WESTFIELD, NJ — Mayor Shelley Brindle opened a press conference on gun violence by speaking about her late father, a soldier killed during the Vietnam War who "defended our right to live and would agree that common sense gun laws keep with the intent of the Second Amendment."

“I’ve heard you talk about your dad before, but never in this context,” said Gov. Phil Murphy as he took the podium and then lauded the actions of the Westfield police last week when they arrested a man armed with a handgun and hollow bullets outside Tamaques School. "We salute their extraordinary bravery. We also send our thanks to Delaware authorities.” Police in New Castle, Delaware had alerted New Jersey police of the man’s movements.

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"Gun laws work," Murphy told the audience. "We have reminders that we still have a long way to go. We take great pride in having some of the toughest gun laws and are spurred on by tragedies across our nation."

The governor touted his four-part strategy to address gun violence: 1) closing loopholes, 2) tracking ammunition sales, 3) utilizing smart gun technology, and 4) violence prevention.

“Our partners in the Assembly stand ready to pass all of these bills, with a commitment to look to even more reforms to end the scourge of gun violence in our communities,” Murphy said. “I urge the Senate President to advance the Legislature’s gun safety package in its entirety. The time for a bold and comprehensive strategy is now, and I urge our legislative leaders to work together to significantly reduce gun violence in our communities.”

“We need more, and need it now,” Murphy said. “[The ammunition bill] is common sense stuff: It would require a photo ID to buy ammunition and to report purchase to state and create an electronic trail.”

Murphy’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget calls for an increase to fees for gun licenses and handgun permits. New Jersey’s gun licensing fees have not been raised since 1966, and the Legislature’s newly proposed budget does not include any increase. Murphy said he wants to bring gun-licensing fees to 21st-century prices. "It costs more to buy a dog than a gun," he said.

The midday news conference in Westfield happened at the same time as Thomas J. Wilkie's first appearance at Superior Court on gun charges in connection with his school visit in Westfield.

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At the news conference in Westfield, Union County Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski said, "We are proud to support the new laws. We already have some of the strongest, but more is needed."

Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp told the audience, "We should no longer stand on sidelines and see lives taken every day," and called on the public to put pressure on elected officials on local state and national levels.

"Prayers without action mean nothing. I have a healthy respect for Second Amendment. I also have a respect for the pursuit of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness," Mapp said. "Gun violence is the plague of the 21st century, and we should approach it like a public health issue."

Bill Caster, a senior adviser to Gov. Murphy on gun control, said that greater access leads to greater gun violence.

"The legislature passed background checks in 2008. Ten years later there are still loopholes. A firearms ID doesn't have a photo; we need it," Caster said. "Electronic record keeping and ammunition [sales] reporting is common sense. It’s not too late to get these bills onto the governor's desk."

“There’s nothing like federal action,” said Murphy, who sported a Westfield fleece jacket presented to him by Chief Chris Battiloro. “Please God, can we get an administration and Congress to take aim against gun violence?"

While the audience at the press conference was overwhelmingly supportive of stricter gun laws, Second Amendment advocates, such as Joe Sarno, Chairman of the Young Republican Federation of New Jersey, disagree.

"It's amazing that both Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle and Governor Phil Murphy believe that by raising fees to buy guns in New Jersey would have actually stopped an armed Delaware man at an elementary school parking lot," Sarno told TAPinto. "The fact is, stricter gun control laws in New Jersey would not have changed anything with the incident in Westfield. I'm thankful that the Westfield PD received the right information and acted on it appropriately and admirably."

TAPinto Westfield Staff Writer Matt Kadosh contributed to this story.

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