Moving closer to his goal of giving New Jersey the toughest gun-control laws in the nation, Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday signed a prohibition on “ghost guns” — firearms that are homemade, 3D printed or otherwise undetectable by security scanners.
The new law is the latest by the Murphy administration, working with the Democratic-controlled Legislature, enhancing firearms regulations in New Jersey. And it is not likely to be the last, as he and lawmakers unveiled a new bill package just last week.
“We want to be the number-one state in the nation as it relates to commonsense state gun safety laws,” Murphy declared during a signing ceremony in Trenton attended by activists from a number of gun-control organizations, “and we think there is no reason we can’t be that and still respect the Second Amendment.”
The Giffords Law Center ranks New Jersey’s gun laws second strongest in the nation, behind only California, which was the setting for the nation’s latest mass shooting. According to news reports, a former Marine late Wednesday killed 11 patrons at a bar in Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles outside Los Angeles. A sheriff’s sergeant responding to the attack also died.
Murphy was already scheduled to sign the bill, (S-2465), before the murders and said those killings only further underscore the importance of continuing to pass “commonsense” gun safety laws.
Weapons worry authorities
“At what point do we finally wake up to the reality that we remain the only advanced society that tolerates such horror on such a regular basis?” he asked. “At what point do we wake up to the reality that we are the only advanced nation so awash in easy-to-access guns? … Mass murder is not the price we have to pay for the Second Amendment.”
The new law creates a broad ban on “ghost guns,” those which are untraceable by law enforcement. It makes it illegal to purchase the parts to make a firearm at home or distribute information to create guns using a 3D printer or to make or possess any gun whose major components, including the cylinder or barrel, are undetectable by airport or other security screening devices. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature with bipartisan support.
Officials are concerned that they can’t trace weapons that do not have serial numbers, which hinders their ability to solve shootings involving such firearms. They also worry that 3D-printed guns, which are made almost entirely of plastic, so could be smuggled onto airplanes or into other locations secured by metal detectors and then used to injure or kill.
Last June, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a cease and desist letter to as many as eight companies that sell partially built firearms — including assault weapons — and the parts and instructions needed to finish building them. He said some of the companies have stopped selling in New Jersey, while his office continues to investigate others. A month later, he sent the same letter ordering companies not to publish printable-gun computer files that state residents could use. New Jersey is part of a multi-state lawsuit that has won a temporary injunction preventing the release of these blueprints, which the U.S. Department of State had decided to allow.
Because New Jersey had no express prohibition on “ghost guns,” Grewal said his office was using other laws to stop “bad actors” from trying to sell them in the state.
‘The dark side of new technologies’
The new law closes loopholes and “strengthens law enforcement’s hand” to deal with those who sell, distribute or possess these weapons, proponents said.
“These so-called ‘ghost guns’ are the byproduct of the dark side of new technologies that allow people to make firearms that are hidden from detection and made to be untraceable,” said Sen. Joseph Cryan (D-Union) and the former sheriff of Union County. “These homemade weapons can be a path to gun ownership for people who are a danger to themselves or others, including felons, people with mental illnesses, those convicted of domestic violence and others who are not supposed to be armed with deadly firearms. They pose a serious threat, which is why we are enacting the strongest ‘ghost gun’ law in the country.”
Violators of the new law face up to five years in jail and a fine of as much as $15,000.
John Rezk, a Princeton University freshman from Jersey City whose brother is attending college in Pittsburgh near the site of the mass shooting that killed 11 at a synagogue late last month, introduced Murphy at Thursday’s ceremony. He noted that New Jersey and other states with tough gun laws have among the lowest rates of gun deaths.
“No weapon should ever be untraceable,” Rezk said. Of the continuing mass shootings, he added, “This type of violence cannot continue.”
Murphy, nearing the end of his first year in office, has been actively pursuing his gun-control agenda and to counteract the pro-gun advocacy of the National Rifle Association and others. Four months ago, he signed six gun-safety bills, including one that mandated background checks for private firearm sales, another that reduced magazine capacity to 10 rounds and another that allows law enforcement to confiscate firearms from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or to others.
He has also established the Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers University and created the position of Senior Advisor on Firearms, appointing Bill Castner to fill that spot. He credited Castner, an attorney who had served as a top executive at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, with helping to make the bill he signed more comprehensive.
Next on the agenda are efforts to stop gun trafficking — 80 percent of the weapons used in crimes in New Jersey come from out of state — investing in smart-gun technology, regulating ammunition sales and promoting violence intervention for at-risk individuals. Murphy announced his support for such legislation last week following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
“We will not let the NRA and their small fringe of extremists instill their ‘guns in every corner’ beliefs here in New Jersey,” he said. “Together we will win this battle. It may be one step at a time but we will win it.”