Explainer: N.J.’s proposal to reduce the size of ammo clips

New Jersey is one of only eight states in the nation that limits the capacity of ammunition magazines – the storage device that feeds a firearm its ammunition – for semi-automatic rifles.

The state currently limits the number of rounds in clips to 15, but legislation (A-2006/S-993) on the governor’s desk would reduce that number to 10.

Advocates of the change say there is little reason to allow larger clips and that the reduction would force shooters – especially mass shooters – to pause in their reload more frequently. Critics of the change say it will do little to slow mass shooters, while making it harder for law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves against a threat.

Gov. Chris Christie has until late June to act on the legislation.

Who favors the bill?Ceasefire NJ, a New Jersey group, and national gun safety organizations including Heeding God’s Call, Sandy Hook Promise have been involved in organizing and testifying on behalf of the bill.

Sandy Hook Promise has started an online petition seeking to convince the governor to sign A-2006 into law. They say that smaller magazines would give law enforcement more chances to interrupt a shooting spree. They point to the 2011 Tucson, AZ, shooting in which U.S. Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords was critically injured and six others died. The shooter in that case, Jared Lee Loughner, reported paused in his attack to reload, dropped the fresh magazine, and was tackled by bystanders.

Who opposes the bill?The National Rifle Association and groups like the N.J. Second Amendment Society and the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs oppose the bill.

Gun-rights advocates offer two basic explanations for their opposition: They say that it would have little effect because magazines can be replaced quickly by an experienced gun owner and because that mass shooters often carry multiple loaded weapons.

However, other critics of the legislation argue it would limit the ability of gun owners to protect themselves if they had to take the time to stop and reload.

What do other states do?Six states – California, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Massachusetts and Hawaii – allow a maximum of 10 rounds. New Jersey and Colorado have 15-round limits. Colorado imposed the 15-round limit in 2013.

The remaining 42 states do not limit the number of rounds that can be held by a magazine.

Two national groups ranked New Jersey as having the third-strongest gun laws in the nation and said that the state had the fifth-lowest rate of gun deaths.

However, the Second Amendment Society and the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs say the state’s gun laws are punitive and infringe upon the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

Where does the bill stand?

The bill was introduced in the Assembly on Jan. 16 and in the state Senate on Jan. 27. Its primary sponsors are Democrats Louis Greenwald, Annette Quijano, Gordon Johnson and Mila Jasey in the Assembly and Democrats Loretta Weinberg and Nia Gill in the Senate.

The bill initially passed the Assembly on March 20, by a 46-31 vote. Two South Jersey Democrats – Bob Andrzejczak, who represents Cape May, and Celeste Riley, who represents Salem, voted no. Christopher J. Brown, who represents Burlington, was the lone Republican to vote yes.

The bill was modified in the Senate and approved 22-17 on May 12. Democrat Jim Whelan, who represents Cape May, was the lone Democrat to join all 17 Republicans in voting against the bill.

The Assembly passed the modified version 44-34. Two Democrats who originally voted yes, Pamela Lampitt and Shavonda Sumter, did not vote. Three Republicans who originally did not vote – Anthony M. Bucco, Declan O’Scanlon and David Wolfe – voted against the bill.

The bill has been sent to the governor, though the governor’s office could not confirm when it was received.

Why wasn’t the bill included in the gun-safety package passed in 2013?That package passed by the state Legislature included several elements – a ban on .50-caliber weapons, a new gun -permitting process and ID format, and several anti-trafficking measures.

Three bills calling for lowering the magazine limit were introduced in early 2013, including one that that passed the Assembly by a 54-30 vote.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) refused to allow the bill to advance in the state Senate, saying it would be ineffective and that it offered “false hope.”

Pollsters at the time said Sweeney may have been seeking to protect South Jersey Democrats during the 2013 election.

In February, after meeting with families of the 2012 Sandy Hook, CT, mass shooting, he announced he had changed his mind. The Senate president is widely believed to be planning a run for governor in 2017.

Will Christie sign the bill?The governor has not commented on the legislation and has not spoken specifically about ammo-magazine size in the past. He must act within 45 days from the date when the bill was submitted for his signature.

If he vetoes the bill, it is unlikely that the Democrats would be able to muster the two-thirds-plus-one supermajority in both houses of the Legislature required to override a veto, given that the original vote broke down on party lines.

The governor signed several gun-control and gun-safety bills into law in August, but vetoed a number of other bills last year, including a proposed ban on .50-caliber weapons in the state. Christie has repeatedly said that the state’s gun laws are already among the strongest in the nation and that the state should focus on other aspects of the gun debate.

The governor last year announced announced a gun-safety initiative that focused on stiffening penalties for trafficking of stolen guns, reforming the bail system, limiting access for minors to violent video games, and changing mental-health rules regarding involuntary commitment of potentially dangerous people.

Several of the trafficking and bail recommendations were included in the legislation he signed, but other elements of his proposal have yet to be acted upon.

The governor’s apparent presidential ambitions have helped frame his stance on the gun issue, pollsters have said, because Republican primary voters — especially in the South — are extremely pro-gun and tend to vote on the issue. New Jersey voters, they say, are less likely to make gun-control a primary voting issue.


NJ Spotlight, an independent online news service on issues critical to New Jersey, makes its in-depth reporting available to NewsWorks.

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