(TRENTON) – Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) made the following remarks Thursday before the Assembly voted to try to override the governor’s veto of legislation (A-3593) he sponsored to require notification of local law enforcement before expungement of mental health records of prospective firearms purchasers:
“Mr. Speaker, I thank you today for standing strong for the People’s House, where we put aside politics and do the right thing for the residents of this great state.
“This vote, Mr. Speaker, is a reflection of that great tradition.
“This bill has nothing to do with politics.
“This is all about public safety.
“The Administrative Office of the Courts asked for this legislation, with good reason.
“Less than six months ago, we approved it 74-0.
“I appreciated the support from my fellow sponsors then, and I hopefully I will get that support today.
“I thank Assembly members Lagana, Bramnick, Danielsen, Wimberly and Jimenez for their leadership and joining me in this bipartisan effort.
“I know all these legislators to be serious and thoughtful lawmakers.
“They wouldn’t have joined me in sponsoring this bill if they didn’t feel it was a vital step toward improving public safety.
“This is, after all, neither a narrow nor an insignificant bill.
“We were all concerned back in June that law enforcement officials are not involved in whether a mental health record of a prospective firearms purchaser should be expunged.
“Nothing has changed to ease that worry.
“This bill is about common sense and public safety.
“Those who attempt to make it about something else, well, let’s face it – they will be embarrassed and show themselves to be truly out-of-touch with New Jersey.
“For the sake of our state, I hope that doesn’t happen.
“So let’s take a quick review – this bill provides for law enforcement officials to be notified when a person applies to the court to have a mental health record expunged for the purposes of purchasing a firearm.
“Current law requires licensed firearms retailers to conduct a background check of prospective firearms purchasers using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
“A check determines if the person is eligible to purchase a firearm under federal and state law.
“The Administrative Office of the Courts, in cooperation with the Attorney General and the State Police, has transmitted almost 425,000 records of mental health adjudications dating back to the 1970s.
“Prospective purchasers who were formerly committed to a mental institution, but who have since recovered and now seek to legally purchase a firearm, may be found ineligible due to a mental health record in the system.
“To have a mental health record removed from the system, a person is required to file an expungement application in the state that transmitted the record.
“In this state, expungement of a mental health adjudication is governed by a 1953 law.
“That was 62 years ago, when Eisenhower was president and the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn.
“Anyway, persons with a mental health record who are recovered, substantially improved, or in substantial remission, may apply to the court to have that record expunged.
“When considering an application to have the record expunged, the court is required to hear evidence as to the circumstances of the petitioner’s commitment or determination, the petitioner’s mental health record and criminal history, and the petitioner’s reputation in the community.
“If the court finds that the petitioner will not likely act in a manner dangerous to the public safety and that the grant of relief is not contrary to the public interest, the court is required to grant relief and expunge the record.
“The AOC and the State Police amend the record in the system to reflect the expungement.
“But – law enforcement officials currently are not involved in the determination of whether a mental health record of a prospective firearms purchaser should be expunged.
“Since law enforcement officials may be aware of information that is not readily accessible to the court, such as pending charges, the purchaser’s criminal history, or any aberrant behavior within the community, this bill authorizes law enforcement participation in this determination.
“Specifically, the bill requires the applicant for expungement to serve notice on law enforcement officials if the purpose of the expungement is to remove the mental health adjudication record to allow for the purchase of a firearm.
“Upon being served, these law enforcement officials would have the option to provide information to the court concerning the applicant’s criminal history or behavior for consideration during the expungement proceedings.”
“To my colleagues here, this is a matter of public safety and putting a system together where law enforcement and judiciary are involved in the process.
“Let’s come together again and do the right thing.”