New Jersey Democrats pass 22 gun-control bills, Republicans criticize decision

Assemblyman Lou Greenwald talks about his bill to reduce the number of rounds allowed in a gun magazine from 15 to 10. It was among many passed and sent to the Senate.
Assemblyman Lou Greenwald talks about his bill to reduce the number of rounds allowed in a gun magazine from 15 to 10. It was among many passed and sent to the Senate. (MEL EVANS / Associated Press)
Posted: February 23, 2013

TRENTON - The New Jersey Assembly's majority Democrats, citing the elementary-school massacre in Newtown, Conn., passed 22 gun-control bills Thursday that backers said would help curb gun violence.

The measures, which have to clear the Senate, would limit ammunition rounds, require mental health clearances and photo IDs for gun permits, and bar anyone on the federal terrorist watch list from obtaining a gun.

"We've got some of the best gun laws in the country, but we also know we have some things we can tighten up," Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) said before the votes. "That's all the Assembly is seeking to do. We are not seeking to prevent law-abiding citizens from purchasing, owning, utilizing their guns. We are not trying to impede hunters and sportsmen in the state."

Republicans, in the minority in both houses of the legislature, called several of the bills haphazard and poorly written, and were critical of the speed with which the legislation was moved through the chamber. The bills were advanced by committee in a hearing last week.

"It's unfortunate that in a year where we've seen tragic events such as Newtown, where serious attempts should be made at addressing violence in our society, that Democrats in New Jersey have decided to rush through legislation that is drafted poorly and doesn't begin to solve the problems that we've seen across the nation with respect to violent shootings," Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick said.

Republicans were thwarted in their request to hold the bills and wait for direction from an antiviolence task force commissioned by Gov. Christie to look at gun violence, mental health treatment, and violent video games, three elements present in December's shooting of 26 students and teachers at their Connecticut school.

A measure to keep guns out of the hands of people on the antiterrorism no-fly list was approved by a vote of 63-3 with 10 abstentions, but most others were roughly equivalent to the political split in the chamber, 48 Democrats and 32 Republicans.

Republican Assemblywoman Amy Handlin argued against a bill reducing the capacity of ammunition magazines to 10 rounds from 15, saying it would do nothing to stop people intent on killing others.

"The lunatic will get access to large-capacity magazines no matter what we do - from other lunatics, from other states, from the Internet," said Handlin, who represents Monmouth County.

But Assembly Democratic Leader Lou Greenwald, a sponsor of the legislation who represents parts of Camden and Burlington Counties, said such a bill might have saved a 9-year-old girl killed in the Arizona shooting rampage that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The girl was struck by the 13th bullet fired by the attacker.

A bill sponsored by six Democrats to bar state pension fund managers from investing in companies that manufacture, import, or sell assault weapons to civilians drew criticism from Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, a Republican, also of Monmouth County.

Casagrande found the bill ironic and hypocritical because the companies whose stock would be dumped are the ones arming U.S. troops overseas.

"Here is the ultimate irony," she said, "we'll buy their guns to keep our citizens safe, but we will dump their stocks to make a political statement."

New Jersey has invoked similar pension-investment restrictions only three times previously: for companies that did business with South Africa's whites-only government, with Sudan during times of genocide, and with Iran's government.

Similar measures have been introduced in the Senate, but no action has been taken pending a review by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester).

Christie has not taken a position on the bills, though he promised to give the proposals "due consideration" if they reach his desk.

"I'm a little surprised at how quickly they've done it," Christie said Thursday after a political event in Sea Bright, where he picked up the Democratic mayor's endorsement. "This is a very difficult issue and a complex one. And one that our national government has taken a long time to look at and study. It's amazing to me how quickly the Assembly can move when they want to."

Christie's likely opponent in November's gubernatorial race, Sen. Barbara Buono, has sought to make gun control a campaign issue. She supports stricter gun laws.

Gun Control Legislation at a Glance

Among the measures adopted by the New Jersey Assembly to change New Jersey's gun laws, bills would:

Reduce the maximum capacity of magazines to 10 rounds, as also proposed in federal legislation. New Jersey already has a 15-round cap. Retired police officers would be exempt from the reduction.

Ban online sales of weapons and ammunition, requiring all ammunition and weapon sales to be face-to-face. It was sponsored in response to the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting, where authorities said the shooter amassed an arsenal of ammunition and explosives from purchases he made over the Internet.

Require background checks on private sales of handguns, rifles, or shotguns through a licensed retail dealer. Transactions between immediate family members, law enforcement officers and licensed collectors would be exempt.

Require submission of certain mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a submission not considered mandatory under current law.

Establish a 180-day prohibition, up from 30 days, on handgun purchases for those convicted of failing to report loss or theft of firearm.

Require a firearms safety training class as a condition to obtain a permit to purchase a firearm and a firearm purchaser ID card. Applicants who have law enforcement or military weapons training could substitute their experience for the class.

Require that firearms purchaser ID cards display a picture and be renewed every five years. Cards under existing law do not display a picture and do not expire. Gun purchasers must obtain both a firearms purchaser ID card and a permit to purchase a firearm.

Exempt firearms records from the state's open records law. The bill clarifies ambiguity in existing law that does not firmly state rules about access to these records. The bill was sponsored in response to a New York newspaper's publication of a map locating firearm permit-holders, which sponsors said they would not want to see happen in New Jersey.

Ban individuals convicted of any of more than 30 different types of crimes from purchasing, owning, or possessing firearms.

Prohibit the state Treasury from investing any assets of pensions or annuity funds in companies that manufacture, import, or sell assault firearms for civilian use. The bill exempts investments in companies that manufacture, import, or sell assault firearms for use by the military or law enforcement agencies.

Prohibit handgun ammunition capable of penetrating body armor.

Revise definition of a destructive device to include a ban on certain weapons that are .50-caliber or higher. It does not affect certain shotguns and shotgun ammunitions used for sporting purposes of that caliber, as well as antique firearms, antique handguns, muzzleloader rifles, and certain black powder muzzleloaders would also be exempt.

Prohibit a person named on the consolidated federal terrorist watch list from obtaining a firearm by disqualifying him or her from being issued a firearms ID card or a permit to purchase a handgun.

Allow the attorney general to seize firearms in the possession of people deemed by a mental health professional to be a threat to themselves or others.

Establish a 90-day period for a person to dispose of a weapon owned illegally. The legislation would assure that owners of any weapon or magazines that become illegal under a change in New Jersey law have time to dispose of the weapon or ammunition.

Require law enforcement agencies to report information relating to seized firearms to a database available to all law enforcement agencies. The information is meant to determine if any of the firearms were reported lost or stolen or are connected to any crimes. It also would determine the weapon's original purchaser. The bill is similar to one in the federal gun control package.

Establish a 15-member task force to study issues of school safety.

Authorize municipalities to establish weapon-free zones around schools, day-care centers, public housing facilities, and public buildings such as libraries and museums. It would encompass areas that are 1,000 feet around a school, college, or university. The bill only targets those found unlawfully carrying a weapon, not people who obtained their firearms legally.

SOURCE: Associated Press

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