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State Sen. Joseph Cryan. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Major package of gun legislation mostly clears legislature

Two bills pushed for by governor left out of overall package

By Joey Fox, June 29 2022 10:09 pm

A set of seven bills strengthening various aspects of New Jersey’s gun laws, representing a majority of Gov. Phil Murphy’s third gun control package, passed the Senate and Assembly on largely party-line votes today. Murphy said on Twitter shortly after the bills’ passage that he will sign the bills, which he has promoted heavily.

“In the wake of last week’s tragic SCOTUS decision, we must do everything in our power to protect residents from gun violence,” the governor wrote. “I will sign these measures into law.”

Once signed, the seven bills would ban .50 caliber firearms; increase penalties for crimes related to ghost guns; add new regulations to handgun ammunition; require microstamp-enabled firearms once they become commercially available; mandate training for those seeking firearm purchaser identification cards (FPICs) and make new FPICs expire after ten years; require new residents of the state obtain FPICs; and give the attorney general increased ability to take legal action against the firearm industry.

“The surge in gun violence has been horribly tragic, with lives lost, victims wounded, and loved ones suffering heartbreak,” State Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union), a leading proponent of gun control legislation, said in a statement. “We have to continue to do all we can to keep deadly firearms out of the hands of those who pose a danger, off the streets, away from schools, and out of our communities.”

Republicans, however, have criticized the package as superfluous and in some cases unconstitutional; most Republicans opposed most or all of the bills, with a few moderate legislators peeling away on certain measures.

“You guys are so reactionary to the news cycle, you make laws based on what you hear in the news,” Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville) charged from the Assembly floor. “You make laws that make practically no sense.”

Despite the success of much of the package, three other bills – two of which were part of Murphy’s original package, and a third that was added later by the legislature – won’t immediately make it to his desk, so there is still work for the governor and his allies to do to fully pass his preferred legislation.

One bill prohibiting body armor in most cases (a bill not in the governor’s original package) passed only in the Senate; another increasing the eligibility age for FPICs from 18 to 21 passed only in the Assembly, and hasn’t even come up for a committee vote in the Senate. One final bill, mandating safe storage of firearms and ammunition, has yet to face a committee in either chamber.

After today’s session, Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Linden) said that he was happy with the gun bills that did pass the legislature and that he’s open to further examining the bills that were left behind.

“I think they will be revisited,” he said. “If we can get to a place where we will provide reasonable gun safety on a bill that could be considered constitutional, then we’ll do it. If they’re not going to provide real safety, then they’re not going to be done.”

New Jersey already has the second-strictest gun laws in the nation, a status caused in large part by two major packages of Murphy-led gun control legislation that were passed in 2018 and 2019.

In April 2021, Murphy proposed a third package, but it languished for more than a year until consecutive mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde forced the legislature’s hand. Weeks after the governor held a press conference passionately calling for action, the Senate and Assembly both began hearing most of the governor’s proposed bills, eventually culminating in their passage today.

This story was updated at 10:37 a.m. on June 30 to clarify that, technically, only two of the excluded bills were part of Murphy’s legislative package, while the body armor bill was added by the legislature.

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