On Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that would have banned the sale of gun magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets. Calling the ammo limitation law “trivial,” Christie railed against “following this well-worn path” of ammunition limitations and instead called for reducing gun violence by “fixing critical shortcomings and cracks in the mental health system.”
The existing magazine limit in New Jersey is 15 bullets, one of ten states with some restriction on magazine capacity.
In his veto message, Christie replaced that restriction with recommendations for expanded mental health services, echoing the findings in a 2013 report from his NJ SAFE Task Force. Convened after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., the task force investigated the relationship between gun control, urban violence, mental illness, substance abuse, violence in the media, and school security.
Recommendations include changing what it takes to force someone into mental health treatment, whether inpatient and outpatient. They also suggested how to limit gun sales to people who have been committed. Training first-responders on mental health issues and crisis de-escalation was also suggested.
A spokesman for Gov. Christie declined to discuss the conditional veto, only forwarding Christie’s message to the legislature.
Phil Lubitz, associate director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in New Jersey, says the governor’s plan improves existing laws by getting people with serious mental into treatment earlier. “It’s the hope of advocates that the law would allow for early intervention so that they would not need hospitalization prior to imposing involuntary treatment,” said Lubitz.
“We believe people should be treated on the basis of needing treatment, rather at the point where they become a danger to themselves or others,” said Lubitz. He says that the current standard for involuntary commitment is unclear and mandatory outpatient treatment has been under-utilized. He thinks clearer boundaries between the two types will open up more treatment options.
Still, Lubitz fears that talking about mental health in the context of reducing gun violence re-inforces stigma. “It’s a double-edged sword. It clearly enhances the stigma towards people with mental illness. On the other hand, it’s a motivator for people to direct more resources to mental health services,” said Lubitz.
Parents of children killed at Sandy Hook had lobbied hard for the original magazine limit legislation. On the day of the veto, they submitted a petition with 55,000 signatures to the governor in support of it.