Angry Murphy issues challenge for N.J. gun laws after Texas elementary school shooting. ‘Choose whose side you’re on.’

Published: May. 25, 2022

A day after a mass shooting left 19 students and two adults dead at a Texas elementary school, Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday once again challenged the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature to vote on a set of stalled gun-control proposals introduced more than a year ago, saying “this moment demands” lawmakers “finally take action.”

But he didn’t stop there.

In a news conference at his office in Trenton, Murphy also dared the Legislature to hold votes on all gun-related bills that have been introduced — even those proposed by Republicans to loosen the state’s firearm laws. And he called out four Republican state lawmakers by name.

“Let’s make every legislator choose whose side they have chosen to be on: the people of New Jersey’s on the one hand or the gun lobby on the other hand,” an angry Murphy said while surrounded by a handful of Democratic lawmakers and gun-control advocates.

”In the face of mass shooting after mass shooting throughout our nation, in the face of children being slaughtered to the point where the reports indicate these beautiful children were unrecognizable, I say let these folks come out from behind their press releases and their tweets and cast votes before the residents of this great state,” he added.

It was the second time in two weeks Murphy has called for more action on guns. He made a similar plea last week after an 18-year-old gunman killed 10 people in a shooting at a supermarket in a predominantly Black area of Buffalo, New York.

The Texas shooting — also perpetrated by an 18-year-old gunman — happened 10 days later. It has heightened a partisan debate over whether Congress should pass new federal gun-control legislation, just months before the midterm elections, in which Republicans are seeking to wrest control of both chambers away from Democrats. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, said in a televised address Tuesday that “we have to act.”

Murphy, considered a potential future presidential candidate or Cabinet member, said Wednesday he is “outraged“ the U.S. “remains the only one in which the senseless murder of innocent children and their teachers is even tolerated“ and “exhausted” that “one side refuses to do anything.”

The governor said state lawmakers must act if federal lawmakers won’t.

“Congress has failed to lead time and time and time again, so it’s up to us to do the job others are too weak to do,” Murphy said.

“Thoughts and prayers are worthless,” he added. “Action is the only thing of value.”

New Jersey already has the second-most stringent gun laws in the U.S., after California, according to rankings by the Gifford Law Center. Murphy and the Legislature enacted two bill packages during his first term to further tighten those laws in the blue-leaning state. Thirteen months ago, the governor introduced a third package.

The proposals would require people to pass gun safety classes to buy firearms in New Jersey, change how firearm owners are required to store their guns, ban the future sales of .50 caliber guns, and increase the age people can buy shotguns from 18 to 21, among other moves.

Most of the measures haven’t been posted for votes, despite Democrats controlling both the state Senate and Assembly. Then-Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said late last year he was “tired of passing bills that are feel-good that do not do anything about the crime on the streets.”

Sweeney’s successor, new Senate President Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, said in statement Wednesday the Texas shooting is “a harrowing reminder of the consequences of years of inaction” and urged states around the country to follow New Jersey’s lead on gun control.

Scutari also said he will “keep an open mind on any additional actions that will reduce gun violence” in New Jersey, though he did not explicitly commit to posting the bills.

In addition, Scutari said the U.S. needs stronger federal laws and it’s “time we hold gun manufacturers accountable the same way we hold any other manufacturer accountable.”

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, who publicly supported the bills last year, said in a statement Wednesday he is “outraged and horrified” by the Texas shooting and that “we need to be strong” and “look to strengthen our gun safety laws” in New Jersey.

“While this story will soon disappear from our headlines like too many others, we cannot see yesterday’s events as anything other than what it was: an aberration that offends the values we stand for as a nation,” Coughlin said.

He also said “we must get to the heart of the problem by investing in a robust plan to address mental health.”

Though Democrats retained control of New Jersey’s Legislature in November’s elections, Republicans gained seven seats and Democrats have been cautious about tackling more progressive or hotly debated policy with all 120 seats on the ballot again in two years.

Critics argue these bills won’t actually curb violent crime because they largely target law-abiding gun owners and don’t stem illegal guns flowing in from other states.

Murphy said Wednesday the proposals are “hardly revolutionary” and urged Scutari and Coughlin to hold votes on them so “the people of New Jersey can see where every legislator stands on these common-sense measures.”

Murphy then urged votes on every gun bill introduced in the Legislature “so the people of New Jersey can see in no uncertain terms who supports gun safety and who wants New Jersey’s streets and communities to be flooded with guns.”

“Let’s see who the gun lobby banks on with their blood money,” he said.

Murphy then singled out four Republican lawmakers who have sought to roll back some of New Jersey’s gun laws.

