Law creates strict penalties for illegal gun sales that precede in death or injury
Unlicensed firearm sellers will face new criminal charges if their weapons are used in a crime under legislation Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Wednesday.
The law, which cleared both chambers of the Legislature in unanimous votes, would leverage steeper penalties for violators than already exist under New Jersey’s strict gun laws as long as the illegally sold guns were later used in a shooting that injured or killed others.
“We are elected, above all, to protect our children and families,” Murphy said at a bill signing in Trenton. “And today, New Jersey … will take a historic step to protect our children and families from gun violence.”
Gun traffickers who sell weapons linked to a slaying could face up to 20 years in prison. Sellers whose weapons injure another person face up to 10 years. Both categories could also result in steep fines.
Charges lodged under the law carry strict liability, meaning violators could be charged regardless of their intent.
The law largely exempts licensed firearm dealers, though they could still face charges if they sold the firearms at above-market rates, didn’t maintain proper records, failed to perform background checks, or didn’t observe a 45-day waiting period. All are required by state law.
“This law will have no impact, whatsoever, on law-abiding gun sellers and gun owners. It will only target individuals who disrespect the Second Amendment by illegally trafficking guns,” Murphy said.
The law, which Murphy said is the first of its kind in the United States, mirrors existing statutes for drug dealers.
In New Jersey, drug dealers whose narcotics are linked to an overdose death can face criminal charges that carry strict liability.
“We’re applying the exact same underlying logic to address a new public health crisis — namely gun violence,” the governor said.
The move is meant in part to stop the flow of out-of-state guns into New Jersey. Such guns make up an overwhelming majority of New Jersey’s crime guns.
In 2021, just 520 of the 3,202 crime guns for which a source state could be identified came from New Jersey, according to statistics maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“It’s about standing up and making sure that individuals who think they can traverse illegal guns through our state will be caught and will be punished to the fullest extent of this law. That is what our goal has been every time we stand before you,” said Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), the bill’s prime sponsor.
Acting Attorney General Lyndsay Ruotolo said the new law will provide authorities with additional tools to combat gun violence in the state, adding that Attorney General Matt Platkin, who is out on paternity leave, will issue a directive with guidance on the law to local police departments and prosecutors.
“We accepted that in our profession, gun violence would be a part of our reality. But we refuse to accept it should be a part of yours,” she said.
The new law will build on New Jersey’s gun control regime, which already numbers among the strictest in the nation.
Those laws include mandated background checks, bans on high-capacity magazines and certain high-caliber weapons, as well as red flag laws that allow authorities to seize firearms from those who are a threat to themselves or others.
Unlike the law Murphy signed Wednesday, most of those provisions were passed in votes along party lines.
“There are few things in our world today that have brought a lot of bipartisanship together,” said Singleton. “Washington, D.C., is a little bit of a challenge, and sometimes in Trenton it’s a little bit of a challenge, but this issue — there was not one no vote.”
Other gun laws in the state have faced opposition, including a law that bars guns from a series of sensitive areas, including beaches, libraries, and hospitals, among numerous others.
The New Jersey Association of Pistol and Rifle Clubs challenged the law last December, charging it is out of step with the gun law framework the U.S. Supreme Court set in its Bruen decision, a 2022 case that upended the state’s strict concealed carry rules.
A federal judge had temporarily barred numerous portions of the law from going into effect, finding the restrictions were not rooted in historical firearms restrictions, but an appellate panel paused that injunction in June.