Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled a sweeping series of reforms and legislation aimed at tightening New Jersey’s gun control laws, which are already considered to be among the toughest in the nation.
During a press conference April 15 in Newark, Murphy said, “Half of New Jersey’s gun homicides occur in only five cities and the number of gun crimes in these cities has skyrocketed over the last year. We cannot sit back when we know there is more to do to address the danger of gun violence in our communities.”
The measures, which are a mix of executive actions and legislation, include:
- Setting aside $10 million in the state budget to fund gun violence intervention programs
- Requiring gun permit applicants to first pass a safety course
- Mandating all guns not in use be kept in a lockbox or safe
- Increasing the firearm purchase age to 21 from 18
- Mandating microstamping technology so fire rounds can be traced
- Requiring electronic tracking of ammunition sales
- Banning .50 caliber weapons
- Directing the state Department of Education to overhaul active shooter drills to minimize stress on students
- Holding a gun safety summit among governors
- Convening a gun safety commission within New Jersey
What’s Been Done
When paired with steps already taken by the state Legislature and governor to reduce gun violence, the new measures will further solidify New Jersey’s standing as “a national leader in gun safety,” Murphy said.
The previous actions referenced by Murphy include establishing a “red flag” for gun violence protective orders, criminalizing firearms trafficking, strengthening background checks, reducing the maximum capacity of ammunition magazines, banning “ghost guns” and establishing the Rutgers Gun Violence Research Center.
According to The Giffords Law Center, a gun control advocacy group, New Jersey ranks as having the second strongest gun laws in the US, behind only California.
New Jersey has the third lowest firearm mortality rate in the country, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however some of its cities, like Paterson and Trenton, saw a surge in gun violence last year, echoing a nationwide trend.
Murphy’s Push For Even More Stringent Laws
Murphy’s call for action follows five high-profile mass shootings this year, including the most recent shooting spree at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis that left eight people dead.
There have been 147 mass shootings this year as of April 17 according to the Gun Violence Archive, and the U.S. is on pace to have 511 mass shootings by the end of 2021 – more than any year between 2014 and 2019.
In 2020, the U.S. experienced a record high of 610 mass shootings, the highest since the gun safety advocacy organization began tracking the number in 2014.
According to Murphy, the newly-announced reforms were not prompted by mass shootings that occurred in other states but the recent incidents have “further emboldened us without question.”
Gun Violence Plague
“Just because we’ve got among the strongest gun safety laws in the nation does not mean they can’t be stronger and that’s why we’re here today,” Murphy said. “By taking the steps we are announcing today, we will further commit to making every block and every street in our state safer.”
New Jersey State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the proposed measures would provide law enforcement with new tools and resources “to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, to combat illegal firearms trafficking and to expand our violence intervention program.”
“These tools are essential to ensuring that New Jersey continues to do all that it can do to combat the continuing plague of gun violence,” he said.
NJSP: Funding, Support Are ‘Welcome News’
In an average year, 445 people in the Garden State die by guns, giving the state the 47th highest rate of gun deaths in the. U.S., according to advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. Within New Jersey, Essex County has the highest rate of gun deaths of all the counties in the state and 90% of those fatalities are homicides.
Another 1,400 people are wounded each year by guns, the non-profit said.
State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick J. Callahan said, “New Jersey law enforcement is always seeking ways to prevent gun violence before it happens and the best way to accomplish this goal is through community-driven strategies where law enforcement work hand-in-hand with local government, faith-based leaders, and members of the community to create meaningful intervention programs.”
Col. Callahan continued, “Oftentimes, the greatest obstacle for implementing these strategies is lack of funding and support, which is why today’s announcement is welcome news for a New Jersey law enforcement community that is eager to see its outreach programs realized.”
Common Sense Reforms
Although New Jersey is at the forefront nationwide for gun safety efforts, Democratic legislators believe additional action is needed.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) described gun violence “an epidemic” that has “stolen countless lives” in New Jersey and across the country and said the proposed measures could save “countless lives.”
“I am proud to have spent much of my career fighting for gun safety reforms but there is more work to be done,” Weinberg said.
State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) said, “Far too many lives have been needlessly taken in my district and across the state by the scourge of gun violence. We must do everything we can to not only save lives but also to create programs that will end the cycle of violence and fight back against this national epidemic.”
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) said Murphy’s proposal “represents the next step of common sense reforms that will keep New Jerseyans safe from gun violence. No one should have to lose a family member, friend, or neighbor to senseless violence. These measures are needed and long overdue.”
‘Robust, Life-Saving Action’
City officials, local advocates and nationwide organizations have praised the proposal and are urging the state Legislature to take action.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka approved of Murphy’s “comprehensive gun safety package” that seeks to reduce shootings through prevention, an approach he said city officials have taken to address the problem.
“We have long stated that we cannot arrest our way out of gun violence, crime and the tragedy it creates,” Baraka added.
Laurence Fine, student leader with Bergen County Students Demand Action and a member of the organization’s national advisory board, said, “This is more than ‘thoughts and prayers,’ this is robust and life-saving action.”
President Joe Biden, who unveiled a series of federal executive orders aimed at curbing gun violence, thanked Murphy “for stepping up and taking action to save lives.”
In tweet Thursday, the president wrote, “It’s long past time we pass common-sense gun reforms in every corner of the country to end our gun violence epidemic.”
Last month, the House passed legislation to expand background checks, but the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it will likely need 60 votes to pass.