BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Governor Phil Murphy chose Governor Livingston High School (GLHS) as the venue for signing a package of what he called “commonsense” gun safety bills on Tuesday, July 16.

The bills, four in all, “reaffirm New Jersey’s commitment to institute the strongest gun laws in the nation which are part of Gun Safety Package 2.0, (and) follow a series of comprehensive gun safety laws” signed by the governor in 2018, according to the press release related to the event … The four bills signed on Tuesday “will promote smart gun technology, expand the list of crimes that disqualify a person from gun ownership, strengthen anti-gun trafficking laws, and support suicide prevention efforts.”

On Tuesday, the library at GLHS was filled with state officials, including the Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal, State Senator Joe Cryan, and Assembly members Joanne Downey, Gordon Johnson, Lisa Swain, Chris Tully, Benjie Wimberly and Linda Carter. Also on hand were local officials – Berkeley Heights Mayor Angie Devanney, four township council members, Alvaro Medeiros, Susan Poage, Stephen Yellin and Manny Couto, and Board of Education members including Board President Doug Reinstein and members Robert Cianciulli, Dr. Gerard Crisonino, Chris Reilly and Denis Smalley.

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Mayor Devanney introduced all the officials, then acknowledged “all the work that our own police department and board of education do on a daily basis to keep Berkeley Heights schools safe and our community safe.”  A mother of two children, Devanney said, “Governor Murphy, I thank you. I thank you for fighting to ensure New Jersey leads the way in sensible gun safety laws, mental health programming and suicide education and prevention.” She then introduced Katie Zimmerman, a 2018 graduate of GLHS and a member of the Sandy Hook Promise organization.

Zimmerman told how she became involved in the gun violence prevention when a close family friend and former Mountainside resident survived the shooting in Parkland, Fla. As part of her efforts to prevent gun violence, she took part in the GLHS student walk-out to support the Parkland students and spoke at the event. She said she also encouraged elected officials to work towards stronger gun laws and participated in events in New York and New Jersey. Since 2016, local leaders worked to make sure the life-saving programs offered by Sandy Hook Promise would be brought to the schools and many people, including “Mayor Devanney remained dedicated to these programs and have crossed party lines to ensure they are implemented in our schools,” she said, adding that former Mayor Robert Woodruff “declared June 2, 2018, to be National Gun Violence Prevention Day in Berkeley Heights.”

Zimmerman said the decision by the governor to sign the bills “at Governor Livingston High School is a testament to the tireless work that advocates have done to bring our legislators and local officials to combat gun violence in New Jersey. This package of commonsense gun safety laws proves that together we can enact change and drive gun reforms that make our communities safe for all,” she said, then introduced Governor Murphy. 

The Governor signed the following four bills into law:

S101 (Weinberg, Codey/Johnson, Vainieri Huttle, Wimberly) – Establishes commission to approve personalized handguns; requires firearm retailers to sell personalized handguns.

The governor said this law will help “speed the development and marketability of those personalized fire arms, guns that can only be fired by their rightful and licensed owner.”  This closes a loop-hole in a previous law that actually had the unintentional consequence of stifling development of “smart guns,” he said.

Assemblyman Johnson said, “We’ve seen far too many senseless deaths because of handguns accidentally getting in the hands of children. The technology exists to curb this possibility. Current law is intended to encourage the development of smart gun technology, but the prohibition on other handguns has, in effect, restricted consumer access to personalized handguns. This legislation will help our state to create a reasonable approach to improving gun safety, especially for children

Assemblyman Wimberly said, “Personalized handguns mean improved gun safety for owners and their families. We can reduce unnecessary gun violence involving children with smart steps such as preparing for this new technology.” 

S3897 (Weinberg, Greenstein/Greenwald, Reynolds-Jackson) - Criminalizes purchase, transfer, or possession of certain weapons and ammunition by persons convicted of certain crimes; establishes crime of transferring or possessing firearm without serial number.

The Governor said this bill “will give law enforcement new tools to go after gun traffickers from buying guns with loose laws and selling them on our streets.”

Assemblyman Tully said, “Guns move far too easily between states through gun trafficking and unlawful straw purchases. No one should purchase a firearm to sell to an individual who is unqualified for a gun license.”

Assemblywoman Lisa Swain said, “Gun violence in our communities has claimed too many lives. Stronger regulations on straw purchasing in New Jersey can help keep firearms out of the wrong hands. This bill along with the other gun violence prevention measures which cleared the Assembly will work together to end this practice.”

A4449 (Tully, Swain/Singleton, O’Scanlon) - Establishes the crime of soliciting transfer of firearm by disqualified person.  

The governor said this bill will expand the list of crimes that prohibit owning a gun in New Jersey and will make it a crime for a person who can’t own them to try to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer or individual.

 A3896 (Downey, Houghtaling, Schaer/Cryan) - Requires the Attorney General and Commissioner of Health to establish a suicide prevention training course and informational materials for firearm retail dealers.

The governor said this bill will establish “a new partnership between the Attorney General’s office and the Department of Health to bring fire arms dealers into our suicide prevention efforts.”

Cryan said, “We know that access to lethal means of suicide – especially firearms – result in higher rates of death, especially among young people. Almost 60 percent of all violent deaths are by suicide and the most common method is by self-inflicted gunshot. This tragic loss of life can and must be addressed with actions that focus on prevention.  This new law will develop suicide prevention materials that will be put into the hands of gun dealers and those who operate shooting ranges and used to create training courses that promote safety. This is a proactive way to save lives.”

The governor thanked the Moms Demand Action and other organizations for “all you do. We could not do this without you – Union County and beyond. We all take great pride in having some of the toughest gun laws in the country and we see the results of that by having among the lowest rates of gun-related deaths in the nation. With every step, we are proving commonsense gun safety laws work. Brett Sabo, a volunteer with the New Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said “New Jersey has long been a leader in gun violence prevention, and today is no different. We applaud Governor Murphy and the legislature for their ongoing commitment to reduce gun violence in all its complex forms. They show how we can come together to make them work,” he said.

Attorney General Grewal said, “The bills that Governor Murphy signs into law today give our law enforcement officers new tools to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and to combat illegal firearms trafficking … As New Jersey’s chief law enforcement officer, I am committed to using these laws to protect the public and law enforcement from the continuing epidemic of gun violence. Our message to gun traffickers, distributors, and even manufacturers has been clear from day one: we will hold you accountable when you violate our laws.”

What’s Next

Still, there is more work to be done and the next target for action is “comprehensive ammunition reform, requiring a photo ID to buy ammunition; sales are digitized and all sales are reported to the state police,” the Governor said. The bill has passed the Assembly and Gov. Murphy said, “There is no reason for it not to be brought to a vote in the Senate, where we know it will pass.”

Finally, “We must bring New Jersey’s gun licensing fees into the 21st Century,” he said. The fees have not been changed since 1966.  The governor said he did some research and discovered, “A dog license in Berkeley Heights starts at $15,” $10 for a cat. “The cost of a permit to buy a handgun … $2. Come on, that makes no sense. Again, I urge the Senate president to put these measures up in the Senate.”

After the governor signed the four bills, using a number of pens kept in a special box and giving away each pen to someone involved in the day's activities, it was time for thanks to participants and photographs with the various groups involved in this special day at Governor Livingston High School.