N.J. bill would allow temporary confiscation of guns from those with mental problems

Posted: June 08, 2014

Families worried about mentally unstable loved ones hurting themselves or others would be able to seek a court order to temporarily take firearms away under a bill introduced Thursday in the New Jersey Senate.

"Families or a close friend are those who know best if someone has reached that point where they are mentally ill and violently prone," said Sen. Richard Codey (D., Essex), who introduced the bill.

The proposal for a "gun violence restraining order" comes after six people were killed last month in California by Elliot Rodger, 22, who then fatally shot himself. Authorities reportedly alerted to potential danger by Rodger's mother and therapist had visited him within a month before the shootings but found no cause to act, according to news reports.

"You can look at our ongoing history over the last 10 years - Aurora, Columbine, more recently in California," Codey said. "Clearly, these people were severely mentally ill, needed help, and should not have had guns in their possession."

The restraining order would temporarily ban the person it's directed at from obtaining or possessing firearms. Once notified of a potential danger, authorities would be required to petition a judge for the restraining order, which would be reevaluated after a designated amount of time.

Gun-rights advocates said Thursday that although the wording of the legislation had not been made available to them, they hoped any gun-control legislation would allow for due process and respect constitutional rights.

"There has to be due process," Frank Jack Fiamingo, president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, said. "I would be against it if it does not include some kind of due process for the individual so they had an opportunity before their arms are seized to go before a court and say, 'OK, let's talk about the evidence.' "

Fiamingo also expressed concern that taking guns could lead to extensive legal fees to retrieve them after the restraining order is lifted.

Codey said Thursday the restraining orders would not violate due process as those who received the orders would have the opportunity to demonstrate to a judge their mental fitness to have a firearm.

"You can challenge" the restraining order, Codey said. "They do have rights, without question. This would be used in a very, very small amount of cases, but unfortunately, these are the serious ones."

New Jersey, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, had the third-strictest gun laws in the country and in 2013 had the fifth-fewest gun deaths.

Gov. Christie's office said the governor generally did not take a position on bills until both legislative chambers passed them.


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cmindock@philly.com

@clarkmindock

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