The tragic killing of four people, including a police officer, recently in Jersey City is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism driven by anti-Semitism and hatred of law enforcement. The FBI arrested a New Jersey pawnshop owner for the illegal possession of a weapon after investigators found his number and business address in the back pocket of one of the shooters.
Congress struck a bipartisan spending deal that for the first time in over 20 years would include funding for research on gun violence. The bill includes $25 million for research on gun safety to be used by the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health. This occurred on the seventh anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Gun laws in New Jersey regulate the sale, possession, and use of firearms and ammunition, and are among the most restrictive in the country. And, unlike the Federal Constitution, the New Jersey Constitution has no provision explicitly guaranteeing the right of citizens to keep and bear arms.
Are New Jersey’s gun laws overly strict or do we need to make them even stricter to protect our citizens from gun violence?
According to the Gifford Law Center, New Jersey’s has the second toughest gun laws in the nation, after California. Notwithstanding these strict laws, the Second Amendment is alive and well in New Jersey. People are able to purchase and own handguns, rifle and shotguns. As I wrote in an earlier column, I grew up in a household with guns. I went hunting with my father from when I was ten until I entered law school. There’s nothing wrong with responsible gun ownership.
While the Second Amendment establishes the right to purchase and own guns in every state and territory of the United States, there is no equivalent nationwide strong set of regulations on gun purchases and ownership. Each state and territory have their own system of regulations; some stronger and much weaker. As a result, it is relatively easy to travel to a state with weaker gun laws and transport a firearm into a state with stronger gun laws.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report eighty percent of the New Jersey gun deaths in 2016 involved a gun that came from out of state. New Jersey doesn’t need to get tougher on guns, other states need to catch up.
When I ran for Governor in 2017 I proposed that if the federal government isn’t interested in common-sense measures like requiring a thorough background check for gun purchases with no exceptions, regional compacts between neighboring states can be a good alternative to stem the tide of illegal guns.
The horrific loss of life in Jersey City is heartbreaking. We mourn with the families of the victims, knowing real action bringing an end to gun violence is urgently needed.
Ending gun violence, however, does not simply mean we need more gun laws. New Jersey has some of the strictest gun laws in the country and they failed to stop this senseless violence.
If we truly want to stop gun violence, we need to look at its root causes while being dutiful to the Constitution (i.e., Second Amendment). That starts with a candid discussion about the mental health epidemic. We also need elected officials and the media to stop with the kind of inflammatory political rhetoric that pits people against each other, poisons our political discourse and can incite violence.
As for the New Jersey pawnshop owner recently arrested for illegal possession of firearms, the FBI alleges that he purchased a firearm at a Florida Walmart six months after being convicted of a crime. If true, this is a systemic failure in the background check system.
Rather than authorizing $25 million for yet another study, Congress should spend that money to update the background check system; implement Real ID and require it for firearm purchases, and make mental health care more accessible to those in need. If we do those things, we stand a chance of ending gun violence rather than just making it harder for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights.