N.J. gun-control bills draw fire, but pass committee
TRENTON - About 400 gun-rights advocates flooded the Statehouse on Wednesday to protest a slate of bills that would tighten New Jersey's already-strict gun laws.
Gun owners argued that the Democratic-led Legislature was rushing through a package of "feel-good" bills that would not curb gun violence but would frustrate legal gun owners' rights to protect themselves and their families.
The handful of supporters who testified in favor of the bills called them "commonsense" reforms. The measures seek, among other changes, to limit magazine capacity to 10 bullets from 15, ban online sales of guns and ammunition, and forbid gun ownership for anyone on the FBI's terrorist watch list.
"Why is 10 better than 15?" asked Frank Jack Fiamingo, president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society. "The criminal is going to use a 30-round magazine. He is not going to care about your 10-round magazine law."
Nicola Bocour, project director for Ceasefire NJ, said reducing the number of bullets in a magazine could save lives. She noted that Jared Lee Loughner, who opened fire at an Arizona public event and shot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011, was tackled when he stopped to reload. He shot 19 people, killing six with a Glock 9mm. He used a 33-round magazine.
Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D., Union) noted that it was the 13th bullet that killed 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, the youngest victim of the shooting.
"Why 10, not 15? There's your reason," he said. "For some of us, we think that matters."
The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee moved all 23 bills out of committee after a hearing that lasted more than seven hours. The full Assembly is expected to vote on the bills next Thursday.
Assemblyman Sean Kean (R., Monmouth) criticized Democratic leaders for putting two dozen bills on one hearing agenda, saying the bills deserved slower deliberation.
Committee Chairman Charles Mainor (D., Hudson) created a stir when he tried to limit testimony preceding the votes. He planned to have the committee vote on all the measures before allowing testimony from the dozens who signed up to speak. Mainor reversed his decision after an outcry from Republican committee members.
The committee took testimony throughout the hearing, voting on the majority of the measures at the end. As a result, public comment meandered at times to such topics as abortion and included several references to Hitler.
The hearing turned nasty almost immediately after it began around 10:30 a.m. After the first speaker, Democratic Mayor Jerramiah Healy of Jersey City, testified in favor of the bills, someone shouted, "Shill!"
People heckled Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) when she exceeded her time limit. Later, people yelled questions at a minister who spoke in support of the bills.
"I'm afraid of what's going on right here," said the Rev. Craig Hirshberg, executive director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry. "I do not own a gun, and the anger that is coming out today is frightening to me."
At one point, tea-party activist Nora Craig admonished Mainor for chatting with someone while she was testifying.
"This is my meeting," Mainor said.
"This House is my House," Craig yelled in response as the crowd whooped with delight.
When Craig reached her two-minute limit, Mainor told her that her time was up.
"I hope your time is up in November," she said. All 120 legislators face reelection this year.
Although the federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004, New Jersey's ban, enacted in 1991, remains in force. Gun owners must register their weapons with the state, and very few people are granted concealed-carry permits.
One bill all sides agreed on Wednesday would keep gun-owner records private, exempting them from public-records law.
Other bills would ban possession of armor-piercing bullets and weapons of .50 caliber or greater (with certain exceptions for antique rifles). Another bill would require mental-health records of gun owners to be submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and give authority to law enforcement to seize firearms from a person who is deemed by a psychological professional to be a danger to himself or to others.
Democrats made political hay when three Republicans on the committee declined to support a bill that would prevent those named in the FBI Terrorist Watch List from buying a gun.
Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose (R., Sussex) compared the bill to McCarthyism. The list is secret and people with no connection to terrorism sometimes find that they have been placed on it.
"This bill in my mind brings up memories of the 1950s, and Hollywood and the witch hunt that went on regarding communism," she said.
Cryan said he was "flabbergasted" that three GOP members didn't support the bill.
"What could be more commonsense than that?" he asked.
Contact Joelle Farrell at 856-779-3237 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joellefarrell.