PISCATAWAY, NJ – Members of the public stood and applauded as the Piscataway Township Council voted to approve a new ordinance banning local retailers from selling guns and ammunition within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, and other public places where children may gather in the township.
The unanimous vote to amend Chapter 21 Zoning “to provide the conditions of firearm sales use within the township” came at Thursday’s council meeting before both supporters and opponents of the measure proposed by Ward 3 Councilman, Steven Cahn to address the recent mass shooting issues that have affected communities across the nation.
While there are no retail businesses currently selling firearms in Piscataway, Cahn said at the May 8 council meeting when the ordinance was first proposed, that town officials wanted to be proactive in preventing future businesses from selling them, and without such an ordinance, there is no way to prohibit it. He also said they worked to make sure the ordinance did not infringe on Second Amendment rights.
But an attorney representing the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Club who he said has members who are residents of Piscataway, raised objections to the ordinance at Thursday’s meeting, calling it unconstitutional.
“You can’t ban people from purchasing firearms within a town limit and can’t ban businesses from selling them within a town limit,” said Daniel Schmutter of Hartman & Winnicki, P.C. of Ridgewood, NJ. He said the township misinterpreted the decision in the Alameda, CA case on which the ordinance is based.
“State licensed dealers are explicitly allowed by state law to sell firearms,” he said, adding that “municipalities are not allowed to circumvent this by making it difficult or prohibitive to operate a lawfully licensed business within the municipality.”
Township attorney, Mike Baker disagreed with Schmutter’s interpretation saying that the ordinance was drafted not to sidestep state laws that already limit the number of weapons that can be legally purchased in a month, but to rezone areas where gun shops could operate.
“Zoning power is not pre-empted by the state and is a local issue,” said Baker. “In the Alameda case, the court found that local zoning can be used in the way that we have used it, to regulate the areas where gun sales can take place. We’re not limiting who can own them, we’re not preventing them from carrying, we’re not prohibiting purchasing. We’re regulating the sale of firearms in certain areas that the community has deemed sensitive areas, such as near churches, synagogues, schools and day care centers.”
Helen Pirrello, a long-time Piscataway resident and Ward 2, District 3 Democratic Committeewoman said her granddaughter witnessed the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL and lost some friends. She made an emotional plea to Schmutter’s claim that the ordinance would be unconstitutional if passed.
“My granddaughter was in Parkland, in a Freshman school, in a classroom that was shot-up with bullets because of a person that they knew had really difficult problems, and nobody did anything to prevent him from getting into that school or getting him help,” Pirrello told Schmutter.
“We’re not asking you to give up all of your firearms,” she continued, describing the shooting scene and the psychological effect it has had on her granddaughter, who she said now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“We’re telling you that you cannot have them by schools, by children’s areas, by playgrounds, by hospitals,” said Pirrello. “You can’t regulate morality and you can’t make sense out of crazy. But we can create laws to try to prevent what has happened in other places.”
“So, you tell me, sir, why we cannot have this ordinance in this town of Piscataway which is rated one of the best towns in the country,” Pirrello demanded of Schmutter. “You tell me why you want your people to be able to buy a gun next to a school, next to a playground, next to a day care. You can go back and tell your people that there was a very emotional grandmother telling you that you don’t need to be buying firearms because our forefathers didn’t have a world like this. Our forefathers did that amendment to protect their lands and property from being invaded. Not to go out and shoot up the world.”
Schmutter was seen leaving the council meeting after the vote to adopt the resolution. It is not known if he responded to Pirrello’s comments.
“This is not a single fix, but a multifaceted one that is a step in the right direction,” said Michelle Lombardi, Ward 4 Councilwoman. “It’s not going to stop here. This is just our first step to try to advocate for all these children who have had these horrific experiences.”
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