NJ Senate approves smart gun bill, EpiPen Act

New Jersey Democrats want to send Gov. Chris Christie another controversial gun control measure to consider.

Senate Democrats carried a 22-15 vote in the upper chamber Monday to approve legislation that would require firearms dealers to stock one type of so-called smart gun — handguns that can be fired only by their owners — after the weapons are developed and made available.

Legislation signed into law in 2002 by Gov. Jim McGreevey requires New Jersey gun dealers to sell only smart guns within three years after they become available on the market.

The new bill would repeal that law and replace it with a mandate that dealers stock at least one smart gun in their inventory once the weapons become available.

Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-37th of Teaneck, who was the sponsor of the 2002 bill as well as the new proposal, said the change was needed in order to help spur development of the smart gun technology. She said gun rights activists have used New Jersey's law to pressure manufacturers and retailers to not develop or sell smart guns.

"I never thought I'd be standing in front of this body sponsoring a bill that will actually weaken gun control in the state of New Jersey," Weinberg said. 

Her bill would require the New Jersey Attorney General's Office to determine if smart gun technology is available for sale in the state and meets its standards.

"It will not require anyone to purchase (a smart gun) or use one," Weinberg said. "It will just require retailers to offer it for sale."

Gun activists want the original law rescinded, arguing that the weapons aren't reliable and that New Jersey's government shouldn't interfere with the free market.

Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-39th of Demarest, Bergen County, said he appreciated Weinberg's willingness to revisit New Jersey's gun law, but that the mandate would not be needed if the technology becomes reliable.

"You don't need to say to retailers, 'You must carry it.' Retailers want to carry something that is sellable. They don't need to be ordered," Cardinale said.

Although the measure was approved by the Senate, it still must pass the Assembly, where it is pending a hearing and vote by the Law and Public Safety Committee. The committee is scheduled to meet Thursday, but its agenda does not include the smart gun bill.

Christie, who is in the middle of a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, has said that the technology doesn't exist and that the 2002 law should be repealed.

In addition to the smart gun bill, several other measures were approved by the Senate on Monday, among them one sponsored by Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, and Teresa Ruiz, D-29th of Newark, to create a special education ombudsman position within the state Department of Education.

The post's responsibilities would include sharing information with parents about state and federal laws and regulations concerning special education programs, as well as helping them to navigate the process of obtaining special education evaluations and services and to field complaints about special education programs and placements.

“It can be very difficult for parents to navigate the state’s special education system and to understand what rights and services their children are entitled to,” Allen said in a statement. “Many parents are unsure of where to turn when there is an issue or question with their child’s services. Parents will now have a clear go-to resource when they hit a roadblock at the district office or have a question about their child’s special education services.”

The Senate approved the measure 33-0. Companion legislation is still pending a vote by the Assembly.

Another bill approved Monday was the Epinephrine Access and Emergency Act, which would permit anyone who has completed a Department of Health-approved training program to carry and administer epinephrine auto-injector devices to treat life-threatening allergic reactions involving insect or food allergies.

The bill was sponsored by Assemblymen Herb Conaway, D-7th of Delran, and Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, as well as Sens. Dawn Marie Addiego, R-8th of Evesham, and Jim Whelan, D-2nd of Atlantic City.

Nathan Katz, a third-grader from the Chesterfield Elementary School who advocated for the legislation on behalf of students with food allergies, was on the Senate floor as Whelan's guest when the measure passed. He also was present when the Assembly passed the bill last week.

The measure heads to Christie's desk for consideration.


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