Christie proposes stricter gun penalties

Posted: April 21, 2013

TRENTON - Gov. Christie wants to add new gun penalties to state law, ease restrictions on the involuntary commitment of the mentally ill, mandate photo IDs for firearms purchases, and forbid children from buying violent video games without parental permission.

Those are just a handful of more than a dozen proposals on violence that Christie, like other state and national lawmakers, is offering in the aftermath of the mass shooting Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Christie made the long-awaited announcement at a news conference Friday after reviewing the recommendations of a violence task force he commissioned. He said he accepted some of the task force's proposals and added his own.

"I believe we can address not only the effects of violence in our society but also some of the root causes," Christie said.

He stressed that New Jersey already has the second-toughest gun laws in the country, with an assault-weapons ban, a 15-round limit on magazines, and a background-check system more stringent than the one proposed in the bill from U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) that failed in the Senate this week.

Nonetheless, he said, there are ways to strengthen New Jersey laws.

Regarding background checks, Christie said the records of those ordered by courts to seek mental-health treatment should be sent to a federal database. That database is then used to conduct background checks for gun buyers.

State police expect to have a system for transferring records within the next several months after a dismal history of reporting to the federal government. As of October, New Jersey had provided mental-health records for just 17 people, according to a report from the gun-control group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Christie also wants to target straw purchasers, those with clean records who buy guns on behalf of those who commit crimes. He would impose criminal penalties for hiring a straw purchaser and make it a crime to sell a firearm to someone knowing that person is going to commit a crime.

Under his plan, it also would be a crime to sell a gun to anyone known to be mentally ill or who lacks a valid gun permit.

The Republican governor's proposals did not go as far as some of the bills moving through the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

In February, the Assembly approved 22 bills aimed at curbing gun violence, including a proposal to decrease the maximum rounds per magazine from 15 to 10. Neither Christie nor Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) has offered support for that bill.

"Where we are now is the right place to be," Christie said about the 15-round magazine limit.

He found common ground with the Assembly on some issues, such as background checks and stricter ID measures for gun buyers.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) said Friday she disagreed with the governor's premise that the antiviolence debate should be centered on dealing with criminals.

"While I don't disagree that we need to have the strictest penalties in place for those who commit gun crimes, the fact of the matter is that dealing with these criminals is what happens after 20 schoolchildren are killed or after a movie theater is shot up," she said in a statement. "We need to make sure we're doing everything we can to prevent getting to that point, period."

Christie seemed to have a different outlook, saying the shootings in Connecticut and terrorist attack in Massachusetts indicate that "no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, there is the unfortunate reality that you're never going to prevent all violent things in our society."

His proposals include:

Requiring video game ratings to be posted in stores and requiring parents to approve their children's purchases of such games.

Increasing the minimum sentences for certain gun crimes, including possession of an assault weapon, possession of a weapon with body-armor piercing bullets, and leading a firearms-trafficking network.

Restricting release on bail to those convicted of certain gun crimes.

Imposing prison time on those who do not safely secure firearms.


Contact Matt Katz at 609-217-8355, mkatz@phillynews.com, or follow @mattkatz00 on Twitter. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at www.philly.com/christiechronicles.

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