LIVINGSTON, NJ – A sold-out crowd of concerned citizens from all over the 11th Congressional District heard from NJ 11th For Change member Cori Menkin, Esq., on the topic of gun violence at an open forum hosted by the Livingston Town Team of NJ 11th for Change on Saturday. Menkin, an expert on federal and state gun laws, spoke about what voters can do to protect against changes in New Jersey gun laws so the state can retain its reputation for having one of the country’s strictest sets of gun laws.

NJ 11th for Change is a grassroots coalition that advocates for all residents of the district—including the Essex County towns of Bloomfield, the three Caldwells, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Fairfield, Livingston Montclair, Nutley, Roseland, Verona and West Orange—to promote political transparency and foster productive citizen-to-congress communication.

“Gun violence is obviously a topic people feel very deeply about,” said conference organizer Laurie Beachem. “Recent horrific events in Florida remind us why it’s so important to speak out. With midterm elections coming up, it’s really important to know the records of all the congressional candidates and what to look for in those candidates if this is an issue important to you.”

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Also represented at the presentation was Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (MDA), an organization created in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy to demand action from legislators, state and federal, companies, and educational institutions to establish common-sense gun reforms.

The organization, referenced several times by Menkin throughout the course of her speech, is said to have gained tremendous support since the Parkland, FL shooting on Feb. 14. In several instances, MDA has had to quickly locate larger venues to accommodate their growing ranks at regionally held events—an indicator that Menkin said represents a seismic shift that change is in the offing.

“Reach out to the schools in your community—Find out what their school safety plans are,” said Menkin. “Find out if they have bookshelves next to the doors that they could slide over in an emergency. Make sure the locks on the doors are on the inside of the classrooms, not the outside.  Make sure that they have a plan. Make sure that it’s real and that they’re practicing it.”

According to Menkin, a background check is the first step when it comes to selling guns in New Jersey, and the first line of defense in protecting state citizens. Under New Jersey state law, purchasers of any gun from any location must obtain a permit to purchase and also undergo a mandatory background check, whereas some states only require a background check for certain gun types.

One loophole in New Jersey law, however, is that a long-gun permit is valid in perpetuity while other permits to purchase expire within 90 days, Menkin said.

“One of the only loopholes that still exists in the New Jersey background-check system is that if you become prohibited from having a handgun and you already have a permit, you could still go out and get a long gun,” she said.

She added that federally convicted felons are prohibited from having a gun, as are those who have been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime, are federally subject to a restraining order or have been committed. The “Stalker’s Loophole” also prevents someone who has been federally convicted of a stalking crime from obtaining a gun.

A companion piece to background-check requirements is the FixNICS initiative, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Federally licensed retailers are required to consult NICS before transferring a firearm to a potential buyer to ensure that the firearm is being given to a lawfully abiding citizen.

“But the background-check system is only as strong as the records that are in it,” said Menkin.

Although New Jersey does well at a purported 100-percent reporting into the background-check system, there is a great deal of room in other states for full protection nationwide, according to Menkin. She said that many states are only required to report guns purchased at a gun store, but overlook the necessity of reporting those purchased at gun shows or other locations in order to bring compliance with the NICS system closer to New Jersey’s percentage of reporting.

Menkin said the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, which protects gun users’ rights to use silencers, presents another danger in that silencers prevent people from hearing warning shots that could save their lives. She offered both the D.C. Congressional baseball and the Las Vegas concert shootings as examples in which many were able to hear and discern the general direction of the shots, allowing them to take cover, because silencers weren’t used.

“Generally speaking, New Jersey has one of the strongest concealed-carry laws in the country,” Menkin said.

In order for someone to carry a concealed weapon in New Jersey, Menkin said he or she must meet stringent requirements, including passing the permit-to-purchase process, providing personal information and fingerprints, obtaining three letters of personal reference from individuals who have known the buyer for a minimum of three years, providing proof of familiarity with the firearm and demonstrating justifiable cause for the need to carry in a concealed fashion.

Because gun laws are more relaxed in some states, the current debate surrounding concealed-carry reciprocity being allowed in New Jersey raises other concerns, Menkin said, like whether dangerous gun holders from other states could bleed across New Jersey’s state border.

“If concealed-carry reciprocity passes in New Jersey, anyone from any of these other states who has a valid permit in their state would be permitted to carry in New Jersey,” Menkin said.

However, Menkin added that although it’s complicated, it is unlikely that concealed-carry reciprocity will pass the New Jersey Senate because there are currently enough votes to block the measure.

While New Jersey has one of the strongest concealed-carry laws in the country, Menkin said it is lagging when it comes to leading the charge on implementation of a Red Flag law. The law allows family members of law officials to petition the court to have judges temporarily remove guns from or prohibit their purchase by those who suffer from mental illness or substance abuse, those who pose an escalating threat, or those who have a history of domestic violence until they are legally deemed to no longer be a danger.

Currently only five states—California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington—have the Red Flag law on their books, but 18 other states plus the District of Columbia are in the process of proposing this measure.

When considering who to vote for, Menkin suggested that audience members consider whether each candidate or lawmaker supports or opposes concealed-carry reciprocity, attaching concealed-carry reciprocity to the FixNICS bill, comprehensive background checks and making it easier for people to obtain silencers.

To learn more about NJ 11th For Change or MDA, or to get involved in either organization, visit nj11thforchange.org or momsdemandaction.org.