Home>Governor>Senate committee clears one of Murphy’s eight gun control proposals

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Senate committee clears one of Murphy’s eight gun control proposals

Bill would allow AG to take action against gun industry

By Joey Fox, June 13 2022 3:18 pm

The legislature began working through Gov. Phil Murphy’s myriad gun control proposals today, with the Senate Judiciary Committee approving a bill that would give the attorney general the ability to pursue civil action against firearm manufacturers and retailers “who knowingly or recklessly endanger the public health and safety.”

Nearly three weeks ago, Murphy forcefully called for the passage of eight bills strengthening New Jersey’s gun restrictions after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Texas; Murphy had previously pressed for the same package in the 2020-21 session, but it died in the Senate during the lame duck period.

The bill that passed the Judiciary Committee today is the only one of the eight that has come up for discussion in either chamber so far. If signed into law, it would make firearm manufacturers and retailers potentially liable for gun violence under the state’s public nuisance laws, allowing the attorney general to open investigations and obtain injunctions against those in the firearm industry.

Several activists with gun safety groups testified in support of the legislation, arguing that allowing the attorney general to hold bad actors in the firearm industry accountable would go a long way towards limiting gun violence.

“The gun industry has the information and the tools to innovate to save lives,” said Jenifer Gonzalez, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action’s New Jersey chapter. “But without the pressure created by the risk of civil liability, there is no legal or financial incentive to do so. These reckless business practices cost lives.”

A similar bill in New York was signed into law last year, and recently survived a court challenge.

But Rob Nixon, on behalf of the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, said that the bill has far too wide of a scope, giving the attorney general unwarranted leeway in determining what poses a threat to public safety.

“There would be no restraint on the attorney general’s office from filing lawsuits against lawful dealers, lawful magazine advertisements, or lawful gun clubs when someone unrelated to them commits an act improperly with a firearm,” Nixon said. “Imagine suing Ford and General Motors and Car Driver Magazine to account for drunk driving deaths.”

The committee’s three Republicans in attendance seemed to agree with Nixon; all three voted against the bill.

“I’ve been a legislator who has, in the past, voted for common-sense gun regulation,” State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) said. “Unfortunately, this bill in its format today is not one of those bills. I think it’s overly broad, there are many aspects of this bill that are vague, and there are areas that are clearly unconstitutional, in my opinion.”

According to Judiciary Chairman Brian Stack (D-Union City), amendments will be forthcoming from the bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), after she meets with the attorney general’s office. With that in mind, every Democrat on the committee voted to release the bill from committee – even State Sen. Fred Madden (D-Washington), who has not always aligned with his party on gun issues.

While the bill’s passage is an initial victory for the governor and his allies in the legislature, the fact that only one bill in the eight-bill package has come before a committee is a foreboding sign for the package’s immediate future. Only three weeks remain before the summer recess arrives and the legislature goes home for at least two months.

Asked whether any of the other bills would be coming up for a vote anytime soon, Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) simply referenced the bill that did come up: “We got one today!”

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