Between 2019 and 2021, authorities said 7,411 guns involved in New Jersey crimes could be traced to a specific source, and 83% came from outside the state. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Inspired by a pair of deadly mass shootings, New Jersey lawmakers and Gov. Phil Murphy have called on Congress and states with laxer gun laws to enact new regulations on firearms.
New Jersey’s gun laws are among the nation’s strictest, but the same can’t be said of neighboring Pennsylvania and other states along the eastern seaboard that are the origin of most of the guns used in New Jersey crimes.
A New Jersey Monitor review of data maintained by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives found that, between 2019 and 2021, 83% of the 7,411 New Jersey crime guns for which law enforcement could identify a source emerged from outside the Garden State. Law enforcement could not identify a source state for an additional 4,366 New Jersey crime guns.
About 60% of the guns for which a source state was identified came from just six states: Pennsylvania (15.7%), Virginia (10%), Georgia (11.6%), North Carolina (8.8%), South Carolina (8.2%), and Florida (5.5%). Pennsylvania was the origin of more crime guns used in the Garden State save New Jersey (16.8%) itself.
Those six states have some things in common: Their gun laws are lax.
New Jersey’s Democratic lawmakers have expanded limits on firearms, ammunition, and accessories in recent years. The six states have rarely done the same.
None of the six limit magazine capacities, which New Jersey law has kept locked to 10 rounds since 2018. Likewise, none of the six expand on federal rules on the purchase and ownership of long guns — rifles and shotguns — while New Jersey bans a large number of semi-automatic rifles, submachine guns, and shotguns, among others.
The six states also have more permissive laws on concealed carry permits. New Jersey law stipulates law enforcement “may issue” concealed carry permits, providing officials with broad latitude to deny applications.
Laws in the six states say law enforcement “shall issue” such permits, limiting officials’ ability to stop a resident from purchasing a carrying a concealed firearm. In Virginia, for example, only a judge can deny an application for a concealed carry permit, a power shared by county officials in other states.
Of the six, only North Carolina requires residents to get a permit or firearm purchaser ID card to buy a gun, and that’s only the case for handgun purchases. New Jersey imposes that requirement on all gun sales in the state.
The six states are more similar to New Jersey on red flag laws, which allow judges to issue extreme risk protective orders that allow the seizure of firearms belonging to individuals believed to be a threat to others, including in cases of domestic violence. Virginia has such a law, as does Florida, though the Sunshine State only allows law enforcement personnel to petition for an extreme risk protective order.
Alex Roubian, president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, said strict gun laws do not translate into less gun violence.
“If that were the case, Trenton, Camden, Newark, et al., would be gun-free utopias, and Governor Murphy could visit those cities without his tax-funded armed guards,” Roubian said.
Statewide, New Jersey’s firearms mortality rate is one of the lowest in the nation, at 5 per 100,000 in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the figure includes homicides and suicides). The states with the highest rates are Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, Missouri, and Alabama.
Gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety notes the states with the lowest rates of gun deaths — California, Hawaii, New York, and Massachusetts — have some of the nation’s strictest gun laws.
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