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Barnes & Johnson Bill to Outlaw Battlefield-Style .50-caliber Weapons in New Jersey Released by Assembly Committee

Potentially Destructive Military-Grade Weapons Pose Security Threat to NJ

(TRENTON) — Legislation Assembly Democrats Peter Barnes and Gordon Johnson sponsored that would ban the sale of .50-caliber rifles — powerful battlefield-styled weapons that would be devastatingly lethal in the hands of terrorists — was released Wednesday by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee as part of the Assembly Democratic gun violence prevention package.

“In a post-9/11 society, there is simply no reason for .50-caliber weapons to be available for civilian use,” said Barnes (D-Middlesex). “With the continued rise in gang violence across the state and the fact that New Jersey possesses numerous chemical plants and rail yards vulnerable to attack by .50-caliber weapons, we have a serious responsibility to stop these inherently deadly weapons from falling into the wrong hands.”

“Fifty-caliber guns are inappropriate and unnecessary for civilian use and sale,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “These are military weapons designed specifically for the battlefield. There is no justifiable reason they should be available in the open market.”

Currently, .50-caliber weapons are available for purchase at New Jersey gun shops by anyone who possesses proper identification and passes a simple background check. The weapon has a firing range of up to 2,000 yards and its ammunition is the largest round available in the civilian marketplace. Variations of the ammunition with armor-piercing, incendiary, and explosive capabilities also are readily available for purchase.

Under the bill, it would be unlawful to possess a firearm having a caliber of 50 or greater. A person violating this provision would be guilty of a crime of the third degree. A crime of the third degree is punishable by a fine of up to $15,000, imprisonment for three to five years, or both.

The bill does, however, provide exemptions for:

  1. antique firearms;
  2. antique handguns;
  3. muzzleloader rifles; and
  4. black powder muzzleloaders having in-line ignition, a center hammer or an under hammer which have been approved for hunting in this state.

These firearms would continue to be governed by the statute’s current “greater than 60 caliber” restriction.

Antique firearms and handguns are defined in the statutes as firearms which:

  1. do not fire fixed ammunition or were manufactured before 1898 and for which fixed ammunition is not commercially available; and
  2. are possessed as a curiosity or ornament or for their historical significance or value.

The statutory definition of “antique handgun” includes replicas; under this bill, “antique firearm” and “antique cannon” are also defined to include replicas.

The bill defines a muzzleloader rifle to mean a single shot, single barrel, side lock percussion or flintlock firearm with iron or peep sights, or with a fiber optic sight or scope, and a stock made of wood or any synthetic material.

The bill also excludes from the definition of a destructive device any firearm with a bore diameter larger than 60 caliber whose principle means of ignition are traditional flintlock or caplock and whose principle propellant is black powder. This would allow the possession of certain weapons greater than 60 caliber currently used by revolutionary war re-enactors.

Under the provisions of the bill, it would be unlawful for anyone to possess a prohibited firearm of 50 caliber or greater. The bill, however, grants individuals who lawfully own one of these prohibited firearms one year in which to dispose of them.

To facilitate the voluntary surrender of these firearms, the bill authorizes the Superintendent of State Police to establish a buyback program. Funding for this program is to be provided by the Attorney General from the proceeds acquired from the property and valuables forfeited by convicted criminals. Those not wishing to participate in this buyback program may:

  1. sell their prohibited firearm to someone who is authorized to lawfully possess it; or
  2. render the prohibited firearm inoperable and so notify the appropriate law enforcement agency.

Finally, the bill affords immunity from prosecution to individuals during the interim between the effective date of the bill and the actual establishment of the buyback program. Thereafter, the bill affords immunity from prosecution to individuals for their actions associated with their participation in the buyback programs.