After Another Mass Shooting, New Jersey Tightens Gun Laws

New Jersey lawmakers passed a package of gun legislation last week, mirroring a similar effort in New York.

Newly signed legislation will make it more difficult to obtain a handgun license and buy high-capacity rifles in New Jersey, the latest in a patchwork effort by states with strict gun laws to work around a sweeping Supreme Court ruling aimed at dismantling them.

The measures, approved by Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday, signal a coming slog of piecemeal legislation as states grapple with last month’s decision, which overturned a New York state law that restricted how and where residents could carry handguns. Even as states tighten laws to circumvent the court, a litany of measures remains in legislative limbo.

The New Jersey package, given final passage last week after months of deliberation, will require training to obtain a gun license, outlaw .50-caliber weapons and require handgun owners to register any firearms purchased out of state.

“They are common sense, they are smart, they live up to our New Jersey values,” Gov. Murphy, a Democrat, said of the measures in an address at Metuchen Town Hall on Tuesday. “These are not going to be our last words on gun safety.”

The impact of the Supreme Court ruling is expected to be far-reaching, especially as the states whose laws are directly affected — California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and New York — are home to nearly a quarter of all Americans. Residents of the reliably blue states are now bound by a 6-3 ruling from the Supreme Court that will make it far easier to own and carry handguns, underscoring the growing distance between the conservative keystone of America’s judicial branch and the more moderate populace whom their rulings affect — 68 percent of whom support stricter gun laws, according to one poll last month.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the decision, said the Second Amendment enshrines “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.” While the decision concerned New York’s strict handgun laws, it is expected to allow gun owners in other states to challenge similar rules.

At the time, Gov. Murphy called the Supreme Court ruling a “mockery.”

The ruling last month sent some states into a scramble to rewrite laws before they could be challenged under the new Supreme Court precedent. Along with New York and New Jersey, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a pair of bills over the holiday weekend that would restrict the sale and transfer of so-called ghost guns, made from untraceable components, and outlaw firearms without unique serial numbers.

The state efforts are not expected to fully stem a flood of new gun purchases. The expected surge comes as cities like New York and Los Angeles struggle to tackle a pervasive, pandemic-era uptick in gun violence, and as communities across the country wrestle with a seemingly unrelenting march of mass shootings.

The New Jersey legislation comes on the heels of a spate of deadly tragedies, including one as recently as the July 4 holiday, when a gunman in Highland Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, opened fire into a crowded Independence Day parade, killing seven.

The confluence of mass killings and the court decision has ushered in an era of cooperation, as lawmakers seek to collaborate across state lines to skirt the ruling.

Officials in New York and New Jersey had been generally in touch about how to respond to the Supreme Court before the ruling came down last month. Following the decision, the legal counsels for Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York and Gov. Murphy exchanged drafts of the legislation they were crafting, even though the state’s underlying concealed carry laws were not necessarily analogous.

Last week, Gov. Hochul of New York announced the state’s own gun safety measures, which contained language and restrictions similar to those in neighboring New Jersey’s bill; New York legislators passed their version in a special session on Thursday and Friday.

The system has gaps, even between legislatures as closely aligned as New Jersey and New York. The New Jersey package signed by Gov. Murphy on Tuesday, for example, stopped short of declaring the same sorts of gun-free zones as New York.

New York passed an age limit of 21 for purchasing semiautomatic weapons last month. A bill to raise the legal age to purchase rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21 has not yet passed the New Jersey legislature. Another New Jersey bill to limit the commercial availability of body armor — an increasingly common piece of equipment used by mass shooters — has stalled.

“This moment in our gun violence crisis calls for decisive action from our leaders to put the safety of our communities first,” Jenifer Berrier Gonzalez, a representative with Moms Demand Action, an activist group that lobbies for gun safety, said in a statement. “These are wide-ranging, effective, and innovative reforms to help ensure that all New Jerseyans are kept safe.”

But, she said, “there is still more work to do.”

Even in New York, where lawmakers have embraced some of the most stringent gun laws in the country, cobbling together a comprehensive gun statute proved difficult, and many proposed restrictions fell out of the final bill. Officials weighed whether to require people carrying a concealed weapon to disclose the existence and location of their weapon at traffic stops, but abandoned the idea.

During days-long closed-door discussions, legislators at one point considered whether to require that applicants sign a release to share their medical history, including mental health records, with the state as a condition for obtaining a license.

Another proposal would have disqualified a permit on the grounds of alcohol abuse — and required recovering alcoholics to submit an affidavit from a licensed counselor stating that they had not had a drink in at least three years. Similarly, lawmakers debated whether to legally prohibit people from carrying guns outside their home if they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-07-06 02:41:36 -0700