Assembly committee takes up package of stricter gun laws

Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Annette Quijano recited the tragic roll call of school shootings in 2018 alone: Jan. 3: St. Johns, Michigan. Jan. 4: Seattle, Washington. Jan. 10: Sierra Vista, Arizona. Jan. 15: Marshall, Texas.

Those were followed by startling statistics on gun deaths from Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, a sponsor of the bills.

“Since 2012, 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings,” he said. “One hundred thirty have been killed. According to the gun violence archive, there have been 345 mass shootings in America in 2017 alone.”

It was against those sobering numbers, and just two weeks after the 17 murders in Parkland, Florida, that the Assembly Judiciary Committee was considering a package of bills, six in all, after the so-called “smart gun” bill was held.

A1181 would allow authorities to seize guns from individuals deemed by family members or health care professionals to be a threat. A1217 allows restraining orders and seizure warrants specifically for weapons. A2757 would expand background check for private sales. A2758 further defines “justifiable need” to carry a handgun. A2759 outlaws armor-piercing ammo, and A2761 limits magazine capacity to 10 rounds.

Versions of all of these bills have made it through the Legislature in the previous administration, but were met with a veto pen by the previous governor. Greenwald said time is of the essence.

“I can tell you that, as we sit here today, there is an active investigation in South Jersey, in the 6th District, in a community that I live, and in a school that all of my children have attended, and there was an arrest made,” he reported.

But, while Greenwald certainly represented the sentiment of the majority of those who testified Wednesday, that sentiment was not unanimous, as individuals from around the state also lined up to tell the government to back off.

“Our law enforcement are doing their jobs,” testified opponent Andy Wang. “Just because law enforcement in Florida messed up and didn’t do theirs, does not mean we should alter our laws to make them even tougher, and put more restrictions on tens of thousands of law-abiding gun owners.”

David Padua was also opposed to the bills. “Criminals do not go through background checks when purchasing illegal guns. They don’t,” he said.

“Nationally, we’ve gone from about 32,000 deaths per year from guns in America to over 38,000 in the most recent year for which we have records, which is 2016,” said Coalition for Peace Action Executive Director Rev. Robert Moore.

The bills already have broad support in the Legislature, and especially as momentum for stricter gun laws grows in the wake of the Parkland shootings, Gov. Phil Murphy has said that he supports the tougher measures. Lawmakers believe he will sign them once they complete their trek out of committee, and through the full Legislature.