Murphy, sending a ‘strong and clear message,’ signs 6 gun control bills into law

TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy, declaring he was sending “a strong and clear message” to President Donald Trump, signed six gun control bills into law during an hourlong ceremony Wednesday attended by hundreds of gun control advocates and a survivor of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting.

Some of the laws merely align New Jersey with already existing federal laws and formally roll back a Christie administration regulation. Others are more substantial and controversial, including reducing the permitted size of ammunition clips.

Murphy and others who attended the signing ceremony at the Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton were all about the larger message the new laws send to Washington.

“It sends a strong and clear message to our president, to our Republican leadership in Congress and to the corporate gun lobby: We are going to be a leader in the fight for common-sense gun safety laws,” said Murphy, a Democrat who office in January.

Toms River high school student Zach Dougherty, who has organized a local effort to push for gun control measures, introduced Murphy, who sat beside Alfonso Calderon, a survivor of the Parkland school shooting who has traveled the country to advocate for gun control.

“We have one message to all of those politicians who won’t wear their pride on their sleeve, who won’t stand up to the [National Rifle Association] and who won’t be decent human beings: We’re going to vote them out,” Calderon said.

The ceremony lasted an hour, with speakers repeatedly urging the crowd to vote for candidates who will support stronger gun control measures. Gun control is one of the biggest issues on which the Murphy administration is at odds with the Trump administration, though the governor has also taken a high-profile role fighting Trump on tax policy and health care.

New Jersey already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation. The bills Murphy signed Wednesday, though limited in scope, make them even tougher.

Perhaps the most far-reaching bill in the package, NJ A2761 (18R), reduces the permitted size of ammunition magazines from 15 rounds to 10. It was repeatedly vetoed by former Republican Gov. Chris Christie. The measure had been promoted by families of first graders killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, as well as former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, herself a shooting victim.

That bill passed largely along party lines in the Legislature. The Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, a gun-rights group, filed a federal lawsuit to overturn it within minutes of Murphy signing it.

“It turns 1 million people into criminals with the stroke of a pen, limits self-defense and takes away property lawfully acquired,” said Scott Bach, the group’s executive director. “Buy it yesterday, ban it today, go to prison tomorrow — it’s the Jersey way. The goal of our lawsuit is to boot this law, which makes no one safer, into the trash heap of history where it belongs.”

Under the new law, owners of guns that only accept magazines that hold more than 10 rounds would be able to keep them as long as they register them with a law enforcement agency.

Most of the other bills Murphy signed passed in the Legislature with significant bipartisan support. They:

— Require law enforcement to seize firearms from individuals who mental health professionals determine are “likely to engage in conduct that poses a threat of serious harm to the patient or another person.” NJ A1181 (18R).

— Allow the family or household member of a gun owner who “poses a significant danger of bodily injury to self or others” to file a petition with law enforcement or state Superior Court for a temporary “extreme risk” protective order, allowing authorities to seize the weapon. NJ A1217 (18R).

— Formally roll back Christie’s regulative changes that made it slightly easier to qualify for a concealed carry permit in New Jersey by expanding the definition of “justifiable need.” It’s nearly impossible for anybody, save for retired law enforcement officers and members of a few select professions, to qualify for a concealed carry permit in New Jersey. The Murphy administration has already begun a regulative change to roll it back, but this requires that the state law be repealed for any further change. NJ A2758 (18R).

—Require background checks for all private gun sales and require sales to go through licensed dealers. Although buyers at private gun sales are already required to present purchase permits — they had to undergo a background check to obtain these permits — gun control advocates said this will strengthen the law by requiring background checks at the point of sale. NJ A2757 (18R).

— Put the federal definition of “armor-piercing ammunition” into state law. NJ A2759 (18R).

Democrats had run into a gun control wall in Christie, who, despite sounding a pro-gun control message early in his political career, resisted attempts to enact new laws and even sought to loosen them while laying the groundwork for his presidential run.

State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, one of the Legislature’s biggest gun control advocates, said “I’ve been angry, I’ve lost hope, I’ve cried in public more than my share over this issue.”

Referring to the Parkland students and others, Weinberg said that teenagers “came forward and have shown not only the willingness to speak the proverbial truth to power, but the willingness to stay the course.”

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced during Wednesday’s ceremony that New Jersey has, on behalf of a multi-state coalition, signed an amicus brief with Massachusetts in a case challenging that state’s law requiring residents to show what Grewal’s office described as an “individualized need” in order to legally carry a handgun.

“We can read the Second Amendment. We can understand the Second Amendment. We respect the Second Amendment,” Grewal said. “But that still leaves me a lot of room … to protect our residents and to take actions to protect our residents.”

Grewal this week also threatened legal action against the makers of so-called ghost gun components who sell and advertise the parts to New Jerseyans.

Still, some disagreements, even within the Democratic Party, remain on the issue of guns.

Murphy, in his proposed budget, has called for increasing fees for possessing and selling of guns, a plan Democratic lawmakers in Trenton are resisting. Murphy doubled down on his plan during Wednesday’s ceremony, asking, “What does that say about our priorities?”

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