He did not call out any moderate Democrats, even though they’re likely needed to pass the bill package the governor is promoting.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon DiMaio, R-Warren, one Republican that Murphy referenced, said he agreed with the governor’s call to post all bills.

“What’s more American than having a hearing and an up-or-down vote?” DiMaio said in a statement.

But in response to Murphy saying DiMaio supports legislation to legalize hollow-point bullets in the state, the lawmaker noted his measure would increase the maximum prison sentence for possession of a gun or ammunition for an unlawful purpose from 18 months to 10 years.

Bradley Schnure, a spokesman for state Senate Republicans, said Murphy made some “false and inaccurate claims.”

The governor said Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren, wants to let churchgoers to be able to “take their guns to services.” Schnure noted Doherty’s bill would allow places of worship to pick a “single trusted person who could be armed to provide security” at religious services.

Murphy said Assemblyman Ronald Dancer, R-Ocean, and Sen. Edward Durr, R-Gloucester, want to allow “anyone to carry a concealed gun.” Schnure noted they want “only people who are already authorized to have a gun and have had extensive training.”

Murphy said Durr also wants to repeal the “red flag“ law the governor signed in 2018 — which bans a person from owning or buying a gun or ammunition if a court says they pose “a significant danger of bodily injury” — and let “those known to have made violent threats, including domestic abusers, unfettered access to as many guns as they want.” Schnure argued a person subject to a domestic violence protective order cannot possess a gun in the state even without that law.

Durr recently introduced a series of bills that would loosen some of the state’s gun laws — including ones that would allow acting and honorably discharged military members to carry firearms at all times and remove capacity limits on ammunition magazines. The senator said New Jersey “aggressively prevents innocent residents from protecting themselves.”

Murphy also argued Republicans opposed to stricter gun laws oppose abortion, as well.

“There is no lack of irony that those who would stop at nothing to strip a woman of her rights and autonomy and force her to give birth are doing nothing to prevent that child from being murdered in their school,” he said.

Murphy’s news conference came half an hour after he gave an interview on Fox News Radio in which he said lawmakers from “both sides of the aisle” must “make a stand that is explicitly against their personal political interests.”

“Anyone who tries to score a political point in the aftermath of this, there’s a special place in hell for those folks,” he added.

The new measures Murphy is pushing would:

  • Require people who buy guns in New Jersey to renew their purchaser ID card every four years and show proof of taking a course on safe handling and storage of firearms. (A993)
  • Require gun owners in the state to store firearms and ammunition separately in a lockbox or safe. It would also stiffen penalties for those who fail to do so. (A2215)
  • Ban the future sales of .50 caliber guns in the state and require current owners of them to register them and pay a $50 fee. (A1416)
  • Raise the age at which a person in the state is eligible to receive a firearms purchaser identification card used to purchase shotguns and rifles from 18 to 21. (A509)
  • Require gun owners who move to New Jersey to obtain a firearm purchaser ID card and register their guns within 60 days. (A1179)
  • Require ammunition manufacturers and dealers to keep a detailed electronic record of sales and report them to the State Police. (A1302)
  • Amend the state’s public nuisance laws to prohibit the gun industry from endangering the safety or health of the public through its sale, manufacturing, importing, or marketing of guns. (A1765)
  • Mandate firearm manufacturers to, within a year, incorporate micro-stamping technology into new handguns sold in New Jersey to provide law enforcement with a tool to quickly link firearm cartridge casings found at the scene of a crime to a specific firearm, without having to recover the firearm itself. (A1462)

“The question for us as legislators is: Did you do all you can do to prevent this in the future?” state Sen. Joseph Cryan, D-Union, said at Murphy’s event. “One of the ways to answer that question with ‘yes’ is to move a common-sense gun package that only provides more safety for New Jersey.”

Numerous Republican officials and conservative commentators across the country have said mass shootings show the need to fix mental health problems in America rather than implement more gun reform.

Former Gov. Chris Christie, Murphy’s predecessor, tweeted Tuesday the “madness and evil” of the Texas shooting was “incomprehensible” and “we must focus on the mental health crisis in this country.”

The shooting at Robb Elementary School in the heavily Latino town of Uvalde, Texas, was the deadliest at a U.S. school since a gunmen killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

The gunman, Salvador Ramos, legally purchased two assault rifles and 375 rounds ammunition in the days after his 18th birthday, according to reports.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.

Abbott, a Republican, on Wednesday repeatedly talked about mental health struggles among Texas young people and argued that tougher gun laws in Chicago, New York, and California are ineffective.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-05-26 03:16:04 -0700