NEWARK — New Jersey would mandate safety courses in order to get a gun permit, require lockboxes for out-of-use firearms and change state law to hold firearm makers liable for harm stemming from gun use, among other changes proposed in the dozen new gun control measures Gov. Phil Murphy unveiled on Thursday.
Murphy proposed the election-year agenda in Newark, the state’s largest city, during a more than an hourlong, rally-like event in a crowded community center. The Democrat-led Legislature will have to weigh in on most of the measures, and in a sign of legislative support, influential state lawmakers like state Sen. Teresa Ruiz and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald attended the event and spoke.
Newark-native Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver's voice cracked as she lamented the gun violence that has disproportionately affected cities. Half of the state’s deaths from guns last year came in just five cities, according to Murphy.
“We are tired of funerals and memorials," Oliver said. “Growing up in Newark, I tell young people I could go to any section of this city by myself or with my friends. Our young people cannot do that today."
Anticipating political pushback, Murphy rejected the idea of not enacting more gun control laws because New Jersey already has strict firearm safety measures in place.
“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," he said.
The measures, a mix of legislation and executive actions, would:
- Set aside $10 million in the current budget to fund gun violence intervention programs.
- Require gun permit applicants to first pass as safety course.
- Mandate that all guns not in use be kept in a lockbox or gun safe.
- Increase the purchasing age for a firearm to 21, from 18.
- Mandate microstamping technology so that fired rounds can be traced.
- Require ammunition sales to be tracked electronically.
- Ban .50-caliber weapons.
- Close what Murphy called a loophole that allows those moving to the state to not have to meet New Jersey's requirements to get a gun.
- Make it easier to hold gun manufacturers liable for violence stemming from the use of firearms. Murphy said the proposal would amend public nuisance laws to bar the gun industry from endangering public safety through the sale, manufacture, import or or marketing of guns
- Direct the state Education Department to overhaul active shooter drills to minimize the stress on students.
- Hold a gun safety summit among governors.
- Convene a gun safety commission within the state.
- The proposals come after shootings again made headlines across the country, including in Colorado and Georgia, and after President Joe Biden ordered a series of gun control measures.
Murphy said the new proposals didn't stem from what was going on in other states, but the recent shootings have “further emboldened us without question.”
The proposals were embraced by local advocates, as well as groups with national footprints, like Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, whose red T-shirt-clad supporters applauded on Thursday.
Sharon Redding, a volunteer with the Newark Community Street Team, said she lost two nephews to gun violence, one in 2009 and another in 2017. Her son, she said, was wounded by gunfire in 2017.
She said the fact that the governor came to Newark showed that people like her have a “seat at the table” and a “voice in the discussion.”
“I’m a Newark resident all my life. South ward all my life. Even with all that’s going on around us, this is a day to celebrate, a day of light in a season of darkness,” Redding said.
Second Amendment rights groups have had little luck gaining traction against Murphy's push for stricter gun control, which included a half-dozen new measures signed into law in 2018. The laws lowered the limit on the number of rounds allowed in a magazine from 15 to 10 and included a red-flag law, among other provisions.
Scott Bach, the executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, opposed those changes, and decried the new proposals as well, saying they amount to the “micro-management” of law-abiding gun owners.
Murphy is running for reelection this year. New Jersey and Virginia are the only other two states with gubernatorial elections in the fall.