Democrats advance new gun restrictions over objections about constitutionality
Sen. Joe Cryan, a Democrat, said he was astonished there was any debate on a bill to require firearms training before acquiring a firearms identification card. (Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office)
Gov. Phil Murphy’s gun reform package continued advancing Thursday, with seven bills passing in Senate and Assembly committees and heading to each chamber’s floor for a vote.
The Democratic governor in recent weeks renewed his call for the state Legislature to take up the package, which he proposed last year and is aimed at strengthening New Jersey’s already tight firearm laws.
Still, in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down some concealed carry laws, Republicans expressed hope their colleagues across the aisle would take a step back to review the decision before moving any more gun restrictions. News of the decision broke about halfway through Thursday’s committee meetings.
While the package is still poised to pass the Democratically controlled Legislature next week, GOP lawmakers want Democrats to consider the impact of passing laws they say will certainly be challenged in court.
“It ought to give legislators pause because it is very much more clearly defined what is not constitutionally acceptable. And if our goal is to get it right, get laws in place that are impactful, accomplish a mission, and will stand up to constitutional scrutiny — if that’s the goal, they’ll have to start having discussions,” Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) told the New Jersey Monitor.
Despite some opposition from gun rights groups and GOP lawmakers, the bills all passed. Included in the package advanced Thursday are bills that would regulate the possession of body armor, develop a database to track ammunition sales, mandate gun retailers to use micro-stamping technology, and require people who move from outside the state to register their firearms in New Jersey to obtain a firearm identification card.
“Gun violence is not a simple problem,” said Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), sponsor of three of the bills. “Illegal guns are a big, big part of it, but also, there are a lot of safety measures we do need to take.”
Two Murphy proposals that would raise the age limit from 18 to 21 to purchase shotguns and mandate safe gun storage were not among those passed Thursday.
Another bill that would require firearms training before acquiring a firearms identification card sparked debate between O’Scanlon and Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union). The Democrat said he was astonished and speechless that there was any opposition to the bill, but O’Scanlon said the measure would likely be challenged in court in light of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling.
“Let them challenge it. Make a statement. Say we want safe weapons. Say we’ve had enough of crime. Say we’ve had enough of people being torn apart. Say we’ve had enough of kids dying. Say something and just vote for it,” said Cryan, a former Union County Sheriff.
O’Scanlon said he wants to vote for legislation that “makes sense and will stand up rather than going through a motion that won’t make any difference.” He questioned why the package of school security bills he sponsored hasn’t gone up for a vote yet.
The Supreme Court ruling struck down a New York law that required gun owners seeking concealed carry permits to prove an “urgent, justifiable need” to carry a firearm. New Jersey law requires the same.
The body armor measure advanced along party lines. Cryan voted yes “with sadness … that it’s not a unanimous vote.” O’Scanlon voted no.
The GOP legislator believes the Supreme Court ruling will force New Jersey to revisit its concealed carry statutes — and the laws marching toward approval next week.
The seven bills also advanced in an Assembly committee Thursday, when there was little debate about them.
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