Governor Murphy renews call for more gun control following Texas massacre

Package of gun bills have been stalled in state Senate for more than a year

By: - May 25, 2022 3:49 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy said he wants an up-or-down vote in the Legislature on all gun-related bills, even those backed by gun supporters. (Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office)

In the wake of the deadly attack at a Texas elementary school Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy again urged action on legislators to advance a stalled package of gun control measures.

His proclamation follows a similar call issued last week after 10 people were killed by a white supremacist gunman in Buffalo. Tuesday’s attack left 21 dead, including 19 children, at the hands of an 18-year-old who made an armed assault in Uvalde, Texas.

“We don’t have to watch as more and more innocent people – including schoolchildren – are gunned down,” the governor said in Trenton. “That we can end this senseless and relentless cycle. For those of us standing here, we have had enough of thoughts and prayers. We have had enough of excuses and inaction.”

Tuesday’s massacre is the deadliest school shooting since a gunman killed 27 people and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, in 2012. It’s the third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

Murphy’s gun package, the third he has pushed since taking office in 2018, has remained stalled in the Senate since last April, caught first between concern over looming legislative elections then later stalled for fears of further energizing an already animated Republican voter base.

New Jersey already boasts some of the strongest gun control laws in the nation. The bills would set safe storage standards for firearms, bring the minimum age to purchase a long-barreled gun up to 21 — the same age required for handgun purchasers — and impose a ban on firearms with a caliber of .50 or more.

They would require out-of-state residents who move to New Jersey to register their guns, mandate gun safety training for firearm ID cardholders, and require manufacturers to adopt technology that can link spent casings to a particular gun.

Wednesday’s press conference was colored by anger — at a Congress unable to enact gun control at the federal level and at New Jersey Republicans who have introduced bills that would loosen New Jersey’s gun laws.

“As an American, I am outraged, and I am exhausted,” Murphy said. “I am outraged that our nation remains the only one in which the senseless murder of innocent children and their teachers is even tolerated. I am exhausted that we have another double-digit death toll and one side – one side – refuses to do anything.”

In an unusual step, Murphy, a two-term Democrat, called for every gun-related bill in the Legislature — including those introduced by gun supporters — to be brought to floor votes, and he listed by name Assembly Minority Leader John DiMaio, Assemblyman Ron Dancer, and State Sens. Ed Durr and Michael Doherty. All are Republicans.

Murphy said up-or-down votes would allow New Jerseyans to see “in no uncertain terms who supports gun safety and who wants New Jersey’s streets and communities flooded with guns.”

Murphy declined to rule out calling a special legislative session on gun control.

Individually, the Republican members have sponsored legislation that would roll back restrictions on magazine capacities, reverse a state ban on hollow-point rounds, and repeal red flag laws that allow court-ordered firearm seizures, among others.

At least one of the Republicans Murphy named welcomed his call.

“What’s more American than having a hearing and an up-or-down vote?” said DiMaio (R-Warren). “But when he breaks his rule against speaking on legislation not on his desk, he should perhaps read them. My bill actually increases penalties for criminals possessing ammunition.”

DiMaio’s bill would raise the maximum prison sentence for possession of a gun or ammunition for an unlawful purpose from 18 months to 10 years.

Doherty said the governor mischaracterized his bill, which would allow places of worship to select a single, trained individual who could carry a firearm during services. Murphy said the bill would allow churchgoers to take their guns to services.

“If we’re going to have a discussion on gun laws in the state of New Jersey, we need to have an honest discussion,” said Doherty (R-Warren).

Durr did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Nicholas Scutari did not join the governor at Wednesday’s press conference, though they signaled a willingness to take up new gun control measures.

“This should be anything but ordinary,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “We need to be strong, and we need to look to strengthen our gun safety laws. In New Jersey, common-sense gun safety has been the answer, and our will to act has made us a leader in the fight to keep our communities safe.”

Coughlin, who in April joined Murphy to boost the gun control package, said the state must also look to expand mental health services to address a crisis among the state’s youth that Coughlin called undeniable.

Scutari (D-Union), who has not previously backed Murphy’s latest gun bills, said he would “keep an open mind” on new measures to abate gun violence but said Congress and other states must catch up to New Jersey’s regulations.

Officials have previously noted roughly 80% of firearms used in crimes in New Jersey were originally purchased outside of the state.

“Not only do we need stronger laws federally and in other states on access to firearms, but it is time we hold gun manufacturers accountable the same way we hold any other manufacturer accountable,” Scutari said. “It has been nearly 10 years since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting shook our nation. We cannot afford to allow another decade to pass without action.”


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.