NEWARK, NJ — Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday unveiled a sweeping series of reforms aimed to reduce gun violence in the state, proposing new legislation at The Clubhouse in Newark while joined by area officials and community leaders.
The proposed legislation calls for additional measures to ensure the safe handling of firearms, close loopholes to keep dangerous weapons out of people’s hands, advocate for additional law enforcement training and hold illegal gun distributors more accountable.
This comes at a time when Newark officials have persistently addressed the issue of gun violence at a local level. Through a series of police reforms and engaging community-based public safety groups, city officials reported violence has steadily reduced over the years, reporting crime reductions of 85% when compared to each of the three previous decades.
Officials also reported that crime was down 70% in 2020 during the pandemic when the city was on lockdown for an extended period of time compared to 2000.
However, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said on Thursday that more needs to be done to improve these numbers.
“It’s incredibly important that as the country talks about gun legislation and strengthening gun laws, that there’s a connection between what’s happening in other parts of the country and what’s been happening in cities like Newark,” Baraka said. “The proliferation of guns in the hands of these communities is something that we have been dealing with for a very long time and is enough for us to say that violence is a public health issue.”
Under the newly proposed legislation, the governor is calling for funding of gun violence prevention measures, support for gun violence prevention legislation and addressing additional matters such as regulating school shooting drills, and creating a Personalized Handgun Authorization Commission.
Among the new safety measures, the Murphy administration has already taken other steps to combat the epidemic of gun violence. The state established a “red flag” law for gun violence protective orders; criminalized firearms trafficking; strengthened background checks; reduced the maximum capacity of ammunition magazines; banned “ghost guns;” and established the Rutgers Gun Violence Research Center to identify evidence-based solutions to the gun violence crisis.
“Half of New Jersey’s gun homicides occur in only five cities, and the number of gun crimes in these cities has skyrocketed over the last year,” Murphy said. “We cannot sit back when we know there is more to do to address the danger of gun violence in our communities. By taking the steps we are announcing today, we will further commit to making every block and every street in our state safer.”
In addition to advocating for more stringent gun laws, one way the governor plans to stymie violence is through funding community-based public safety groups such as the Newark Community Street Team (NCST). In doing so, the governor’s proposed 2022 budget calls for an additional $10 million in funding for these local groups.
For the past seven years, the team has worked to minimize crime in the city and become a solution in the reimagining of public safety. Headed by Aqeela Sherrills, the team has implemented a public approach to reduce violence and crime in the city.
Leading the charge of community-based public safety, a recent three-year study conducted by the UCLA Social Justice Research Partnership found that the NCST effectively decreased crime while increasing community trust as well as public safety from March 2017 to January 2020.
“Violence has impacted people’s lives in such a profound way, but when you train residents and neighborhoods as public safety professionals, you equip them with the skills, tools and resources to engage,” Sherrills said. “We can stand in the gap and mediate those conflicts to a peaceful outcome.”
Additional measures under Murphy’s proposed gun legislation include the following:
Require gun permit applicants to first pass a safety course.
Mandate that all guns not in use be kept in a lockbox or gun safe.
Increase the purchasing age for a firearm to 21, from 18.
Mandate microstamping technology so that fired rounds can be traced.
Require ammunition sales to be tracked electronically.
Ban .50-caliber weapons.
Make it easier to hold gun manufacturers liable for violence stemming from the use of firearms.
Direct the state Education Department to overhaul active shooter drills to minimize the stress on students.
Hold a gun safety summit among governors.