Singleton pushing for stiffer penalties for illegal gun trades

By David Levinsky -

TRENTON — The New Jersey Assembly is scheduled to vote Thursday on 20 gun control measures aimed at curtailing gun violence like the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton says he plans to support “the vast majority” of those measures as reasonable and measured approaches to improve gun safety. But he also wants the Legislature to do more to stop the flow of illegal guns into the state rather than just impose new restrictions and requirements on gun owners.

“When you look at the violence occurring here, the vast majority are done by illegal guns that are coming in from outside the state,” said Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, on Tuesday.

With that in mind, the second-year legislator has introduced four measures that he believes could help combat the illegal gun trade in the Garden State by increasing the penalties for trafficking firearms as well as for selling or transferring guns to people not permitted to own them.

One bill, intended to curtail so-called “straw purchases” involving people with clean records purchasing firearms for people prohibited from possessing guns, would make it a fourth-degree crime, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, if a gun owner fails to report a firearm lost or stolen within 36 hours if the weapon is subsequently found to have been used in a crime.

Another bill clarifies that motor vehicles used in the illegal trafficking of firearms are subject to seizure and forfeiture by law enforcement officers.

A third makes gun trafficking 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.

Singleton’s fourth bill increases the penalties for licensed dealers who knowingly sell firearms to people who then illegally give or sell them to people disqualified from possessing a firearm. It 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 crimes.

Singleton, who described himself as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, said the bills he has introduced offer a different approach to gun control than many of the measures the Assembly is expected to vote on Thursday. They include bills to reduce the maximum size of ammunition magazines as well as prohibiting people on the federal Terrorist Watch List from obtaining a New Jersey gun permit or ID card. Measures banning Internet, mail-order or telephone ammunition sales and requiring prospective gun owners to provide proof that they underwent safety training also will be voted on.

“We wanted to address the issue from a different standpoint and focus on getting these illegal guns off our streets,” Singleton said Tuesday, adding that he plans to support most of the gun control measures on the agenda for this week’s voting session.

“I feel confident the vast majority of them I’ll be able to support. There are just a few that I want to get some more information on,” he said.

Hundreds of gun rights activists packed the Statehouse last week to speak against the new gun control measures during an Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee hearing. Many of those same opponents are expected to return to Trenton on Thursday for the full Assembly votes.

Singleton, who is one of only a handful of incumbent legislators who serve in a district that political pundits predict will be competitive this fall, said he’s heard plenty on gun control from his constituents. His office also is scheduling meetings with gun control advocates and the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs for their feedback on his proposals.

“I think people appreciate the practical approach we’re trying to take,” he said. “We want to advance good policy ahead of politics.”

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