Democrats Guide Gun-Control Package Through the Assembly

NJ Spotlight | February 22, 2013 | More Issues, Politics
Headed to the Senate: 22 measures that address everything from gun licensing and safety training to ammunition clips and tighter restrictions on who can buy guns

Regardless of where they stand on gun control, the audience in the packed Statehouse gallery witnessed a small piece of history yesterday, as Democratic leaders passed a package of 22 bills that impose new curbs on access to guns, as well as other gun-related legislation.

Many of the bills were approved with little or no Republican support in the Assembly. The package now heads to the Senate for passage.

At this point, the key question is what will Gov. Chris Christie do when the bills land on his desk. Last month, he created a bipartisan task force to look at the issue of gun violence and asked for a report within the coming month. If the task force meets its deadline, it would be within the 45 days Christie has to either veto or sign the legislation.

The measures range from tighter requirements for background checks; proof of safety training before purchasing a firearm; a reduction in the maximum capacity of ammunition magazines to 10 rounds; to a stipulation that ammunition sales and transfers be conducted face to face. One bill disqualifies certain people — like those on the federal Terrorist Watchlist — from buying guns. Another prohibits the state from investing in companies that manufacture, import, or sell assault weapons to civilians.

State Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden), the Assembly’s majority leader, led the charge, and said he hoped that there would see some consensus with the Republicans, including Christie.

‘The Republican party has been all over the map,” said Greenwald in an interview. “They are worrying about the national agenda, but I hope the people see this is a balanced approach to addressing this.”

Republicans, however, say that for the most part the package needs further study. For instance, one of the bills (A-3754) is raising concerns among mental health professionals. It would require them to report to the attorney general any patient who is “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to that patient or others.” The attorney general’s office would then check to see if the patient has any gun permits and, if he or she does, instruct the police to seize the weapons.

Josephine Minardo, a psychologist and the executive director of the New Jersey Psychological Association, said the bill’s language is too vague.

Current state law requires mental health professionals to violate patient confidentiality only if a patient has made a threat of “imminent, serious violence” against a particular person or himself or herself — or if it’s reasonable to believe that the patient would carry out such an act. The therapist is then required to either arrange for the patient to be voluntarily or involuntarily committed, advise police of the threat, or warn the intended victim or the patient’s parents if the patient is a minor.

While the current standard of a specific threat of imminent, serious violence is specific enough for psychologists to take action, the bill’s requirement that a professional determine whether a patient is “likely to do serious harm” is too vague, she said. Psychologists would prefer that the bill simply adds notification of the attorney general to the current standards, she said.

“There’s a lot of room between, ‘I’m feeling very aggressive toward someone or I’m angry with someone’ and ‘I have a plan and I’m going to do this today, ’” she said.

To help size up the debate, NJ Spotlight talked to legislators on both sides of the issue and the aisle.