Legislation sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling and Assemblywomen Joann Downey, Gabriela Mosquera and Pamela Lampitt aimed at countering efforts by the Christie administration to weaken gun safety regulations in New Jersey was advanced by a Senate committee on Monday.
“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). “In the wake of repeated incidents of mass violence involving firearms, the last thing we ought to do is increase the proliferation of firearms.”
The bill (A-3689) would codify the definition of “justifiable need,” presently outlined only in state regulations, in state statute. The measure is a response to the Christie administration’s effort 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 state regulations 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.
“New Jersey acknowledges and respects the Second Amendment right to own firearms, but this state also takes seriously its residents’ right to go out in public without fear of being exposed to the imminent danger guns present,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “In a nation that leads the world in firearms violence, we cannot afford to roll back the hard work New Jersey has done to produce gun safety measures that can serve as a model for the rest of the country.”
“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.”
“Our nation has seen repeated, tragic proof of the destruction guns can cause – whether it’s in a living room during a domestic dispute, in a movie theater, in a school, on a playground or in a nightclub,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Making it easier for more guns to enter our communities certainly is not the answer to this agonizing and markedly pervasive problem.”
“There’s a danger inherent in broadening gun carry permit regulations in the manner proposed by the administration,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “The process we have in place is meant to keep our state safe. Changing it will only put the people of New Jersey at risk.”
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.
The measure, which the Assembly passed 46-28-1 on Thursday, was advanced by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.