Fate of proposed gun safety bills uncertain in N.J. as lame duck session nears the end

N.J. General Assembly voting on a bill to address gun violence on Monday, December 20, 2021. (Tennyson Donyéa / WHYY)

N.J. General Assembly voting on a bill to address gun violence on Monday, December 20, 2021. (Tennyson Donyéa / WHYY)

New Jersey lawmakers took action Monday on parts of a gun reform package backed by Gov. Phil Murphy, but it’s unclear if any of those measures — and any measures not voted on this week — will be signed into law during the lame duck session.

Proponents say the bundle, nearly a dozen that would do things like ban .50 caliber weapons and require gun owners who move from out-of-state to register their guns, could help curb gun violence in some of the state’s major cities.

On Monday, the General Assembly passed the latter bill by a 47-26 vote. It also passed a resolution supporting Murphy’s call to reconvene the States For Gun Safety summit — a regional summit that draws officials from several U.S. states to discuss gun violence and safety.

Both houses unanimously passed a bill to ensure students’ well-being during school active shooter drills. It would prohibit the use of panic or trauma-inducing content and imagery in instructional material.

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The Assembly had planned to vote on at least a half dozen other gun measures on Monday, but a kind of filibuster initiated by a handful of Republicans protesting a State House vaccine-or-negative test mandate caused the voting session to stretch late into the night.

Outgoing Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) did not say whether his chamber will take up the rest of the gun bills when the Legislature returns from its holiday recess the first week of January.

“Anything is possible,” Sweeney said. “Right now, I really want to focus on illegal guns. They’re the ones that are actually killing people in the streets. And none of the bills that we’re talking about right now addresses that.”

Murphy’s administration hopes the entire Legislature will pass bills that would require state gun manufacturers to implement microstamping technology; punish gun owners who don’t properly store their firearms in a gun safe or lockbox; require gun owners to renew their purchaser’s firearm card every four years; and require ammunition manufacturers to create an electronic database for every sale.

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Micah Rasmussen, a political analyst and director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, said lawmakers might have difficulty passing some of those bills because they may unintentionally target law-abiding gun owners — in a state that already has some of the tightest gun laws in the country.

“If you enact requirements that don’t make sense, then there’s every chance in the world that a law is going to be challenged and could be overturned or thrown out by the courts,” Rasmussen said. “And I’m sure that they don’t want that to happen.”

While an Assembly committee cleared nine gun-control bills during a hearing last week, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed similar concerns.

Murphy said he is confident the bills will pass before the session ends in January.

The current legislative session ends at noon on Jan. 11.

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