Legislation is Part of Assembly's Comprehensive Anti-Gun Violence Initiative
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Troy Singleton, Tim Eustace and Reed Gusciora to tighten mental health oversight for gun owners was given final legislative approval 38-0 by the full Senate on Thursday.
The measure is part of the comprehensive Assembly Democratic anti-gun violence initiative, which is comprised of roughly two dozen bills. The bill (A-3717) would make it mandatory for the state to submit certain mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
The Assembly originally approved the measure in February, but it was amended by the Senate earlier this month and inadvertently omitted voluntary records as part of the data that is to be transmitted to NICS. The Assembly amended the bill last week to tighten the language to ensure that both involuntary and voluntary records are included in the data transmitted to NICS, sending it back to the Senate for final concurrence today.
"A crucial mental health reporting failure is what allowed the Virginia Tech shooter to purchase weapons despite being adjudicated mentally ill. Clearly, there needs to be greater coordination in incorporating mental health records into the background check process," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "The NICS relies on states to submit this information. If states fail to do so, the database will have incomplete or inaccurate records, allowing some individuals to purchase guns who should be prohibited. The goal of this legislation is to avoid that at all costs."
The U.S. Department of Justice established the NICS for federally licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks on prospective gun purchasers. The NICS attains or accesses records from state police, local police and other agencies to determine if the prospective gun purchaser is prohibited from owning a firearm.
"These days it's harder in some states to buy cold medicine than it is to buy a gun," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "A clean bill of mental health is a crucial component to building a safer gun culture."
New Jersey has begun the process of implementing an electronic system to submit mental health records to the NICS, however submission of these records is not mandatory under current state law. The provisions of this bill would make the submission mandatory.
"A comprehensive and coordinated approach to mental health background checks is the most effective way to reduce the possibility of guns ending up in the wrong hands," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This is a smart approach to dealing with any correlation between gun violence and mental illness."
"In the more recent mass tragedies we've witnessed, mental illness appears to be a common thread shared by the alleged shooters," said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "Tightening mental health oversight is one component, but a very important one, in a comprehensive package of bills that will hopefully help curb gun violence."
The measure now heads to the Governor's desk for action.