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Assembly Moves Cryan, Coutinho, Gusciora, Tucker, Mainor, Quijano, & Sumter Bill to Declare Violence as a Public Health Crisis, Creates Study Commission

Measure also makes Recommendations of Expansion of Mental Health Programs and Adoption of Federal Gun Control Measures

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Joseph Cryan, Albert Coutinho, Reed Gusciora, Cleopatra Tucker, Charles Mainor, Annette Quijano and Shavonda E. Sumter to address violence as a public health crisis and establish a nine-member panel to study violence in the state, its causes and effects was advanced by the Assembly (49-25-4) on Monday.

“When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies violence as a serious health problem affecting our communities then this warrants a good look at it in new jersey as a public health epidemic,” said Cryan (D-Union). “As early as the incident at Virginia Tech to the recent incident in Newtown, these events occurring throughout the country urge us to address the issues of violence prevention, gun control and mental health as a whole.”

“Over the last decade, we have seen firsthand what acts of violence can do to families and communities,” said Coutinho (D-Essex). “This bill would help focus a recurring problem that is growing in our society and examine the roots, address them and find ways to alleviate the problem.”

“Violence is a result of more than one untreated problem within our society,” said Gusciora (D-Hunterdon and Mercer). “Mental health, gun control, education may be some of the issues causing the rise in violence. By examining what leads to violent acts will help us get to the various causes and stem this epidemic in our communities.”

The sponsors cite three examples which represent a fraction of the violence that occurs nationally and in this State: (1) the December 14, 2012 incident at the Newtown Connecticut elementary school where 26 people were killed, including twenty children ages 6 and 7; (2) the August 31, 2012 incident at a New Jersey Pathmark in Old Bridge where an employee armed with an assault rifle and automatic pistol entered the store and killed two workers before taking his own life.; and (3) July 2012 in Aurora Colorado a man entered a crowded theater and opened fire, killing and wounding 59 others.

According to the most recent data available, in New Jersey alone, there are 372 murders per year and 74,244 domestic violence offenses reported by the police per year. Nationwide, since the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, there have been more than 70 additional mass shootings.

“From the streets of Newark to the neighborhoods of Trenton, violence has been unrelenting in these communities for decades,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “It is time to begin addressing these acts as a prevalent epidemic of our communities and not just as random individual acts. There are reasons to why violence continues to persist and continue to worsen.

“From Columbine to Aurora to Newtown to urban communities throughout New Jersey, violence has claimed far too many innocent lives in this state and country,” said Mainor (D-Hudson) “It is a scourge threatening our quality of life. We will need a comprehensive plan to prevent it from growing and disabling communities.”

The bill (A-3690) would declare violence as a public health crisis, recommend the expansion of mental health programs, recommend the expansion of mental health programs, recommend federal adoption of gun control measures, and establishes a Study Commission on Violence to study the trends of violence, the source of violence, and the impact of violence on the community, to develop a method to address the epidemic of violence at the federal and state level, and to make a recommendation for Congressional and State action.

“We already understand that violence prevention in our communities will require a comprehensive solution,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Dedicated research and study is the answer to discovering how we can better nurture healthier, peaceful communities and better protect our families.”

“To address a problem as a whole, we must address the sum of its parts,” said Sumter (D-Bergen and Passaic). “We have already identified two of those parts as the need to improve mental health care and tougher gun control measures. Let’s identify any other issues or triggers for the type of violence we have seen. Our communities are desperate for support and solutions to the violence that has persisted in their neighborhoods. We need to find real answers to this problem.”

In addition, the commission would seek our funding from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and prevention and any other funding sources to implement programs to reduce violence.

The study commission would consist of nine members. To the greatest extent practical, the public members must have a background or education in mental health or criminology.

The measure passed the Senate 23-10 in May. It now heads to the Governor for further consideration.