Gun safety bills mostly stalled in NJ legislature, despite action in NY and Congress

Gun safety bills mostly stalled in NJ legislature, despite action in NY and Congress

In the senate, Scutari’s spokesman pointed to a statement last month after the Uvalde school massacre, in which Scutari said he “will keep an open mind” on bills to reduce gun violence. Scutari did not respond to a text message seeking additional comment.

Meanwhile, Scutari’s left flank is restless. Sue Altman, executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, said the gun control proposals are “very, very popular among New Jerseyans, so it seems inexplicable to me that [Scutari] can’t leverage his power as senate president to get the votes if he really wanted to.”

“If we’re not going to be able to do it on the heels of two of the most public gun tragedies in our nation’s history, then I don’t know when we do it,” Altman said, referring to the shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo.”I think it’s a real problem for Democrats if, when they’re in power, they still can’t get things done.”

The Democrats have majorities in both legislative chambers.

Activists want the bills voted on by June 30th, when a flurry of legislative action typically wraps up before a summer break. The proposed bills further regulate legal gun ownership in a range of ways, including: requiring gun permit applicants to complete a firearm safety training course, mandating firearms get stored in locked containers, raising the age required to purchase some guns, and banning .50-caliber weapons.

The most controversial bill mandates gun owners store their weapons in a lockbox or safe. Gun rights groups like the NRA oppose all of the measures, saying they won’t prevent crime and infringe on the right to self-defense.

A proposal, similar to a law signed in New York last year, would allow gun manufacturers to be sued by the state for public harm. Unlike the other proposals, that bill moved Monday when it passed the Senate Judiciary committee, with Democratic support and Republican opposition.

Notably, the second-highest ranking senator after Scutari, Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, spoke at a gun control rally on Saturday. And on Tuesday, she joined the state attorney general for a live demonstration of microstamping technology. One of the bills under consideration would mandate microstamps on cartridge casings on newly manufactured semi-automatic pistols in order to trace bullet casings to the gun that it was fired from.

One explanation for Scutari’s apparent hesitation in acting on the bills is conflicting political priorities, said Matthew Hale, a Seton Hall University political scientist. Murphy previously signed laws reducing the maximum capacity of ammunition magazines and banning ghost guns, and Hale said Murphy hopes to build on his gun safety record “as one of his entryways into national politics.”

But Scutari, Hale said, “doesn’t have the same sense of urgency to act.” Plus, “he has to make sure he has all the votes he needs to pass what would be some of the most aggressive gun control measures in the nation. Every policy ideal must get through the practical and transactional parts of New Jersey politics.”

Indeed Scutari leads a Democratic caucus that shrunk in size due to stinging election defeats last November, including former Senate President Steve Sweeney, who was ousted by a Republican political neophyte. In the lower house, Assemblymember Joann Downey, who had sponsored prior gun safety bills, was also voted out of office in a close race with Republican Kimberly Eulner.

New Jersey has the second strongest gun safety laws in the country, according to the Giffords Law Center, and the third lowest gun death rate. Proponents say that’s no coincidence. But the Star-Ledger reported Tuesday that part of the hesitancy to pass new measures is exactly because New Jersey already has strict laws, and some lawmakers don’t think new regulations will make the state safer.

Eytan Stern Weber of the state’s chapter of Moms Demand Action said “every single one of [the bills] will save lives.”

“We just want to show [Scutari] with no uncertain terms that this is our top priority,” said Stern Weber, who is a gun owner himself. “We call, we write, we post on social media, we get our message out there to say that violence is not a political issue. Everyone wants to be safe.”

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