By David Levinsky Staff writer
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie signed 10 gun measures into law Thursday, but he held off on several others sent to him by the Legislature this summer, including the most controversial ones.
Among the measures Christie did sign was a bill banning people on the federal Terrorist Watch List from obtaining a New Jersey firearms identification card or permit as well as an anti-trafficking measure originally penned by Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, and co-sponsored by Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park.
Some of the other bills Christie signed into law would upgrade the penalties for unlawfully transferring a firearm to someone underage and for unlawful possession of firearms by people previously convicted of certain crimes, as well as a measure codifying that individual firearms records are not public records.
Another bill requires that certain mental health records be submitted for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The bills are the first gun measures signed by the governor. In late June, he vetoed a bill that sought to ban the state from investing pension money with businesses or companies that make or sell assault rifles.
Christie, a former federal prosecutor who is considered a leading Republican contender for the presidency in 2016, described all 10 bills as “common-sense measures” that would strengthen New Jersey’s existing gun laws and improve public safety with stronger penalties for people who commit gun crimes.
“As elected leaders, our first duty is to maintain public safety, and these new laws will help reduce gun violence and keep our streets and communities safer,” Christie said in a statement.
The anti-trafficking bill penned by Singleton and co-sponsored by Allen increases penalties for people convicted of gun trafficking, and permits authorities to seize and apply for forfeiture of motor vehicles used to transport illegal guns and mandates that they serve at least 85 percent of mandatory prison sentences. Their bill also increases penalties for gun dealers who knowingly sell firearms to “straw purchasers,” those who intend to transfer the weapons to people banned from owning a gun.
“Many of the weapons used in gun crimes are brought into the state illegally. This law sends a clear message that if you engage in illegal gun trafficking at any level, you will be punished,” Singleton said Thursday. “If you smuggle guns, understand that you are going to spend a considerable time in jail. If you’re an authorized dealer who knowingly sells guns to individuals who otherwise would not be allowed to own a gun, you will serve time and maybe even lose your license.”
The anti-trafficking bill was one of only a few approved by the Legislature that gun owner groups supported, along with the bill clarifying that gun records are exempt from the state’s Open Public Records Act.
Among the gun bills still on Christie’s desk was one that would overhaul the state’s gun permitting system to allow instant background checks of would-be gun buyers and instant revocations of permits of people convicted or sentenced to involuntary commitment.
The bill, which is considered the centerpiece of a gun package written by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd of West Deptford, and other Democratic senators, would also require safety training for anyone interest in obtaining a permit.
Another bill that Christie hasn’t acted on would ban the sale of powerful .50-caliber Barrett rifles.
Gun owners and gun lobbyists have vocally opposed both measures, while gun control advocates have pushed hard for their passage.
“Gov. Christie’s signature on 10 gun violence prevention bills this afternoon is certainly a step in the right direction, but make no mistake, it is only a step,” said Bryan Miller, a leader with the advocacy group New Jerseyans for Safety From Gun Violence. “In order to truly protect the lives, homes, schools and neighborhoods of the Garden State, he must complete the task before him and sign the remaining gun violence prevention bills on his desk.”