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Governor Christie Signs Multiple Gun Measures into Law

Governor Christie today signed into law several new gun measures, including tightening mental health oversight, cracking down on illegal possession, banning release of gun owner information and more.

1) Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Troy Singleton, Tim Eustace and Reed Gusciora to tighten mental health oversight for gun owners has been signed into law.

The law (A-3717) makes it mandatory for the state to submit certain mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

“A crucial mental health reporting failure is what allowed the Virginia Tech shooter to purchase weapons despite being adjudicated mentally ill. Clearly, there needs to be greater coordination in incorporating mental health records into the background check process,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “The NICS relies on states to submit this information. If states fail to do so, the database will have incomplete or inaccurate records, allowing some individuals to purchase guns who should be prohibited. The goal of this law is to avoid that at all costs.”

The U.S. Department of Justice established the NICS for federally licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks on prospective gun purchasers. The NICS attains or accesses records from state police, local police and other agencies to determine if the prospective gun purchaser is prohibited from owning a firearm.

“These days it’s harder in some states to buy cold medicine than it is to buy a gun,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “A clean bill of mental health is a crucial component to building a safer gun culture.”

New Jersey has begun the process of implementing an electronic system to submit mental health records to the NICS, however submission of these records was not mandatory under former state law. The provisions of this law make the submission mandatory.

“A comprehensive and coordinated approach to mental health background checks is the most effective way to reduce the possibility of guns ending up in the wrong hands,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This is a smart approach to dealing with any correlation between gun violence and mental illness.”

“In the more recent mass tragedies we’ve witnessed, mental illness appears to be a common thread shared by the alleged shooters,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Tightening mental health oversight is one component, but a very important one.”

2) Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gilbert “Whip” Wilson and Gordon Johnson to toughen the penalties for anyone convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm has been signed into law.

“We need to send the strongest message possible that gun crimes will not be tolerated,” said Wilson (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This protects the rights of law-abiding gun owners while going after criminals.”

The law (A-4152) upgrades the unlawful possession of a firearm to a crime of the first degree in certain circumstances and amends various other penalty provisions for firearms convictions.

“Legal gun owners who adhere to the law would be further protected under this bill,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “Essentially, we’re saying, ‘We are taking back our streets and we’re not going to tolerate senseless gun violence in our communities anymore.’ ”

Specifically, the law will make it a crime of the first degree for a person to unlawfully possess a machine gun, handgun, rifle or shotgun, or an assault firearm following a conviction for a crime under the No Early Release Act.

Additionally, the bill would increase the mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility under the Graves Act from three years to 42 months. The Graves Act provides that a person convicted of unlawful possession of a machine gun, handgun, rifle or shotgun is subject to a mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility. In addition, the law adds the unlawful possession of an assault firearm to the list of crimes that are subject to Graves Act sentencing.

3) Legislation prohibiting the public release of the identities of firearms purchaser identification card holders and handgun purchaser permit holders was signed into law today by Gov. Christie.

Prior to the bill signing, access to such personal information is prohibited by regulation, but could have been obtained under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Law (OPRA).

The bill, A-3788, sponsored by Assembly Republican Conference Leader Dave Rible, prohibits such access as it codifies the regulation established by the state Attorney General.

“Releasing personal information about those who have firearms permits or licenses puts law enforcement officers and law-abiding citizens in harm’s way,” said Rible, R-Monmouth and Ocean, who is a retired police officer. “The new law now restricts such information to those in law enforcement or the courts.

“The old regulation addressing permit-holder information was subject to being changed without legislative approval,” continued Rible, who is a retired law enforcement officer. “The new law is an important step in safeguarding a person’s right to privacy and protecting them from potential predators. I appreciate the governor’s action on this bipartisan legislation.”

Rible’s bill was spurred in the aftermath of last December’s tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, a Rockland County newspaper published a story that included a map listing the names and addresses of people who have pistol permits. The information was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. A week after the story ran, the Rockland County sheriff held a news conference to discuss how inmates were approaching law enforcement officers telling them they knew where they lived.

4) Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Charles Mainor to establish a 180-day period for a person who unlawfully possesses an unlicensed and unregistered firearm to dispose of it by transferring it or turning it over to the police or rendering it inoperable is now law.

State law prohibits the manufacture, sale, or possession of assault firearms and large capacity ammunition magazines except under certain circumstances. Any persons who possessed an assault firearm on that law’s effective date were given one year to obtain a license for the firearm, render it permanently inoperable, sell it or turn it over to the police or dispose of it in some other legal manner.

The sponsor notes that the intent of this law is to once again allow people who possess illegal firearms and/or ammunition to get rid of it without penalty.

“New Jersey once provided an opportunity for residents to do the right thing and turn over assault weapons,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “We can provide that same encouragement again free of judgment, punishment, and penalty.

“We re-open that window of opportunity for a longer period of time to get as many firearms as we can out of the hands of the public for the safety of the community. These can be firearms inherited from family members and that have no use or purpose. Turning firearms like these over to the authorities would create safer homes and communities.”

Under the law’s (A-3796) provisions, a person who unlawfully possesses a handgun, rifle, or shotgun will be required either transfer that firearm to a person who may lawfully possess it or voluntarily surrender that firearm to the appropriate law enforcement agency or officer. The law excludes unlawfully possessed high capacity ammunition magazines and ammunition. This will be effective immediately and shall expire on the 181st day after enactment.

In the case of an assault firearm, any person who has in his possession an unlicensed or unregistered assault firearm will be required, within 180 days of the bill’s effective date, to: (1) transfer the assault firearm to any person or firm lawfully entitled to own or possess the firearm; (2) render the assault firearm inoperable; or (3) voluntarily surrender the assault firearm. If the person elects to render the firearm inoperable, he or she is required to file a certification on a form prescribed by the Superintendent of the State Police indicating the date on which the firearm was rendered inoperable. [TLS]

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