N.J. officials spar over gun reform, as U.S. Supreme Court rules on concealed carry

New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton

New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

As top Democratic officials in New Jersey renew calls for stricter gun laws in the state in the wake of recent mass shootings, lawmakers on the other side of the aisle want to loosen restrictions on gun owners — especially as it relates to concealed carry regulations. 

This week, committees in both the General Assembly and the state Senate held public hearings over a comprehensive gun package that Gov. Phil Murphy touts as “common sense” anti-gun violence measures. 

The package includes legislation that would require firearm safety training in order to receive a gun permit, require gun owners who move to New Jersey from out of state to register their firearms within 60 days, and ban .50 caliber rifles and body armor.

Other measures include legislation that would increase the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, regulate the sale of ammunition, and require firearm dealers to sell microstamping-enabled firearms at the discretion of the state Attorney General. 

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After hours of polarized public debate on Wednesday and Thursday, both the Assembly Judiciary Committee and the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee approved these measures.

Those approvals came as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that New York’s century-old concealed carry restrictions were unconstitutional. 

Based on a deeply flawed constitutional methodology, a right-wing majority on the United States Supreme Court has just said that states can no longer decide for ourselves how best to limit the proliferation of firearms in the public sphere. Let there be no mistake – this dangerous decision will make America a less safe country,” Murphy said.

Like New York, New Jersey is one of six “may-issue” states, which means law enforcement can use discretion in issuing concealed carry permits. 

Concealed carry is only allowed if a gun owner receives a New Jersey Permit to Carry a Handgun, or PCH. Though, it’s rare that a PCH is issued to ordinary citizens, because a gun owner must prove they have an urgent need based on a special danger to their life, according to the U.S. Concealed Carry Association. 

Since last year, Murphy has called on state lawmakers to pass tighter gun laws, despite the state already having some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. However, Republicans and even some Democratic leaders have pushed back. 

In February, newly elected Senator Ed Durr (R-Gloucester) introduced legislation that would remove the need to justify why a gun owner wants to obtain a concealed carry permit. It would also require 18 hours of gun safety training to obtain a carry permit. 

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Durr testified at Thursday’s Senate Law and Public Safety Committee hearing, urging lawmakers to reconsider passing the bills at hand and to allocate more funding to school security instead.

“We are now considering a package of gun bills that will do nothing to stop school shootings or better protect our children and their teachers,” Durr said.

“These proposals will only impact law-abiding citizens who will suffer a further corrosion of their rights,” he said. 

Gov. Murphy had hoped lawmakers would pass gun reform legislation during last year’s lame duck session, but then-Senate President Stephen Sweeney indicated that it was not a top priority. 

“I really want to focus on the 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,” Sweeney said at a voting session last December. 

It’s not clear if lawmakers will call a full vote on these measures before they go on summer recess later this month. 

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