At a press conference scheduled in response to yesterday’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that left 19 children and two teachers dead, Gov. Phil Murphy today called on the New Jersey legislature to put every proposed gun bill – including both those tightening gun laws and those loosening them – up for a full vote.
“As an American, I am outraged and I am exhausted,” Murphy said. “Congress has failed to lead time and time and time again, so it’s up to us to do the job others are too weak to do… This moment demands that the legislature finally take action.”
The governor repeated his call for the legislature to pass his third package of gun legislation, which includes bills requiring safe gun storage, raising the minimum age for most shotgun and rifle purchases to 21, and creating a reporting system for ammunition sales. That package, introduced in April 2021, ultimately faltered in the lame duck session in the face of skepticism from Democratic legislators.
Since Murphy took office four years ago, two other sets of gun control bills have successfully passed the legislature: one in 2018, and another in 2019.
But in addition to his own package of bills, the governor also said that a number of bills hostile to his agenda should be put before the full legislature. That way, he said, legislators would have to go on the record as supporting or opposing various conservative measures, such as allowing concealed carry and decriminalizing certain types of guns and ammunition, that have been proposed by Assembly Minority Leader John DiMaio (R-Hackettstown), State Sen. Ed Durr (R-Logan), and others.
“Let’s put every gun bill up, so the people of New Jersey can see in no uncertain terms who supports gun safety and who wants New Jersey’s streets and communities to be flooded with guns,” Murphy said. “Let’s see who the gun lobby banks on with their blood money.”
Murphy’s ire today was directed primarily at Republicans who have long complained that the state’s gun laws are too stringent. However, the legislature could pass gun safety legislation on a purely party-line vote; it’s moderate Democrats who have served as the true impediments to passing many of Murphy’s proposed reforms.
Asked directly who in the legislature has stood in his way, Murphy declined to name anyone specifically, and reiterated that a full vote would reveal who agrees with him and who does not.
A number of legislators and other state leaders stood behind the governor at today’s press conference, among them State Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union), a driving force behind many of Murphy’s bills in the Senate, and Assemblyman William Spearman (D-Camden), who as chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee could play a critical part in getting any gun safety package through the legislature.
But notably missing were both Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), who were the intended recipients of Murphy’s call to put every bill up for a vote. Asked about their absence, Murphy said only that he has been working with legislative leadership continuously since the package was proposed last April.
In a statement released shortly after the conference, Coughlin said that “we need to look to strengthen our gun safety laws,” but did not address any specific policy.
Given that the legislature is slated to go on summer recess beginning on July 1, the governor also said he was potentially willing to call a special session if progress on gun legislation isn’t made before then.
The shooting in Uvalde, in which an 18-year-old barricaded himself inside a 4th grade classroom at Robb Elementary School and opened fire, is the third prominent American mass shooting this month. On May 14, a white supremacist killed ten people at a predominantly Black supermarket in Buffalo; one day later, a man seemingly motivated by anti-Taiwanese sentiment killed one and injured five in a Southern California church.
The governor and many of those who joined him today expressed outrage, sorrow, and simple exhaustion at the repeated acts of violence.
“I am an assemblywoman, but most importantly I am a mother,” Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-West New York) said. “I am upset, I am angry because a parent like myself was not able to take her daughter or her son home. We cannot let this happen.”
“Our children and our communities need to be put ahead of lobbyists and campaign contributions,” Montclair Mayor and New Jersey Education Association President Sean Spiller added. “We must demand better action, or we must elect better leaders.”