Senate Democrats preparing new gun control package

By David Levinsky -

New Jersey senators are preparing their own package of gun safety laws, and it includes several of local legislator Troy Singleton’s ideas about how to crack down on illegal gun sales.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd of West Deptford, and other Democratic lawmakers announced the package of 12 bills Friday, but delayed introduction of the measures until later this month to make some technical changes.

The centerpiece of the package is a bill that would require the state to create an electronic system for instant background checks for the purchase of firearms, as well as a photo ID for gun buyers that would be revoked immediately if a buyer is convicted of a criminal offense or sentenced to involuntary commitment.

The new system also would combine the New Jersey permits for hunting rifles and handguns into one permit and require safety training for anyone interested in obtaining it.

The Democrats’ 12-bill package includes three of four bills authored by Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, to slow the flow of illegal guns into the state.

One of the measures would increase the penalties for gun trafficking by making it a crime subject to the No Early Release Act mandating that violators serve 85 percent of any prison term before they become eligible for parole.

A second would clarify that vehicles used in the illegal trafficking of firearms are subject to seizure and forfeiture by law enforcement.

The third bill of Singleton’s in the Senate package would increase the penalties for licensed gun dealers who knowingly sell firearms to people who then illegally give or sell them to those disqualified from possessing a firearm. The bill also empowers law enforcement to suspend the license of any dealer who is found to have sold an excessive number of firearms recovered from criminal suspects or traced to crime.

A fourth Singleton bill, which seeks to make so-called “straw purchases” of guns by those with clean records for people prohibited from possessing weapons a fourth-degree crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison, was not included in the Senate package.

Singleton introduced all four bills in the Assembly earlier this year, but they were not part of a 22-bill package approved by that chamber in February.

On Monday, he said he was pleased that three of his four bills were part of the Senate package and that he was confident the Assembly also would take them up and approve them.

“I’ve said many times before that part of the conversation on gun control has to be focused on illegal guns, and the actions the Senate is taking speaks to that,” Singleton said. “I know (Assembly) Speaker Sheila Oliver is also committed.”

In addition to the instant background checks and Singleton’s bills, the Senate package contains some of the bills passed by the Assembly, including a ban on people on the federal “no fly” list from obtaining a New Jersey gun permit, and a ban on the sale of .50-caliber Barrett assault rifles.

But some of the Assembly measures were not included, among them a reduction in New Jersey’s maximum legal magazine size from 15 rounds to 10, and permitting authorities to seize guns from a person who a mental health professional believes poses a danger.

Sweeney said the Senate package could serve as “a national model on gun safety,” but that lawmakers would continue to speak to both proponents and opponents about the various proposals.

“At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: to provide safety and protection for friends and family. These bills will do just that, both through common-sense and new innovative measures,” he said.

In addition to the Senate and Assembly bills, Gov. Chris Christie is expected to make his own proposals after he completes a review of the findings and recommendations of a task force he formed to study New Jersey’s gun laws as well as how gun violence is related to mental health, addiction and violence in the media.

Among the task force’s recommendations were that the state should conduct periodic reviews of firearm permits and that parental permission should be required to purchase certain violent video games rated “mature.”

Singleton said he reviewed the task force report and believes there are some areas of common ground that the Legislature and Christie might be able to agree on.

“I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get something done before the year’s end,” he said.

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