Senate Committee advances seven-bill firearm package

“Which is more important, being able to own a gun without restrictions, or the lives of millions of men, women and children? That is the choice you have to make,” said student Ethan Block.

Testimony lasted for hours, even with widespread support for a package of firearms regulations, residents on both sides of the debate saw Monday’s committee hearing as a final opportunity to catch lawmakers’ ears.

“Even if we cannot prevent every tragedy, we have to do more to keep guns out of the wrong hands,” said JoAnne MacBeth, North Jersey lead at Organizing for Action.

The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee released the seven-bill package with several amendments, already approved by the Assembly. Among them:

  • Limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds,
  • Allowing confiscation of firearms from those considered dangerously mentally ill,
  • Banning certain types of ammo,
  • Granting restraining orders, seizure warrants
  • Requiring background checks for private sales,
  • Requiring gun owners to show a justifiable need for the weapon
  • And a new bill introduced Monday by Sen. Joe Cryan banning so-called ghost guns without serial numbers or traceable components, often made by 3-D printers.

“Are we going to start to seize 3-D printers? Is that the intent of this bill? Are we going to raid Home Depot?” asked gun rights activist Frank Trombatore.

“We try to do what we can to protect the public while keeping intact and protected the Constitutional right of the public to keep and bear arms. I’d like to be clear that we’re not looking to take that right away from the law abiding public,” said Sen. Linda Greenstein, chair of the Law and Public Safety Committee.

But a number of opponents disagree, arguing the bills are more symbolic, doing little to stem illegal use.

“These gun laws make no sense. They depend on criminals to follow the law,” said firearms instructor Tony Simon.

In particular, opponents don’t like technical language allowing law enforcement to seize guns from those considered a threat, or the way it could compromise doctor-patient confidentiality, and requested an amendment around the forfeiture of weapons.

“They’re afraid that by going to see a mental health professional they’re going to have their rights stripped away,” said president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society Alexander Roubian. “Instead of encouraging people to seek help and see a doctor and see a mental health professional, what this bill is going to do is actually discourage it from happening.”

Despite swift action from the Legislature to move these bills, and a governor who is supposedly waiting with pen in hand, the Senate won’t meet again for a full vote until June 7. Some have noted that’s not until after the primary, a move some say was maneuvered by Senate President Steve Sweeney to help prevent current state senator and South Jersey congressional candidate Jeff Van Drew from having to take a stance on the bills. Van Drew is a pro-gun rights Democrat. Van Drew did respond to our request for comment Monday. A spokesperson for Sweeney said the senator said he fully supports the bills and is simply following a legislative calendar.