Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin talk about new gun control legislation on Oct. 13, 2022, at the Statehouse in Trenton. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)
New Jersey lawmakers unveiled a measure intended to tighten gun laws Thursday, a response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision from June that expanded the rights of people to carry guns in public.
The bill would prohibit guns in 25 categories of public areas, including government buildings, schools, casinos, sporting arenas, bars, child care centers, parks, hospitals, beaches, and college campuses. It also would require gun owners to obtain insurance and complete safety training to carry a firearm.
“We believe this strikes the right balance to allow for constitutionally allowable gun carry, but not just anywhere you want it to be and not just for any person,” said Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) at the Statehouse in Trenton, flanked by legislative members and gun safety activists.
Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-Middlesex), an avid recreational hunter and gun owner, said New Jersey will remain one of the safest states in the country in large part due to bills like the one unveiled Thursday. New Jersey has the third-lowest rate of gun violence in America, according to the Giffords Law Center.
“For me, as a responsible, law-abiding citizen, this bill changes very little. For millions, this bill provides the safety without causing constitutional conflict. This bill will provide options not only for the citizens with guns, but let’s remember the citizens without guns,” Danielsen said.
New York passed similar legislation three months ago that has already been struck down by a federal judge who said it would be unconstitutional to prohibit guns in so-called “sensitive” areas like Times Square. Another judge ruled the law can remain in effect while the case is appealed.
New Jersey is already home to some of the strongest gun laws in the country, which have been strengthened since Gov. Phil Murphy took office in 2018.
Theresa Turner, co-lead of the state chapter of Moms Demand Action, said the new legislation is “the best solution that our Legislature could come up with.”
“I think it’s going to be really effective,” Turner said.
The legislation will almost certainly face legal challenges, but Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) called it “morally right.”
“We’ve worked with the Attorney General’s Office. We’re confident that these are common sense gun safety measures,” he said.
Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club, called the proposed bill a “big middle finger to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“These lawmakers have no respect for the Constitution or the rule of law — they focus on attacking citizens’ rights while setting violent criminals free. We look forward to overturning these measures in court and forcing the state to pay our legal fees,” he said.
According to a draft of the bill, the measure would remove the “justifiable need standard” to carry a weapon in New Jersey, a standard similar to the one the Supreme Court in June declared is unconstitutional. Now, lawmakers want a new, 60-day vetting process to determine who can obtain concealed carry permits.
To apply for a permit, people would have to undergo an interview with the local chief of police and submit five non-family references. The bill would also expand the disqualifying criteria that would prohibit someone from owning a gun to include people who have violated restraining orders, have outstanding warrants, and are convicted of fourth-degree crimes. That list would also include people with mental disorders, alcoholics, and people who are “found to be lacking the essential character of temperament necessary to be entrusted with a firearm.”
The measure would also increase permit application fees from $2 to $200, which Scutari said would be necessary for the extensive background checks applicants will face.
Alejandro Roubian, a pro-gun activist with the Second Amendment Society, strongly opposes the legislation, saying the increased fees will harm people of color the most.
“It’s ridiculous that they’re trying to undo the Supreme Court’s restoration of our rights,” he said. “We have the right to protect ourselves just like lawmakers do everywhere they go — with guns.”
About 300,000 people have applied for permits to carry guns since the June ruling, Coughlin said during the press conference.
The measure would require people with carry permits to have liability insurance to protect against loss from injury, death, or property damage. Proof of insurance would have to be carried with the permit to carry a handgun.
The New Jersey State Police would be required to develop a safety training course. Gun owners would be responsible for paying for any gun safety training, including classes online or in person and target practice at approved facilities.
About 60% of New Jerseyans think federal laws on firearm ownership should be stricter, and more than 70% are “very concerned” about the amount of gun violence in the country, according to a September Rutgers-Eagleton poll.
Danielsen, who intends to apply for a concealed carry permit, said he’s confident law-abiding gun owners will support the legislation.
“I’m looking forward to conceal carry, my friends are looking forward to it, my family members are looking forward to it. Now we have a beautifully paved path forward,” he said.
Coughlin expects a committee to vote on the bill Monday and a vote in the Assembly Oct. 27. Scutari did not offer a timeline for voting in the state Senate.
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