FAIR LAWN, NJ - Several dignitaries, along with local activist group Moms Demand Action, gathered at the Memorial Park playground this morning to talk about "common sense" gun legislation requiring more stringent background checks, among other laws, to make it harder for guns to get into the wrong hands.

Members of Fair Lawn's Board of Education and Fair Lawn Superintendent Nick Norcia also joined Fair Lawn Mayor Kurt Peluso who presided over the event on Friday, Sept. 6, and introduced the first speaker, Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton.

"It's a shame children are going back to school with their parents considering bulletproof backpacks," Cureton said.

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Assemblywoman Lisa Swain said that while she was "not happy" to be at the event calling for more restrictive access to guns, she was in support of "doing everything we can to make kids safe," including supporting the so-called "red flag" law.

Red flag legislation, as attendee Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) defined, is designed to "prevent people who are domestic abusers or those with mental illness from having a weapon."

Larisa Mendez Downes, Fair Lawn Moms Demand Action representative, said she regrets she has to talk to her children about school shootings. She mentioned her alma mater, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed by a mass shooter on Feb. 14, 2018.

Downes called for "evidence based solutions" and not "reactionary" solutions such as arming teachers.

Last year, students in both Glen Rock and Fair Lawn high schools held a walk-out during school hours against gun violence.

Congressman Gottheimer said he was "sick and tired of having to wage this fight against gun violence, year in and year out, when so many of the potential solutions are sitting right in front of us."

Gottheimer recalled Columbine, another mass shooting in Colorado, where 15 died and said, "20 years later, we still haven't found a solution. But we also haven’t walked away from the fight. We’ve only strengthened. Republicans and Democrats, from big cities to small rural towns – all across my district. And, of course, we’ve got Moms Demand Action and so many others.  And as painful as it has been for all those children and family members we’ve lost, we know, as it’s said in Scripture, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

"We are here this morning because the number of Americans, like us, who are sick and tired of inaction has hit a tipping point – the time for real action is now, and we won’t go away until the active shooter drills are a memory of the distant past.  That’s why we’re here. Because it’s time for the light to overcome the darkness.  The best way we can keep our children safe is to finally pass legislation to help keep guns out of the hands of those who would come through the school house doors with an arsenal of weapons fit for war.

"To do that, we need real background checks for every single commercial transaction, universally, including at gun shows, so that no criminal, gang member, terrorist, or individual with a mental illness can brandish a lethal weapon."

Gottheimer said he will be back in Washington early next week working on a new package of gun and school safety legislation – on red flags, high capacity magazines, and hate crimes. 

"This shouldn’t be so hard. It’s a bipartisan issue," he said. "Ninety percent of Americans agree we need them, including many of my friends in law enforcement right here in my district."

Gottheimer said such legislation may have "stopped the mass shooting in Odessa, Texas, just a week ago – where the gunmen had previously failed a background check when trying to purchase a gun. He obtained the AR-15 style assault rifle through a private sale with no background check."

"As our children return to the classroom for a new school year, it’s time we doubled down on this fight in the halls of Congress, put aside the partisan name calling, and actually got this done," Gottheimer said. "Enough excuses; it’s time to act. No more fake arguments about why we can’t protect our schools, malls, and nights clubs from yet another deranged killer, racist, white supremacist, or lone wolf terrorist who wants to destroy another family."

Gottheimer is co-sponsoring three bill through the House Judiciary Committee:

  • H.R. 1186, the Keep Americans Safe Act will ban high capacity magazines like the ones used last month. 
  • H.R. 1236, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act of 2019, will help states implement red flag laws to prevent those deemed a risk to themselves or others from accessing firearms. This is particularly important to note because data from the Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education found that in 93 percent of the cases of school violence they examined, there were behavioral warning signs that caused others to be concerned. 
  • The final bill, H.R. 2708, the Disarm Hate Act, will prohibit dangerous individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from possessing firearms.

Earlier this year, in February, New Jersey signed legislation into law requiring all New Jersey public schools to install silent panic alarms that can be utilized in an active-shooter situation, Gottheimer said.

The ALYSSA Act will bring the same requirements enshrined in New Jersey’s Alyssa’s Law to all 98,000 public schools nationwide. The bipartisan legislation will also ensure that every school has access to School Resource Officers, or SROs, so that schools have a first responder on campus, in the event of a critical incident. These are well-trained current and former law enforcement officials, currently employed in each Fair Lawn school.

"Aside from voting on H.R.8, which will finally enact universal background checks, I’m also calling on the Senate to finally act on closing the Charleston Loophole, which currently allows a firearm sale to proceed even if the FBI has not yet completed the background check.," Gottheimer said. "The shooter in the Charleston Massacre, Dylann Roof, bought his gun and killed nine people before the FBI had completed his background check. Right now, after this brutal summer, with so many lives violently cut short, we are demanding action."