Gun-control advocates praised Gov. Chris Christie yesterday for signing legislation that will tighten restrictions on firearms and stiffen gun-trafficking penalties, but said they were disappointed that he failed to take action on the two most important gun-safety measures.
Those bills -- one that would ban .50-caliber weapons and one that would revise the state's firearm identification card and require firearms training -- remain on the governor’s desk.
The bills, part of a package of nearly two dozen that have been considered by both houses of the Legislature, are among the top priorities for gun-control advocates and the Democratic leadership.
Gun-safety groups have been pushing for the .50-caliber ban for nearly a decade, saying that the guns can take down an aircraft. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has called the ID legislation the “centerpiece” of the Democrats’ gun-safety package and “a model for the nation.”
The revamped ID eventually would encode handgun and rifle permit information on driver’s licenses. That would allow for instant background checks and make it easier for law enforcement agencies to revoke permits from those who -- because of criminal convictions or other reasons -- become disqualified.
Sweeney did not return calls for comment Thursday.
Michael Drewniak, spokesman for the governor, said in an email that the Christie would not comment on the legislation. He said the outstanding bills “remain under review and consideration.”
The governor said in a press release that the 10 bills that he did sign are consistent with the plan he released in April to address gun safety.
“These commonsense measures will both strengthen New Jersey’s already tough gun laws and upgrade penalties for those who commit gun crimes and violate gun-trafficking laws,” he said. “As elected leaders, our first duty is to maintain public safety, and these new laws will help reduce gun violence and keep our streets and communities safer.”
Overall, the Legislature has sent 15 gun-related bills to the governor’s desk, with the governor signing a total of 11 into law. Three await action -- along with the .50-caliber ban and the enhanced ID, Christie has yet to take action on the creation of a state task force on school security.
In addition, Christie vetoed a bill on June 28 that would have banned the state’s pension funds from investing in companies that manufacture, import, or sell assault rifles for civilian use. He said he was vetoing the bill because of the potential cost to taxpayers.
Of the three measures that the governor has not signed:
Assembly bill A-3659 -- the ban on high-caliber rifles -- was approved May 30 in the Senate by a 23-16 vote and June 24 in the Assembly by a 41-33 vote.
Senate bill S-2723 -- the background check and ID bill -- passed the Assembly on June 24 by a 43-34 vote and the Senate on June 27 by a 22-16 vote.
Assembly bill A-3583 -- the creation of the school security task force -- passed the Senate 38-0 on May 13 and the Assembly 78-0 on May 20.
The state constitution gives the governor 45 days to act on legislation (which is today) unless the originating body is not in session. A spokesman for the Assembly Democrats said an Assembly quorum call -- which would call the lower house into session -- has not been scheduled and the governor does not have to act on the two Assembly bills until it returns to work.
The governor has until August 19, when the Senate returns to session, to act on the ID bill.
The legislation signed today:
increases the penalty for illegally transferring a firearm to someone under 18, though it allows for transfer for instructional and training purposes;
increases penalties for firearms offenses defined as gun trafficking;
increases penalties for unlawful possession of firearms by making them crimes of the first-degree;
declares violence a public health crisis and establishes a “Study Commission on Violence”;
allows law enforcement agencies to impound motor vehicles for certain crimes and offenses;
clarifies that information about the total number of firearms-purchaser ID cards and permits to purchase a handgun issued in a municipality are public records, while also exempting specific firearms records from the state's open public records law;
disqualifies people named on the federal Terrorist Watchlist from obtaining firearms ID cards or permits to purchase handgun;
requires submission of certain mental health records to National Instant Criminal Background Check System;
and creates a 180-day window to allow people to dispose of illegal guns.
Gun-control advocates praised the governor on Thursday and said they are hopeful he will sign the remaining legislation into law.
“We definitely support his actions today,” said Nicola Boncour, director of Ceasefire New Jersey. “It shows he understands that voters and residents support stronger gun laws. We hope he is also able to see that we have gaps in the laws and that the remaining bills are vitally important to the safety of New Jerseyans.”
Democrats in both houses began working on new gun-control measures in December, shortly after the mass-shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut that took the lives of 21 children and six adults. The Democratic package initially included the .50-caliber ban, the updated firearms ID card, a ban on magazine clips of more than 10 rounds and on the sale of ammunition via the internet. The magazine limit and ammunition sales bill were not posted for votes in the Senate.
In the meantime, the governor created a task force to address questions of gun violence in the state. The task force issued a report in April, which contained nearly 50 recommendations, including tougher penalties for violating the state's gun laws, stricter regulation of ammunition and retooling of the gun-permitting process, changes to mental health laws, an expansion of the school-resource officer program and the limiting of access to violent media, including video games, by teens and children.
The governor unveiled a plan two weeks later that he said was built on the task force report. It called for bans on the sale of firearms to convicted criminals, possessing firearms with the intent to transfer them to those ineligible to own firearms, “straw purchasing” or buying guns or ammunition for someone else, and prohibiting those who are banned from owning firearms from buying and possessing ammunition.
He also wanted to impose a mandatory 25-year sentence on those convicted of firearms trafficking and strengthen penalties for tampering with or falsifying information for firearms documents and for allowing children or those disqualified from legally possessing firearms to get their hands on guns. In addition, the plan proposed rewriting the standards for involuntary commitment to make it easier to commit dangerous people, clarifying the definition of various mental-health disorders, and simplifying the screening for and treating of mental illness, so the court and mental-health professionals can remove dangerous people from the streets.
Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Camden) praised the signings on Thursday, but said the state had more work to do.
"Seeing these bills signed into law is a victory for New Jersey's communities and a significant step in the right direction in preventing gun violence,” he said in a statement. “Yet they do not go far enough in doing all we can to prevent gun-related tragedies from afflicting our families.
"Taking a commonsense, comprehensive approach to preventing gun violence requires more. I urge the Governor to sign our remaining bills into law without delay -- common-sense bills that would strengthen background checks, improve school security, and ban the .50 caliber rifle.”
Bocour, whose organization helped host a “silent march” in Trenton on Wednesday, said Ceasefire would continue to press the governor to sign the other legislation.
“We were standing with the victims of gun violence [on Wednesday],” she said. “Many of them spoke and they have powerful voices. I hope that the governor was able to hear them and to hear that the people of New Jersey are concerned about gun violence and that they take this issue very seriously.”