Each week former New Jersey State Assemblymen and former gubernatorial candidates John Wisniewski (Democrat) & Jack Ciattarelli (Republican) will tackle New Jersey's most pressing issues. This week:
Gun Safety Legislation
This week, Senator Bob Menendez called on upon Senate Majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on gun safety measures. At a press conference on Wednesday, Menendez and gun safety advocates put pressure on McConnell to allow the Senate to vote on gun safety measures after McConnell blocked legislation passed by the House to expand background checks.
However, President Trump has been on both sides of the issue: First, stating that background checks could prevent a gun from getting in the hands of a “lunatic or a maniac", but he also said that background checks wouldn’t have prevented any mass shooting incidents and called the issue a “mental problem.”
In New Jersey, Scott Bach, Executive Director of the Association of New Jersey’s Rifle & Pistol Clubs, agrees in part with the president: “...New Jersey has its own 10-round magazine limit, and it hasn’t done a thing to affect crime or criminality... Criminals laugh at laws that ban hardware, while law-abiding citizens contort themselves to comply.”
So, what's the answer?
No amount of new gun laws will ever properly address the mental health crisis we face here in the United States. That said, there’s room for sensible gun legislation that provides greater security in the community while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.
Three things Congress should seriously consider are universal background checks, reasonable red flag laws and closing the gun show loophole. Regarding each, Congress needs to demonstrate it can act.
New Jersey's guns laws are among the strictest in the nation (so strict that many law-abiding citizens understandably consider them an infringement upon 2nd Amendment rights). Our state’s background checks are appropriately rigorous and our red flag laws, especially specific to domestic violence, make sense. As for gun shows, New Jersey has closed the loophole significantly, though some would argue not completely.
One area worthy of possible improvement is the firearm permit that allows gun purchases. In New Jersey, once obtained, the permit is good indefinitely. Having to renew the permit every three to five years, including all the prerequisite background checks, is a reasonable and, considering the mental health crisis, necessary reform.
I grew up in a household with guns. I went hunting with my father from when I was ten until law school. I had to take a hunter’s safety course and my dad had to obtain a Firearms Purchaser Identification Card. There’s nothing wrong with responsible gun ownership.
Unfortunately, this country is far from agreeing on what type of laws create responsible gun ownership that reduces the alarming number of deaths from gun violence. At a rate of 4.43 deaths per 100,000 people, the number of gun deaths in the United States is four times higher than the rates in war-torn Syria and Yemen.
Some leaders imply that the level of gun deaths this nation is experiencing is the result of a mental health crisis. That’s unfair and inaccurate. It’s unfair because mental illness does not usually result in mass shootings and sufferers of mental illnesses should not automatically be equated with mass shooters. It’s not accurate because mental illnesses are common and under-treated in many developed and developing countries that do not have the same number of gun deaths as we do.
Congress needs to enact laws that require a thorough background check for gun purchases with no exception and create a reasonable opportunity to remove guns from individuals who pose a danger to themselves and the public. Congress’s failure to protect the public in this fashion fuels the public’s cynicism about the effectiveness of our democratic institutions.