Guns & Christie

Here's my story in today's paper about a violence task force that released a report to the gov about what to do about guns: 

TRENTON - Gov. Christie should tighten some gun laws but doesn't need to enact major initiatives such as expanded background checks, a ban on Internet gun sales, or new limits on high-capacity magazines, according to a report Tuesday from a task force he commissioned.

The report, released nearly a month after Christie's deadline and on a day a breakthrough emerged in Congress on federal legislation to curb gun violence, is expected to form the basis of antiviolence policy proposals that the Republican governor will release next week.

The Democrats who control the state Assembly, however, have moved more dramatic bills regulating firearms, so the relatively tepid task force report could set up a major political fight during Christie's reelection year.

Christie's expected opponent in the fall, Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex), attacked the findings.

"People overwhelmingly want additional gun control measures, but this report gives him more cover," she said in an interview. "It plays to his base for his future [political] ambitions instead of keeping our children safe."

When he appointed the task force in January amid a national outcry over the mass murder of elementary school children in Newtown, Conn., Christie said that he saw antiviolence efforts as about more than gun control. The effects of video games, substance abuse, and mental illness must also be considered, he said.

And so several suggestions came in those areas. For example, the task force said that minors shouldn't be allowed to buy video games that are rated "Mature" or "Adults Only" unless accompanied by an adult.

The task force recommended that public service announcements and other outreach be used to "combat the stigma" of mental illness. It also called for the expansion of outpatient crisis clinics and mobile outreach programs for at-risk teens.

The report addressed violence in schools but fell short of recommending an armed adult in every building, as the National Rifle Association has called for. It said the state should have a system for students to anonymously report bullying and violence.

Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, released a statement that repeated the governor's argument that dealing with violence was not just about guns. 

"While New Jersey has some of the strictest gun and licensing laws in the nation, which the governor supports, a wider view was necessary to not only evaluate gun control in the state, but to consider other elements that often intersect in instances of extreme gun violence," he said.

New Jersey is one of the few states that has a ban on military-style assault weapons.

Much of the 95-page report from the group, dubbed the SAFE Task Force and chaired by two former state attorneys general, Peter G. Verniero and John J. Degnan, gave an overview of New Jersey's current gun laws and the arguments on all sides of the issue.

The task force held three public hearings, including one in Camden, which is plagued by gun violence.

On one question - whether to lower the already strict limit on magazines, as some states are doing - the task force "reached no consensus" and said policymakers should "further consider this question."

Here are some of the group's 50 findings:

  • It is "unwarranted" to require mental health screenings for those seeking gun permits - unless a law enforcement agency believes an applicant poses a risk to public safety.
  • Close the loophole omitting the unlawful possession of an assault firearm from the mandatory minimum sentencing law.
  • Increase the penalties for possessing a firearm with prohibited ammunition (like body armor piercing bullets).
  • Upgrade firearms purchaser ID cards to include photographs and an electronic strip, as on a credit card, to enable real-time communication between the seller and the state police. The cards should be periodically renewed.
  • A "straw purchaser" who transfers a firearm or ammunition to another person and conceals that should face the same punishment as someone convicted of unlawful possession.
  • Those who sell ammunition online should be forced to verify the identity of purchasers and document transactions.