brought out are the inaccuracies in the governor's portrayal of what is banned," he said. "He has certain buzz words he likes to use, like 'assault rifle,' and basically, they're inflammatory.

"Understand that the state wrote its own definition of 'assault rifle,' and they wrote the law to fit that which was banned. If you go to the commonly accepted definition throughout the rest of the world, not a single rifle banned in the State of New Jersey is an assault rifle. An assault rifle must be fully automatic."

Bob Viden 3d, son of the shop's owner, said many people were surprised when they learned how many guns were banned. "A lot of them don't know," said Viden, 26, of Mullica Hill. "They don't understand what the law covers."

At the Golden Eagle Rifle and Pistol Range in Indian Mills, Burlington County, gun owners have been mulling over the same issue.

"We have a lot of people coming in concerned that their rights are being violated," said Richard Knapp, 46, a Shamong resident who owns the range. ''Personally, I'm totally opposed to gun bans because they're restrictive to law-abiding citizens."

Knapp, the retired police chief of Hainesport Township, said he's "never heard so much talk" about the gun issue.

"Men and women have been coming in to learn how to use and handle weapons," said Knapp, who also is superintendent of law enforcement for the National Guard's 170th security police squad at McGuire Air Force Base.

"They're afraid to go out, afraid to go to shopping centers and malls. Now, we're hearing from people who don't have that much sporting experience. They're disconcerted with Trenton and Florio."

Many gun owners say they feel caught between two extremes - the state, which has outlawed the semiautomatic guns, and the NRA, which doesn't want any restrictions.

The ban has "been railroaded through," said Joe Lacina, 46, of Audubon. ''It's very unfair to an honest person who owns a gun and obeys all the laws. And then they say, 'Oops, we're changing the law and your gun is illegal.' I've taken two weapons out of the state. One of them is a shotgun I paid over $100 for. The state says, 'Make it inoperable. Turn it in.' "

Lacina's wife, Michele, 40, said she didn't believe the state could enforce the law. The state police have estimated that 300,000 people own guns covered by the ban. The Attorney General's Office believes it's impossible to accurately determine how many people would be affected.

"I'm just a regular citizen," said Michele Lacina. "I'm for the override

because it's a bad law. The people should have a right to keep and bear arms."

"What are they going to do?" Joe Lacina said. "Arrest 300,000 people?"

Fred Devesa, first assistant attorney general, said the notion that so many people would face jail was "crap. The gun would be confiscated and the charge would depend on how it came to the attention of authorities. If there was a charge, the likelihood is that there would not be a jail term imposed."

Devesa said about 250 people had been arrested since the law went into effect. Of that number, almost all of them were engaged in other unlawful activity or had a criminal record.

"I sympathize with (the law-abiding gun owners); they're being thrown in the middle of the debate between extremists and others," he said. "No one is interested in depriving those law-abiding citizens of the right to own a handgun or a rifle or a shotgun appropriate for hunting and target shooting.

"There are thousands of weapons still available. . . . You have to draw a line somewhere."

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