Greenwald, Houghtaling & Downey Legislation to Overturn Christie’s Efforts to Weaken Gun Safety Regulations Clears Assembly Committee

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling and Assemblywoman Joann Downey aimed at overturning efforts by the Christie administration to weaken gun safety regulations in New Jersey was advanced by an Assembly committee on Thursday.

“Violence in our communities undermines the safety of all our families, and we in the legislature are devoted to ending gun violence in New Jersey. Because our legislature has been proactive about firearm safety, New Jersey has the strongest gun safety laws in the nation and ranks among states with the fewest gun deaths in the nation,” said Majority Leader Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). “The over-reaching changes to state regulations proposed by the Christie administration go against the intent of these carefully-established laws, which were put in place to keep communities across New Jersey safe.”

The concurrent resolution (ACR-175) would seek to prohibit the adoption of regulations proposed by the administration to expand the definition of “justifiable need” for the purpose of obtaining a gun carry permit.

Under current law, carrying a handgun in public without a permit is a second-degree crime, punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $150,000 or both. To obtain a permit, an applicant must provide a written certification of justifiable need, defined by the state as “the urgent necessity for self-protection, as evidenced by specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life that cannot be avoided by means other than by issuance of a permit to carry a handgun.”

The Division of State Police proposed an amendment to add “serious threats” that endanger the applicant’s life to what constitutes a justifiable need to carry a weapon. The proposed amendment also specifies that a permit to carry a handgun can be issued based on a special danger to the applicant’s life that cannot be avoided by other “reasonable” means. The change would allow applicants to qualify for a gun permit even if the threats, while serious, are not specifically directed at them, Greenwald said.

“Given the correlation between gun ownership rates and firearm homicide rates, allowing more people to carry handguns is not a smart approach to increasing public safety,” said Greenwald. “Our state’s focus needs to be on finding responsible, commonsense ways to reduce gun violence and make communities safer, not making it easier for weapons to proliferate New Jersey neighborhoods.”

“Removing limitations on carrying guns in public places will enable more people to choose using deadly force as a first resort, facilitating escalation from a minor confrontation to a tragedy,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “The deliberate action the administration has taken to increase the accessibility of guns, and thus the likelihood of gun violence, is in direct contrast with the protections intended to make communities in New Jersey safer.”

The legislation is part of the process of blocking recent Christie administration efforts to weaken gun safety laws in New Jersey. The state constitution empowers the legislature to review and invalidate a measure adopted by the governor if it fails to align with legislative intent. As current law and judicial interpretations of the justifiable need standard clearly require demonstration of an urgent necessity for protection from a specified threat rather than a mere generalized fear or concern, the administration’s effort to expand the scope of the right to carry is inconsistent with the legislature’s intent to establish who may carry a handgun in public, Greenwald noted.

Upon passage by both houses of the legislature, the Assembly and Senate concurrent resolutions would be transmitted to the governor and the superintendent of State Police. The superintendent then would have 30 days to amend or withdraw the regulation. If the agency fails to do so, the legislature then may prohibit the adoption of the proposed regulation by holding a hearing, and, after 20 days, approving a second resolution to invalidate the proposal.

The committee also considered a bill (A-3689), also sponsored by Greenwald, Houghtaling and Downey, that would codify the aforementioned definition of “justifiable need,” presently outlined only in state regulations, in state statute.

Both measures were advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.