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NJ Legislators Target Administration’s Efforts to Relax Gun Control Laws

Democrats push to restrict access to handguns, vow to keep guns out of hands of those convicted of domestic abuse

Sweeney Weinberg Mosquera
Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (left), Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and Sen. Loretta Weinberg at press briefing for gun reform.

New Jersey is often touted as one of the states with the strictest gun laws in the nation, but in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history in Orlando, state legislators are calling for more regulation.

On Thursday, the Assembly passed legislation aiming to overturn Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to weaken gun-safety regulations. The members rose for a moment of silence to honor the Orlando victims and 49 members wore the names of those killed on paper tags around their necks.

The bill and its accompanying concurrent resolution would overturn recent changes to the application process for handgun permits. The Assembly measure (A-3689) targets the phrase “justifiable need,” saying that residents would need to display proof of specific, evident threats against their lives in order to carry a handgun. The state attorney general back in April expanded the definition of “justifiable need” to include “generalized fears or concerns.” The resolution (ACR-175) would require private citizens to produce evidence of an existing or previous threat against their lives to “detail urgent necessity for self-protection.”

“This should be the last massacre,” Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Paramus) said, voicing his support for the bill and imploring the Assembly to follow the U.S. Senate Democrats’ call for an assault rifle ban. “Let’s stand up and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The new bills, while drafted long before the Orlando massacre, have come during a national outcry over gun reform. One day earlier, U.S. Senate Democrats, including New Jersey’s Cory Booker, undertook a 15-hour filibuster to prevent gun sales to suspected terrorists. While no sweeping gun reform legislation has been passed at the federal level, New Jersey legislators are in the process of pushing their own laws through.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) testified against the bills. He said that there was no need to restrict the definition because “that type of language is commonsense.”

“If there’s an urgent necessity it’s probably too late by the time you get to the court,” Bramnick said. “I believe that this action by the majority party is an overreaction.”

Majority leader Louis Greenwald (D-Camden), the bill’s sponsor, in a statement after the session disagreed with Bramnick’s definition of “commonsense.”

"Given the correlation between gun ownership rates and firearm homicide rates, allowing more people to carry handguns is not a smart approach to increasing public safety," Greenwald said in the statement. "Our state's focus needs to be on finding responsible, commonsense ways to reduce gun violence and make communities safer, not making it easier for weapons to proliferate in New Jersey neighborhoods."

Christie, in a press conference, vowed to challenge the Democrats and continue working to relax gun control in the state. He said President Barack Obama and state Democrats were using the Orlando tragedy to push their legislation forward.

“Of course they’re exploiting it, that’s what they do. Rather than talking about radical Islamic terrorism, which is what they should be talking about.”

Assembly Democrats have been pushing back against Christie’s efforts to loosen gun restrictions for years. While running for president, the governor declared he would refrain from signing any new gun laws, arguably in an effort to appeal to Republican leadership and conservative voters. In keeping this promise, he twice conditionally vetoed a bill, passed in the Senate and Assembly, that aimed to keep guns out of the hands of individuals convicted of domestic violence or abuse. He has suggested restricting sentencing and parole eligibility as an alternative to gun control.

In a State House news conference on Thursday, Senate President Steve Sweeney announced a new effort to reverse Christie’s action. He said the initial measure passed easily through the Senate and Assembly before it reached the governor’s desk the first time and he has little doubt it could pass again.

The legislation would close existing loopholes and require domestic abusers to relinquish their guns immediately upon conviction. Sweeney, along with Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) and Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Gloucester)) said they will begin talks with their fellow representatives in the hopes of overturning Christie’s veto.

Mosquera, whose mother was a survivor of domestic abuse, said this legislation is personal for her. She said those who have been convicted of violence against their partners should not be able to have access to a gun.

“As legislators we are obligated to protect every single life in the state of New Jersey and that is what I am doing,” Mosquera said. “I implore the governor to reconsider and implore all my colleagues on both sides [of the aisle] to vote for this override.”

Carly Sitrin is an editorial intern at NJ Spotlight.

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