Senate Approves Gun Safety Bills

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak is fighting to reduce gun violence

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak is fighting to reduce gun violence.

STATE – The state Senate on Monday approved ten bills that are part of a comprehensive package on gun safety, including measures that will help keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, crack down on gun trafficking, improve reporting and tracing of illegal firearms by law enforcement and find ways to reduce violence and improve school safety, among other actions.

One of those bills, sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak, would for the first time declare violence a public health crisis, which could open new opportunities for addressing the problem at its source.

“Studies have shown that a child on average views hundreds of thousands of acts of violence on television alone before the age of 18. With the additional exposure to video games, social media and the Internet, children can be flooded with these images which can lead to their becoming desensitized to violence,” said Lesniak. “In coordination with our schools, we can work to combat this problem by helping parents counter the pervasive depictions of violence in the media. This will better protect the psychological and emotional well-being of our children.”

Other legislation approved Monday would include mental health records in the background checks, will crack down on illegal firearms sales and transfers and impose tough penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases.

Gun dealers who knowingly allow straw purchases could lose their licenses and be subjected to prosecution, with stiffer penalties if the weapon is used in a crime. Convicted traffickers would be ineligible for the state’s Early Release program and would have to serve at least 85 percent of their prison term.

Set for action at the next Senate session on May 30 is the centerpiece of the plan that will overhaul and modernize the state’s permitting process, require background checks for all gun sales, including private transactions, require safety training and provide for the immediate loss of a gun license for those convicted of a crime or ordered into involuntary commitment.

Lesniak, as chairman of the Democratic State Committee from 1992 to 1993, was a leader in the effort to ban deadly assault weapons and enact New Jersey’s other tough gun control laws.

“This is significant progress on a plan to reduce gun violence that will serve as a national model,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “We will act on the centerpiece of the plan at the next Senate session that will combine with the bills approved today to create a comprehensive plan for gun safety. These are important improvements that will help make our streets and communities safer and more secure.”

Also scheduled for the next session is Lesniak’s legislation to ban high-powered .50 caliber rifles, a bill sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Scutari to disqualify those on the Terrorist Watchlist and the federal “no-fly” list for gun permits, and measures to prohibit state investments in companies that manufacture, import or sell assault weapons for civilian use, among other actions.

“A 50 caliber bullet will rip through a policeman’s ‘bullet proof’ vest like it’s not even there,” explained Lesniak. “Unless used for hunting rhinoceros, 50 caliber weapons are only used for mass destruction and killings. They should be banned from sale or possession, except for our military and law enforcement officials.”

“We have to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them and we have to crack down on illegal sales and trafficking,” said Lesniak, one of the lead sponsors of the gun safety plan. “Illicit gun sales, trafficking and straw purchases have contributed to a wave of crime and violence on the streets and in the neighborhoods of too many communities. These bills will help bring more safety and security to the streets of our cities, schools, businesses and places of worship.”

Sen. Loretta Weinberg, another cosponsor of the anti-gun package, said the inclusion of mental health records in background checks is an important improvement to existing law.

“Many of the horrific mass killings that have taken the lives of so many innocent victims were done by those with mental health problems,” said Weinberg. “We have to do more to keep weapons out of their hands to prevent these terrible tragedies from happening.”

Sen. Nia H. Gill stressed the importance of countering gun traffickers as a means of reducing gun violence.

“We have witnessed too many cases of gun violence taking place both in our communities and around the country. While our state laws remain some of the toughest, we have to do everything we can to ensure that guns do not fall into the hands of criminals or those who could potentially harm themselves or the public,” added Gill. “These bills represent our commitment to better protect the public through commonsense reforms to the system.”

The bills approved by the Senate on Monday:

  • (S2719) Senator Norcross/Senator Gill – Will crack down on illegal gun sales and transfers with new penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases, upgrade penalties for gun dealers who knowingly sell to those who intend to transfer the weapon to an ineligible person, and disqualify gun traffickers from early release from prison and require they serve at least 85 percent of their term;
  • (S-2718/S-2612) Senator Weinberg – Will improve the reporting, tracing and collection of illegal firearms by requiring law enforcement to report certain information to inter-jurisdictional electronic databases, including the National Integrated Ballistics Identification Network and the New Jersey Trace System;
  • (S2492) Senator Buono/Senator Gill – Will include mental health data and criminal records on those not allowed to own or possess firearms in records included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System;
  • (S2724) Senator Norcross – Establish a School Security Task Force to find ways to make schools safe and secure;
  • (S2430) Senator Lesniak/Senator Turner – Declare violence a health crisis, which could qualify for outside funds and create a commission to study violence and mental health;
  • (S-2468) Senator Norcross – Will allow for motor vehicles used in the commission of a crime, including illegal weapons, to be impounded;
  • (S-2720) Senator Weinberg – Makes aggregate number of firearms purchaser identification cards and permits subject to Open Public Records Act;
  • (S-2175) Senator Lesniak/Senator Ruiz – Will have the Department of Education develop an informative pamphlet for schools to distribute to the parents of all their students;
  • (S2722) Senator Norcross – Provides a 180 day window for persons to dispose of certain unlawfully possessed firearms;
  • (S2725) Senator Vitale – Changes from second-degree to third-degree the crime of possession for an unlawful purpose when the weapon is a BB gun.

Bills that will be voted on at the next Senate session include:

  • (S-2723/S-657/S-2456/S-2465/S-2474/S-2476/S-2525/S-2659) Senate President Sweeney/Senator Norcross/Senate Majority Leader Weinberg:
    • Will overhaul the state’s permitting process by establishing a modernized, electronic system of instant background checks for all gun purchases combining the permits for handguns and hunting weapons with up-to-date information embedded in the license or firearms ID, allowing for real-time reporting of all gun sales to law enforcement;
    • The instant background checks will include NICS, name check and mental health records, and allow for the immediate disqualification of those who are or who become ineligible for a weapons permit;
    • Require, for the first time, that private sales go through a dealer so that full background checks will ensure compliance with permit requirements;
    • Require a photograph on the ID;
    • Require safety training to qualify for a firearms permit;
    • Criminalize the purchase and possession of ammunition by those convicted of certain crimes;
    • Require a firearms ID for the purchase of all ammunition, require that ammunition bought online is shipped to address on the permit, provide electronic reporting of internet ammunition sales;
    • Mandate the immediate revocation of gun permits at sentencing for those convicted of a crime and for those ordered into involuntary commitment.
  • (S2485) Senator Scutari/Senator Gill – Disqualify those on the Terrorist Watchlist and federal “no fly” list from eligibility for gun permits;
  • (S2178) Senator Lesniak/Senator Buono – Ban the sale of the .50 caliber Barrett assault weapon;
  • (S-2467/S-24710) Senator Gill/Senator Weinberg/Senator Codey – Prohibit state investments in companies that manufacture, sell or import assault weapons for civilian use;
  • (S-25520) Senator Van Drew – Codifies regulations exempting firearms records from OPRA.

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