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Gov. Murphy Signs New Jersey into New Era of Gun Safety

Thanks to a half-dozen ‘commonsense’ bills, state now has arguably some of the strictest gun laws in the country

Murphy gun 1
Credit: Edwin J. Torres/Governor's Office
Gov. Phil Murphy signing several gun-safety bills into law in Trenton yesterday

Gov. Phil Murphy signed six bills into law yesterday that will expand background checks, ban armor-piercing bullets, limit magazine capacity, tighten the permit requirements for handguns, and make it more difficult for those who pose a risk to themselves or others to obtain or keep a firearm.

“This sends a strong and clear message to our president, to the Republican leadership in Congress and to the corporate gun lobby we are going to be a leader in the fight for common sense gun safety laws,” Murphy said.

MomsDemandAction
Credit: Edwin J. Torres/Governor's Office
Members of Moms Demand Action, a group that advocates for gun safety.

Murphy was joined in Trenton by supporters and student advocates like Zachary Dougherty, Parkland shooting survivor Alfonso Calderon, and legislators and state officials including Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden), Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), and Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer) who have been pushing for more gun-safety legislation for years.

“I am embarrassed that it has taken us this long,” Greenwald said. “We passed this packet of legislation and we fought tooth and nail for what is right and what is commonsense and what is rational.”

Also announced this week, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal sent out several cease-and-desist letters to so-called ghost-gun manufacturers — companies that produce disassembled and untraceable gun kits that can be used to build fully functional weapons. The AG’s office would not disclose any information about the companies that received the letters but noted that they are given 15 days from Tuesday to cease and desist all operations within the state.

Zach Dougherty Alfonso Calderon
Credit: Edwin J. Torres/Governor's Office
Zach Doughtery of Toms River, left, and Alfonso Calderon of Parkland Fl., student activists against guns

“It’s been a long battle and a battle that most of the time I have not had hope about … It was not until this generation came forward and have shown not only the willingness to speak the proverbial truth to power but the willingness to stay the course because they have to understand this takes hard work and discipline — sometimes patience and sometimes impatience,” Weinberg said. “It’s you Zachary and you Alfonso and all of the (student advocates) that gives this longstanding legislator hope finally that we are going to do something.”

Here is a breakdown of all six bills:

Relinquishment Bill

A-1181 allows mental health practitioners and law enforcement officials to take firearms away from patients who seek to harm themselves or others.

This bill, sponsored by Assembly members Patricia Egan Jones (D-Camden), Gabriela M. Mosquera (D-Gloucester), Shavonda E. Sumter (D-Passaic), Joann Downey (D-Monmouth), Arthur Barclay (D-Camden), and Paul D. Moriarty (D-Gloucester) deals with what’s known as mental health practitioners’ “duty to warn and protect.” Under the new law, if a therapist, psychologist, social worker, doctor or other mental health professional encounters a patient that they believe to be a threat to themselves or others, they are required to report that individual to law enforcement.

“Mental health care professionals know the signs to look out for and are in the best position to determine whether someone poses an imminent threat to him- or herself or someone else,” Downey wrote in a press release. “This is an intelligent approach that will protect our communities.”

If the authorities determine that the individual is not fit to own a gun, any firearm ID or permit they own is nullified and can be revoked by the state Superior Court. This is an example of a “relinquishment law,” meaning that law enforcement is given a mandate to seize a person’s gun if they are deemed unfit by an expert.

That individual can get their permits and ID reinstated if they present a doctor’s certification or other proof that they are no longer dealing with a disorder that would prevent them from operating a firearm safely.

Red Flag Bill

A-1217 is known as the Extreme Risk Protective Order Act of 2018 (ERPO). It authorizes state courts to issue gun-violence restraining (or protective) orders against those who pose a risk to themselves or others.

This bill — sponsored by Assembly Democrats John McKeon (D-Essex), Majority Leader Greenwald, Mila Jasey (D-Essex), Tim Eustace, Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset), Carol Murphy (D-Burlington), and Moriarty — would allow police or family members to petition a court to temporarily remove someone’s firearm if they present a danger to themselves or others under a “temporary extreme-risk protective order.” This is different from the relinquishment law in that it’s a temporary measure spurred into action by law enforcement or relatives rather than by health practitioners.

“This law provides a sensible process that protects the rights of lawful gun owners while allowing concerned family members to take action when there are ‘red flags’ that indicate a gun owner poses a serious risk to others,” Zwicker wrote in a press release. “This is the right thing to do, and I’m certain it will save lives.”

Under this red flag law, an individual’s gun and ammunition would immediately be removed and their ability to purchase another or secure a permit or license would be blocked until a judge considers the case. The court would be directed to take into account any history of threats or acts of violence (toward themselves or others); a conviction of violent disorderly conduct, stalking, domestic violence, cruelty to animals; and a history of drug or alcohol abuse.

