Sweeping gun bill clears Assembly committee for fourth time

By: - November 15, 2022 7:05 am

An Assembly committee approved a bill meant to guard the state's strict gun laws following the Bruen decision for the fourth time Monday, the new amendments meant to guard against a legal challenge. (Photo by Dana DiFilippo|New Jersey Monitor)

Assembly Democrats advanced a controversial, sweeping gun control bill through committee Monday for the fourth time, with amendments that won support from New Jersey police.

The new amendments retooled portions of the bill banning firearms in sensitive places, swapping a broad category of weapons for a narrower group of destructive devices.

The old definition could have seen residents face steep penalties for carrying daggers, brass knuckles, and other non-ballistic weaponry in parks, schools, and bars, among a host of other locations.

Destructive devices is a smaller category that includes grenades, propelled explosives, and certain firearms. Lawmakers have not sought to restrict the possession of guns alone in sensitive spaces for fear that such a strategy would open the law up to a legal challenge against which broader public safety restrictions might lend some protection.

Even if such a legal challenge fails, gun rights activists warned they would seek to push lawmakers supporting the bills out of office.

“If you vote yes on this bill, when a permit-to-carry holder in your district is jammed up by this law, their family and career ruined, we the New Jersey gun community, will be there on the ground, on social media, on billboards, reminding everyone of your yes vote on this horrible bill,” gun owner Brad Hendrick told legislators.

Other amendments added ballot-storing locations, medical offices, and ambulatory care centers to the list of places where guns would be barred and allowed retired police officers to renew their concealed carry permits every two years, up from the annual renewal required by past versions.

The amended bill, which was endorsed Monday by four major New Jersey police unions, also will require New Jersey residents who carry a firearm in public to hold at least $300,000 in liability coverage. Prior versions allowed lower levels.

Lengthy delays plagued Monday’s hearing, which began more than four hours past its scheduled start time as Democrats negotiated provisions in the latest version of the bill.

The holdup may have cut testimony on the bill short on Monday, but supporters and opponents of New Jersey Democrats’ attempt to retain the state’s strict gun laws in the aftermath of the Bruen decision came out in force once more.

Familiar concerns in a new round of testimony

Gun rights advocates raised concerns about new costs the bill would create for those seeking firearms purchaser ID cards or concealed carry permits, charging they could price poorer residents — and particularly those of color — out of gun ownership.

“This bill disproportionately affects low-income communities that deal with the highest levels of violence,” Trevor Ferrigno said. “How can we justify a bill that imposes a minimum cost of $1,000 with the response that citizens who don’t want to exercise a right shouldn’t have to share the tax burden? I don’t have kids. Should I be paying less in property taxes?”

The bill introduces a variety of fees and raises amounts for existing ones. Handgun purchase permit applications would cost $20 to file, up from $2. Firearms purchaser ID card applications would cost $50, up from $5. Concealed carry permit applications would see the largest increase, jumping from $2 to $200.

Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), the bill’s prime Senate sponsor, has said the increased fees would pay for thorough background checks applicants would face in a post-Bruen New Jersey.

The bill’s supporters lauded the fees, noting the state had already seen a surge in firearm applications, and pointing to a rise in violent crime seen in states that adopted right-to-carry laws.

“Does anybody really want to put more guns in the hands of people that live in Paterson and Newark and Elizabeth and Camden to say ‘oh, the money you’re charging isn’t fair,’” said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex). “That’ll make things safer? Please.”


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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.