NJ gun restrictions await action by Senate

By David Levinsky - www.phillyburbs.com

New Jersey lawmakers have proposed similar gun control measures to those signed into law in Connecticut Thursday, but their progress through the state Legislature appears to have slowed.

Over a month has lapsed since the Assembly approved a 22-bill package aimed at curtailing gun violence like the Newtown, Conn. school massacre, but the state Senate has yet to take up any of the measures, despite promises from leaders to do so.

Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, D-6th of Voorhees, said Thursday that Connecticut’s action “highlights the need to act here in New Jersey to close dangerous gaps in our current gun laws.”

“In 2011, 269 New Jerseyans lost their lives due to gun violence. The time to get serious about preventing gun violence is long overdue,” said Greenwald, who sponsored several of the gun bills approved by the Assembly in late February.

The package includes a ban on possessing magazines capable of holding over 10 rounds of ammuntion as well as measures prohibiting people on the federal Terrorist Watch List from obtaining a New Jersey gun permit or ID card. It also includes outlawing the sale of ammo over the Internet or by mail or telephone.

Although the measures cleared the Assembly, their path through the Senate is far from certain during a year when all 120 seats in the Legislature are up for re-election along with the governor’s office.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd of West Deptford, was unavailable for comment Thursday but has said the Senate would take up many of the bills approved by the Assembly this spring.

But Sweeney, who hails from a South Jersey district with a large population of gun owners, has also said some of the measures may be amended or discarded.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, has also introduced additional measures designed to stem the flow of illegal guns into the state by increasing the penalties for trafficking firearms and making “straw purchases” for people prohibited from possessing them. He is pushing Sweeney and other senators to add those measures to the bills already approved by the Assembly.

“Fundamentally, if we’re not talking about illegal guns then we’re missing a critical part of the debate,” Singleton said last month during a meeting with the Burlington County Times editorial board.

Gun rights advocates contend New Jersey’s existing gun laws are already among the toughest in the nation and that additional restrictions would violate their Second Amendment rights.

Even if the Senate approves gun control measures, their fate still depends largely on Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

A former federal prosecutor, Christie has said that he supports the state’s existing gun laws but that the shootings in Newtown and elsewhere warrant a deeper conversation about societal violence. To that end, he created a task force in January to study guns, violence, mental illness and school security and to make recommendations later this year.

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