Wilson Bill Package Cracking Down on Unlawful Possession of a Firearm Advanced by Assembly Panel

Bills Would Toughen Penalties for Unlawful Possession of Firearms and Allow Authorities to Impound Vehicles Found With Illegal Guns

An Assembly panel on Thursday approved a two-bill package sponsored by Assemblyman Gilbert “Whip” Wilson to toughen the penalties for anyone convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm.

“We need to send the strongest message possible that gun crimes will not be tolerated,” said Wilson (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This bill protects the rights of law-abiding gun owners while going after criminals. Essentially, we’re saying, ‘We are taking back our streets and we’re not going to tolerate senseless gun violence in our communities anymore.'”

The first bill (A-4152) would upgrade the unlawful possession of a firearm to a crime of the first degree in certain circumstances and amend various other penalty provisions for firearms convictions.

Specifically, the bill would make it a crime of the first degree for a person to unlawfully possess a machine gun, handgun, rifle or shotgun, or an assault firearm following a conviction for a crime under the No Early Release Act. Under current law violations of these provisions are either a second degree offense, in the case of machine guns, handguns and assault firearms, or a third degree offense, in the case of rifles and shotguns.

Additionally, the bill would increase the mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility under the Graves Act from three years to 42 months. The Graves Act provides that a person convicted of unlawful possession of a machine gun, handgun, rifle or shotgun is subject to a mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility, which is three years under current law. In addition, the bill adds the unlawful possession of an assault firearm to the list of crimes that are subject to Graves Act sentencing.

The second bill (A-4180) would allow law enforcement agencies to impound motor vehicles for certain crimes and offenses, including unlawful possession of a weapon.

Under the provisions of the bill, a law enforcement agency may impound a motor vehicle if: 1) a machine gun, assault weapon, or other weapon was unlawfully possessed in the motor vehicle; 2) if a rifle, shot gun, or handgun was possessed in violation of certain statues and the motor vehicle was used to commit a separate crime of the first through fourth degree; 3) the motor vehicle was used in the commission of prostitution; or 4) the vehicle was used in the commission of buying or selling a controlled dangerous substance.

The bill also provides that a law enforcement agency may impose a reasonable administrative fee for a violation, which would be in addition to the costs for towing and storage of the vehicle. The fees would be imposed on the registered owner of the vehicle and a law enforcement agency may retain custody of the vehicle until the fees are paid.

In addition, under the provisions of this bill, the registered owner is entitled to a hearing, upon request. The bill requires that the registered owner of the vehicle be notified of the impoundment and of their right to a hearing.

Lastly, the bill allows the vehicle to be sold at auction if the owner does not claim the vehicle within 90 days of impoundment and establishes a procedure for this process. The bill stipulates that the vehicle is not to be sold until the lessee or registered owner has been convicted of the offense or offenses for which the vehicle was impounded.

The bill also provides an exception for innocent owners whose property is impounded under the bill. The vehicle is not to be sold if the owner of the property establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that: 1) he or she was not involved in or aware of the unlawful activity; and 2) the owner had done all that could reasonably be expected to prevent the proscribed use of the property by an agent.

Both bills were approved by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee and now await consideration by the full Assembly.