Within 10 filing days of the temporary ERPO, the court would be required to hold a hearing to determine whether or not that temporary order should be made final. If a judge determines that the individual poses a risk, they must surrender all guns, ammunition, permits, and licenses in their possession.

At any point during the process, the order can be terminated if a person presents acceptable proof that they are no longer a threat to themselves or the community.

The law also calls for the creation of an online registry that would include all individuals with a final ERPO entered against them, and anyone who has been charged with violating either a temporary or a final ERPO

Background-Check Bill

A-2757 requires background checks on individuals who are purchasing firearms from private dealers.

Under federal law, all nationally licensed firearms dealers are required to conduct a background check on a buyer before the transaction is completed, but until now, private sellers have been exempt. This portion of the new state law would loop private dealers into that requirement.

Sales between family members, law enforcement, and licensed antique collectors are exempt from the background-check law.

Background-check laws have received wide support from those on both sides of the aisle. According to a 2017 Quinnipiac University poll, 94 percent of all respondents said they support background checks for all gun buyers — that percentage includes 92 percent of voters in households where a gun is present.

Handgun Bill

A-2758 amends the requirements necessary to show a “justifiable need” to carry a handgun.

Sponsored by Greenwald, Holley, and Moriarty, this bill sets out to keep a future governor or administration from walking back many of the components included in the law as former Gov. Chris Christie once attempted to do.

“New Jersey’s gun-safety laws are among the strongest in the nation, and we must keep them that way,” said Greenwald. “With the signing of this bill into law, we need to make sure that no future governor can attempt to carelessly weaken our gun safety laws.”

The bill codifies the legal definition of “justifiable need” to carry a handgun into state statute. Under previous law, that definition was laid out in regulations, and subject to expansion or reduction depending on who is in office.

Now, individuals seeking to carry a handgun in public must demonstrate evidence of specific threats or previous attacks that put their life in danger and cannot be avoided other than by carrying a handgun.

“Gov. Christie tried to expand the scope of the right to carry well beyond what is authorized under current law and judicial interpretation,” said Moriarty in a press release. “That was entirely inconsistent with the Legislature’s intent to carefully and prudently monitor who may carry a handgun, which is for the safety and wellbeing of all New Jerseyans. Now, we can do that with this new law.”

Armor-Piercing Bullets Bill

A-2759 adds armor-piercing ammunition to the list of prohibited ammunition in the state.

Sponsored by Greenwald and Assemblywomen Carol Murphy and Annette Quijano (D-Union), this bill makes it a fourth-degree crime to possess handgun ammunition that has the capacity to break or penetrate body armor. Those who violate the law can be fined up to $10,000 and imprisoned up to 18 months.

It’s already illegal to own hollow-nose or hollow-point bullets (unless cleared for hunting, fishing, or target shooting).

“This isn’t that difficult — no one needs armor-piercing ammunition,” Quijano wrote in a press release. “We need to protect our law enforcement, but also our communities, with this commonsense law.”

High-Capacity Magazine Bill

A-2761 reduces the maximum capacity of ammunition magazines from 15 to 10 rounds.

Sponsored by Greenwald, Quijano, Gordon Johnson, Holley, and Moriarty, the 10-round limit has already been implemented in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Greenwald introduced gun-safety legislation including magazine-capacity limits in 2013 after visiting the families of those affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. That bill was vetoed by then-gov. Christie.

“Meeting the families of Sandy Hook was one of the most moving experiences of my 22 years of public service,” Greenwald wrote in a press release. “For these families, the single most important piece of legislation we could fight for is lowering magazine capacity. I refuse to let these families down, to look them in the eyes and tell them we are powerless — that their loved ones were a tragic, but necessary, loss. No loss to gun violence is ever necessary.”

There are exceptions to the law: Current or retired law enforcement personnel are exempt, as are those who legally own a firearm with an unmodifiable fixed-magazine capacity of up to 15 rounds as long as they register the firearm with their local police.

The law goes into effect immediately, but if someone owns one of these rifles or magazines, they are given a 180-day grace period to transfer or voluntarily surrender their weapon or magazine to law enforcement.

The Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs (ANJRPC) announced a lawsuit challenging New Jersey’s ban on high-capacity magazines. The National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) came out in support of that challenge.

Still work to be done

Murphy said that while this package of bills represents a step forward for the state, he still has his eye on more regulations to come.

“We know that there is more we can do,” Murphy said at the press conference. He brought up the need to fund gun-safety research, funding the efforts of law enforcement to close the “iron pipeline” that permits illegal guns from other states to cross the border into New Jersey, preventing “ghost gunmakers” from operating in the state, and increasing the fees for gun licenses and permits.

“Our laws will continue to be able to reach only so far as our own borders,” Murphy said. “It is not enough … Let there be no doubt our work is far from done.”

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