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In Wake of Pittsburgh, Jersey City Killings Murphy Calls for Tighter Gun Laws

Governor and Attorney General Grewal release anti-violence proposals addressing everything from straw purchasers and ammunition sales to smart guns

murphy gun reform
Credit: Edwin J. Torres/Governor's Office
Gov. Phil Murphy announces support for new gun-safety measures in Trenton, flanked by Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (far left); Pamela Johnson, executive director of Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition; and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

Gov. Phil Murphy and state lawmakers are launching another effort to tighten New Jersey’s already strict gun laws, announcing yesterday in the wake of the nation’s latest mass shooting that they will work to enact a new package of gun reforms within the next 90 days.

Among the latest anti-violence goals outlined at a news conference in Trenton yesterday, are proposals to update state law related to buying ammunition and to add a new crime for those who make “straw purchases” of guns for people already banned from owning a firearm.

The governor and Democratic legislative leaders will also look to increase funding for community-based gun-violence prevention initiatives and to update state law related to “smart guns,” which use new technology in an effort to ensure a firearm can only be discharged by its owner.

‘Daily drumbeat’ of gun violence

The idea behind this new effort — which comes only a few months after Murphy worked with lawmakers to pass another round of gun reform — is to keep the state in the lead on the gun-violence issue, the governor said. And while the latest reforms were announced just days after 11 people were killed in a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Murphy said the effort would also address a “daily drumbeat” of gun violence that reverberates across New Jersey, particularly in urban areas. He cited the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old girl in Jersey City over the weekend as an example.

“No matter how strong we think our gun laws are, we must always look to close loopholes that escaped our prior efforts and to enact new regulations when a horrific incident exposes weakness,” Murphy said.

Gun reform has been one of the top concerns that Murphy, a Democrat, has worked on since taking office at the beginning of the year. His efforts have included joining a multistate firearms data collection effort and announcing the state pension-system would divest its stake in a manufacturer of semi-automatic rifles for civilian use.

Concerted effort to reform gun laws

Murphy also signed into law in June six gun-reform bills, including those that expanded background checks, banned armor-piercing bullets, limited magazine capacity, tightened permit requirements for handguns, and made it more difficult for those who pose a risk to themselves or others to obtain or keep a firearm.

The reforms outlined yesterday target areas that have not been addressed in the previous measures, many of which were priorities laid out by Democratic lawmakers during the tenure of former Gov. Chris Christie that did not get to the finish line during the two-term Republican’s tenure.

For example, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who also attended yesterday’s news conference, noted that there is no New Jersey law that explicitly makes it illegal to provide someone with a firearm if they are not legally allowed to own one. Adding a straw-purchasing offense to the state’s current gun laws should help reduce the number of firearms purchased in other states that are being used in crimes committed in New Jersey. Right now, more than 80 percent of the guns used to commit crimes in New Jersey are coming from out of state, according to the attorney general.

“We don’t have currently an ability to charge somebody as a violator of state law as a straw purchaser,” Grewal said. “It shouldn’t be the case that we have to find other laws in which to fit that conduct.”

The new gun reform effort will also look to update the state laws that pertain to purchasing ammunition, requiring a potential customer to show a photo ID and mandating retailers report information about ammunition sales to the state police in an easily searchable format. That follows a 2016 report released by the State Commission of Investigation that highlighted New Jersey’s outdated ammunition laws. Those who are banned from owning a gun in New Jersey would also be barred from purchasing ammunition.

“I’m going to be charitable: The current regulations are, shall we say, antiquated,” Murphy said.

Sell more smart guns

Other proposals outlined yesterday include an effort to change state law in a way that would encourage the production and sale of more smart guns in New Jersey. It would also provide grants to boost community-based gun-violence intervention initiatives that have proven effective in other states, particularly in urban areas where there is a higher prevalence of violence. Murphy said the goal is to raise $15 million using both state resources and private contributions.

“When these programs are properly utilized, they can produce impressive life-saving and cost-saving results,” Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) said during the news conference.

In all, the new effort could result in as many as nine bills being drafted, and Murphy and Greenwald said they are hoping to complete the legislative process within 90 days.

“I know it sounds like a long time, but I would hope within three months we should be able to move this,” Greenwald said.

“We’re working seamlessly together to get this done jointly and as soon as possible,” Murphy said.

Murphy also suggested it was important to present the new proposals yesterday not only in the wake of the deadly shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue, which authorities say was carried out by a man shouting anti-Semitic insults, but also following the killing of 17-year-old Jade Saunders in Jersey City.

“This is one of these realities where the awfulness of Pittsburgh is on the front page, as it should be, but the daily drumbeat that we deal with in this state … would have brought us here at some point in any event,” Murphy said.

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