Why Having a Gun in New Jersey Could Soon Cost 20 Times as Much

By Nick Corasaniti


April 22, 2019

Lisa Caso, owner of Caso’s Gun-A-Rama in Jersey City, criticized Gov. Phillip Murphy’s proposed fee increases –- from $27 up to $550 to own and carry a gun.CreditCredit


Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey wants to put the state at the forefront of a movement to raise fees on gun permits in order to expand efforts to tackle gun violence and reduce the flow of illegal firearms.

Though New Jersey has strict gun control laws, its firearms fees have not changed since the mid-1960s, making it a bargain for gun owners. A firearm identification card costs $5, while a permit to own a firearm is $2. A permit to carry a gun costs $20.

New York City, which also has stringent gun laws, charges $340 to apply for a permit to own and carry a gun.

Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, has proposed fees that would be among the highest in the country. An identification card would cost $100, an owner’s permit would be $50 and a carry permit $400.

Though he is prohibited by state law from directing the new revenue toward specific programs, Mr. Murphy said it would go toward anti-violence initiatives.

“There’s no war on responsible gun owners,” Mr. Murphy said in an interview. “We can support the efforts of the attorney general, state troopers, county and local law enforcement, to do the stuff we need to do: track crime, track gun violence, combat trafficking of illegal guns.

“I was in Jersey City,” he said. “It’s at least $10 to get a dog license in Jersey City. It’s still $2 to get a permit to purchase a firearm in New Jersey.”

But gun owners’ groups say the governor is trying to use financial pressure to curtail their lawful rights.

Even Mr. Murphy’s Democratic allies who control the State Legislature have expressed concern about approving what are essentially new taxes.

At least 12 states, including New York, Connecticut and Washington, have moved to increase fees and taxes on guns and ammunition since the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, according to a study by Southern Illinois University.

Though higher fees might discourage some people from buying firearms, gun control advocates and researchers said they were not certain that higher fees alone would reduce violence.

“Most crime guns in the Northeast are thought to come from the ‘iron pipeline’ from the South, and then they’re sold on the street,” said Daniel L. Feldman, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, referring to guns that are bought in states with looser restrictions and then sold illegally in states with tighter ones.

But gun control groups do support the idea of raising the cost of owning a firearm to pay for programs that would make it harder to use guns to commit crime.

“We think it’s a smart way to legislate,” said Jonas Oransky, the legal director at Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group founded by Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor.

“We support strong data-driven intervention programs,’’ he added, “and think that it makes sense to fund them by raising revenue from gun purchasers.”

But groups that represent gun owners are pushing back.

“This is clear bullying of law-abiding gun owners in the state,” said Cody McLaughlin, spokesman for the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance, a pro-hunting group. “You’re talking about sportsmen that are already paying hundreds of dollars a year in license fees.”

Though national polling has found support for tighter gun laws, the only movement at the federal level in recent years has been a ban on bump stocks adopted last year.

The National Rifle Association has made a concerted effort to block a Congressional measure to strengthen the ability of law enforcement to bar people with restraining orders or those convicted of a violent act against a spouse from buying or owning a gun.

As a result, states like New Jersey have been making their own laws, including limiting magazine capacities and banning ammunition capable of penetrating body armor.

Besides raising fees on gun ownership, Mr. Murphy is also seeking an ammunition excise tax of 10 percent and a firearms excise tax of 2.5 percent. His proposals are part of the state budget, which the Legislature must pass by June 30.

In some states, attempts to raise gun fees have met with fierce opposition.

John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado and a Democratic candidate for president, signed a bill in 2013 that charged gun buyers a fee to pay for a background check as part of a package of gun control laws following the Aurora movie theater shooting.

In Colorado, a swing state with a large hunting community, Mr. Hickenlooper and fellow Democrats in the state legislature faced a backlash, culminating in a recall election of the State Senate president.

“The single greatest way that we were able to reduce smoking was raising the cost of cigarettes,” Mr. Hickenlooper said. “That turns out to be more effective than many other ways. But I’m not sure that’s the right way to make policy. We’re better served to be able to demonstrate to people that carrying a handgun doesn’t make you more safe.”

Even in deeply blue New Jersey, Mr. Murphy faces resistance. Democratic legislative leaders are tepid on the governor’s proposal, with some making the case that the state’s residents already pay more than enough in taxes and fees.

“I think we’ve done a lot of gun reform in this state. We are the most progressive state in the nation when it comes to gun reform,” said Stephen M. Sweeney, the Senate president. “Just to check a box to say you did something, I’m not sure that’s necessary. I don’t think it’s going to raise a lot of money.”

The projected annual revenue from the new fees and taxes is about $9 million, according to the State Treasury Department — a fraction of the $38 billion budget.

A leading gun rights group in the state has threatened to sue Mr. Murphy if his proposal becomes law, and the state’s hunting community is also lobbying against the proposal.

“It’s going to affect gun shops tremendously,” said Lisa Caso, who owns Caso’s Gun-A-Rama in Jersey City. “It’s going to deter a lot of people from buying permits. In our business, you have people coming in who barely have money to buy the most modestly priced guns, which are around $300.”

Ms. Caso said some of her customers have told her that people are stocking up on permits now, worried about the possibility of higher fees.

“I think what Murphy would want to happen,” she said, “is for every gun shop in the state of New Jersey to just close.”

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