GREENWALD: Striving to end gun violence

By Louis Greenwald, NJ Assembly Majority Leader

Gun violence statistics are staggering and unacceptable. Every year, in New Jersey alone, firearms take the lives of 300 people and more than 1,000 are shot. Since the Columbine school shooting in 1999 there has been roughly one mass shooting a year in America. Assaults by firearms kill 13,000 people a year in the United States.

Statistics tell a story in progress. We have the ability and the obligation to write the ending. We must have the courage to take action and in New Jersey we are doing just that. Last year, New Jersey enacted strong and effective policy solutions that have served as examples for the nation. We passed laws that closed loopholes, strengthened background checks by requiring all private sales to be conducted through federally licensed firearms dealers, and we reduced the maximum capacity for ammunition magazines from 15 rounds to 10.

Five cities suffer more than half of the gun violence committed in our state — Newark, Camden, Jersey City, Paterson and Trenton. For decades, our approach to curing the gun violence epidemic has been through the lens of criminal justice reforms. This ignores underlying social determinants, the important role played by responsible law-abiding gun owners and the longer term mental and emotional trauma inflicted on our communities.

Gun violence is a public health crisis comprised of many community concerns including the lack of proficient mental healthcare, community-and hospital-based partnerships and the proliferation of gun trafficking. Research and lessons learned from mass shootings have broadened our views on the issues, and shed light on the need for a comprehensive approach to ending gun violence.

Our citizens, now more engaged than ever before, demand action from their elected officials.

The New Jersey Legislature has heard those calls and responded.

In 2016, the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation found that many of our current laws were outdated and were obstacles to law enforcement in their efforts to crack down on straw purchasing and gun trafficking. Our antiquated method of capturing and tracking ammunition sales is a perfect example.

Currently, vendors are required to collect basic information about the buyer and enter it into a handwritten sales log book. Other industries have abandoned this outdated method to employ electronic sales. New Jersey must do the same to help our communities fight gun violence.

Breaking the cycle of gun violence also requires us to address social issues.  Recurrent violent trauma accounts for up to 45 percent of hospital readmissions. These traumas cost New Jersey taxpayers up to $1.2 billion each year. Healthcare providers need tools and resources to assist victims and their families’ right when these traumas occur.

Understanding this, the Legislature passed a series of bills that will help connect victims to counseling services or housing and job placement programs before they leave the hospital. This is essential to stemming the reoccurrence of gun violence through retaliation. These approaches, already being implemented in several cities in our state, can prevent recurring gun violence and can reduce hospital admissions for gun violence by as much as 40 percent over five years.

At University Hospital in Newark, the site of the first Hospital Violence Intervention Program in the state, they have shown that these programs can be rendered cost-neutral if they can prevent 2.5 people from returning to the hospital for firearm related injuries. So far, they have successfully intervened in 17 cases. We must enact good public policies like this statewide if we’re going to fight this epidemic.

We also must ensure that legal gun owners and their families have the tools, resources and training to safely keep firearms in their homes because, tragically, that’s where 89% of accidental shooting deaths with children happen. We addressed the issue by passing bills to increase the sale of “smart guns” which can only be fired by their owner, require safe storage of guns in homes and ensure that someone gets training on how to safely operate, clean and store a weapon before getting a firearm ID.

New Jersey is a national model in finding ways to reduce gun violence. I applaud Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and all of my legislative colleagues who have stood up on this issue to say, “Enough is enough.”

Louis Greenwald is the Assembly Majority Leader. He represents the sixth legislative district, which includes parts of Burlington and Camden counties.