Downey, Houghtaling & Schaer Bills to Require Safe Storage of Firearms, Establish Suicide Training Course Clear Assembly

Strengthening state gun safety laws, the full Assembly passed two bills Thursday. Among them, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Joann Downey, Eric Houghtaling, and Gary Schaer targeting safe storage of firearms and education of firearm dealers on suicide prevention.

“In New Jersey, there are storage requirements and penalties that protect minors from accessing loaded firearms when they are not in use in the home,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “However, there currently are no general requirements for storing firearms when they are not in use. Educating our children about how firearms are not toys for play only goes so far. Requiring store owners to safely store their firearms and keep them out of reach of children must be mandatory to ensure kids are kept safe.”

According to the Center for Injury Research and Prevention, approximately one of three handguns guns is kept loaded and unlocked and most children know where their parents keep their guns. More than 75 percent of first and second graders know where their parents keep their firearms and 36 percent admitted handling the weapons, contradicting their parents’ reports. The U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that 31 percent of accidental deaths caused by firearms might be prevented with the addition of two devices: a child-proof safety lock and a loading indicator.

“This is sensible gun legislation that promotes firearm responsibility,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “We can do more to protect New Jersey families and our children from harm with stricter storage requirements and by educating sellers and their patrons. Gun violence has permeated every community in one way or another. We can put an end to it by strengthening state protocols and ensuring gun safety.”

The first of two bills (A-3696), sponsored by Downey and Houghtaling, was passed 59-15-2. It requires the safe storage of a firearm and establishes penalties for improper firearm storage. Under the measure, a legal owner of a firearm that is not in use at a premises under the owner’s control is required to store the firearm: in a securely locked box or container; in a location which a reasonable person would believe to be secure; or to secure the firearm with a trigger lock.

If the owner of the firearm fails to properly store the firearm as required under this bill, the owner will be guilty of a disorderly persons offense.  A disorderly persons offense is punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Suicide rates are said to be much higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership. More than 80 percent of guns used by youth in suicide attempts were kept in the home of the victim, a relative, or a friend.  Nearly 2 million children live with unlocked, loaded guns – 1 out of 3 homes with kids have guns.

The second measure (A-3896), sponsored by Downey, Houghtaling and Schaer, was passed 73-0-3. It requires the Attorney General, in consultation with the Commissioner of Health, to establish a suicide prevention course curriculum and suicide prevention informational materials for firearm retail dealers who sell firearms or operate a firing range in this State.

“Suicide by firearm claims nearly 22,000 lives every year in the U.S., with almost 1000 of them being teens and children,” said Schaer (D-Bergen). “This is a significant public health crisis across the country that requires each of us to be vigilant. Educating and training firearms retailers to recognize certain signs can help save more lives.”

This bill would also require the Attorney General to distribute the suicide prevention materials to each firearm retail dealer who sells firearms or operates a firing range.  The informational materials would advise customers on methods to prevent firearms from being accessible to a friend or family member in crisis.  A firearm retail dealer who sells firearms or operates a firing range would be required to make the informational materials available at each retail purchase counter.

Both measures will now go to the Senate for further consideration.