New Jersey's Tough Gun Laws Just Got Even Stronger

A newly enacted package of legislation includes a red flag law, expanded background checks and additional restrictions on ammunition magazines.

New Jersey gun laws, long considered among the nation’s strongest, became even stronger on Wednesday, with the governor’s signature on a package of firearms legislation.

Among the six bills are measures to expand gun background checks, tighten the handgun carrying permit process, reduce the legal capacity of ammunition magazines and establish a so-called red flag law, which allows people to petition for guns to be temporarily removed from individuals deemed to be dangerous.

At a bill signing ceremony in Trenton, New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy (D) commended lawmakers and advocates for their work, while vowing to continue the fight against gun violence.

We are proud to take these actions today, but let there be no doubt, our work is far from done,” said Murphy.

With the governor’s signature, New Jersey added its name to a growing list of states that have enacted new gun control measures this legislative session, in the face of aggressive calls for reform in response to mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, and at high schools in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas.

New Jersey’s A1217 builds on a growing trend of red flag laws, which gun violence prevention advocates say can be used to prevent suicides, as well as attacks like the Parkland shooting.

The legislation lays out a process for New Jerseyans to file gun violence restraining orders against individuals believed to be at “significant risk” of hurting themselves or others. A judge then reviews evidence and determines whether to order the individual to remain away from all guns for a period of up to a year. If there is cause to believe the individual is already in possession of a firearm, the judge will issue a warrant authorizing law enforcement to confiscate the weapons for the duration of the order.

With the addition of New Jersey, 10 states now have this sort of measure on the books, though the laws vary in their specifics. Five states have passed new legislation since the Parkland shooting.

A separate New Jersey law signed Wednesday, A1181, requires law enforcement to seize a person’s guns whenever a mental health professional has determined that the individual poses a threat to themselves or others.

Under A2757, private firearm sales must be accompanied by a background check conducted through a federally licensed gun dealer. Federal law requires a background check for every gun sale through a licensed dealer, but that requirement doesn’t extend to private transfers.

New Jersey’s A2758 codifies a state regulation that requires residents wishing to obtain a handgun carry permit to first show a “justifiable need,” as “evidenced by specific threats or previous attacks.” Although this requirement had technically already been in place in New Jersey, former Gov. Chris Christie (R) had loosened the restrictions, making it easier for people to get carry permits.

Another new law, A2761, expands an existing restriction on ammunition magazines, lowering the capacity from 15 rounds to 10 rounds. A2759 imposes a ban on the possession on armor-piercing bullets.

“We’ve had really strong gun laws for a while, and we’re a good example of the fact that strong guns do work and save lives.”

- Nico Bocour, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

In the wake of a recent wave of mass shootings, gun violence prevention advocates have loudly pushed for legislation to ban semi-automatic military rifles like the AR-15, as well as bump stock accessories that allow those firearms to simulate automatic fire. New Jersey had previously passed restrictions on that weaponry, which is one reason why gun violence prevention advocates cite the state as a model.

“We’ve had really strong gun laws for a while, and we’re a good example of the fact that strong guns do work and save lives,” said Nico Bocour, state legislative director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, who worked on the legislative efforts in New Jersey.

New Jersey’s gun laws ranked second in the nation last year, behind California, according to the latest scorecard from the Giffords center. The state also has one of the lowest gun death rates in the nation.

During his remarks on Wednesday, Murphy said that while state action on gun control was important, it could only go so far in the absence of more sweeping federal legislation. He recalled a recent story about a nursery rhyme posted on the wall of a kindergarten classroom telling young students what to do in case of an active shooter lockdown.

“This image for me, more than any, highlights the failure of Congress to take action on a national level,” said Murphy. “New Jersey will lead, but unless and until that day that we have commonsense laws coming from our Congress, our laws will continue to be able to reach only so far as our own borders.”

The governor also urged people to keep up the campaign against gun violence by supporting candidates in November who would support gun control.

“Continue to push those in public office to stand for the right things, and if we do all of that together, we will win this fight,” he said.

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