Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) and his Democratic challengers are at odds over high capacity magazines. They don’t even seem to agree on the definition.
On Friday Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger took aim at votes Bucco cast against lowering the maximum legal capacity of gun magazines, among other gun-control measures.
“It’s clear from Assemblyman Bucco’s record that he’s more interested in preserving his stellar score from the NRA than in protecting New Jersey residents. He’s voted against mandatory background checks for gun sales, against keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and the mentally ill, and even against establishing gun-free zones around schools,” Bhimani said. “Just last year he voted no on a law banning high capacity magazines like the one used by the shooter in Dayton.”
On Sunday, a masked gunman wielding a rifle fitted with a 100-round gun magazine opened fire in downtown Dayton, Ohio, killing nine and injuring at least 27 others.
A bill signed into state law last June lowered the maximum legal capacity from 15 rounds to 10. Drum magazines of the like used in the Dayton shooting have long been illegal in the Garden State.
“To draw comparisons to Dayton is irresponsible, untrue and demonstrates their lack of knowledge on this issue,” Bucco said. “The Dayton perpetrator used a 100-round magazine, which is completely illegal in New Jersey. I have never voted to allow that or anything remotely close to it.”
Under New Jersey law, any magazine that holds more than 10 bullets is deemed a high-capacity magazine, though that definition is often more nebulous in discussions surrounding legislated limits on magazine capacity.
Put simply: Voters will likely decide what constitutes a high-capacity magazine independent of the law.
In the days after two shootings that left at least 30 dead and scores more injured last weekend, gun control has once more emerged as a potent campaign issue in New Jersey and beyond.
Bucco has long earned high ratings from the National Rifle Association.
According to Vote Smart, a non-partisan organization that tracks lawmakers’ votes on high-profile bills, the pro-gun group gave him 100% ratings in 2018 and 2015, though the organization lowered his rating to 87% earlier this week over his support for some gun-control measures.
“Here’s the truth, because you certainly aren’t going to get it from my opponents: I very recently voted yes on bipartisan measures to require enhanced background checks on private firearm sales, increase penalties for illegal firearm transfers, ban bump stocks, adopt the federal definition of ‘armor piercing ammunition’ and ban purchasing firearm parts to make ‘ghost guns,’” Bucco said.
Still, Bucco’s record on recent gun control measures has been mixed.
In Junes, the assemblyman voted against measures requiring gun license renewals, increasing training requirements for the same, mandating gun retailers to carry smart guns and ordering gun stores to keep electronic records of ammunition sales.
Many of those bills passed in votes that largely fell along party lines.
Bucco also touted bills he pushed he sponsored requiring schools to install panic alarms or other emergency mechanisms approved by the state Department of Education and allowing schools and places of worship to hire class III police officers.
“Assemblyman Bucco can flip flop and hedge all he wants but ten years of votes make it clear exactly where he stands: with his political donors at the NRA, not with the people of New Jersey,” Bhimani-Draeger campaign manager Daniel Fleiss said. “The fact that he’d even consider bringing up school panic alarms is laughable. Perhaps he’s forgotten about the two times he opposed the same bill, and the third time he didn’t even have the courage to cast a vote. How about taking real steps to ensure that schools don’t need panic alarms? Lives are on the line.”
Bucco voted against similar bills requiring schools install alarm systems in 2013 and 2016. He did not vote when the measure came to the Assembly floor in 2014.
Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, did not believe that voters would give credence to Bucco’s defense of his no vote on the 10-round capacity limit.
“An incumbent can only be held to the votes that he has taken, not the votes that he hasn’t taken,” Rasmussen said. “He can claim all he wants to that he hasn’t voted for 100 magazine capacity because there never was such a bill, so that’s an artificial construct, and it’s not one that would typically hold water. We have no other way to hold an incumbent to account for his record other than the votes that he’s taken.”
Despite the recent swell in partisan attacks over gun control legislation — Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) is facing similar attacks in his own re-election bid — the issue remains one where Democrats remain divided over some issues.
In June, Gov. Phil Murphy slammed Senate President Steve Sweeney for pulling his proposal to raise gun fees from the state budget.
The state already has laws banning assault-style weapons and limiting magazine capacities, two issues that have once more seized the national spotlight in the wake of mass shootings.
“Culturally, it’s a popular thing. Politically, it’s a popular thing, so it’s a bit of a stretch for Democrats, I think, to paint their opponents as obstructionist on gun control,” Rasmussen said. “I don’t know that that will work, but what I do think can work is ‘which side are you on?’ Are you on the right side of these issues or are you on the right side of these issues? Who are you fighting for?”
The general election is still 87 days away, and the national debate on gun control has proven to be perennially transient one.
It’s unclear whether the issue will have the sticking power in the 25th legislative district that it has lacked nationally.
“We don’t know what will be on voters’ minds ten weeks from now, but because this is at the top of mind right now, it is possible that it will be at the top of mind in 10 weeks. It could recede, as it has in the past, or we could have more gun violence and it could stay top of mind,” Rasmussen said. “We don’t know how much of an issue this will be on election day.”