A push to cut those caught with guns a little slack
Over the past few months there have been several stories in the news of residents from other states who have gun permits being arrested and facing time behind bars for accidentally bringing their firearm into New Jersey.
The Garden State has a very strict gun possession law, which could result in at least three years in jail for anyone who violates the statute.
Now, however, some New Jersey legislators think the time has come to amend the law.
During a press conference Tuesday at the Statehouse, Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) said he’s pushing for a measure that recognizes “prosecutorial discretion when it comes to reducing the level of the crime and not imposing a mandatory jail term.”
He stressed a change is necessary “so when someone makes a mistake their entire life doesn’t go down the drain by going to state prison for three years.”
Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon agreed, saying this is not about weakening gun laws.
“It’s about getting rid of stupid laws that are destroying perfectly innocent reasonably behaving people,” O’Scanlon said,
O’Scanlon added when government passes laws "that help people and defend people from pain or suffering at the hands of someone else, it crosses the line of oppression, and we need to get away from that.”
Bramnick also said another reason why New Jersey’s gun law needs to be tweaked is because of situations that could result in the arrest of someone who has legally purchased a gun in another state, but brought it to New Jersey for a non-criminal purpose, such as giving a gift. If, for example, a grandmother from Pennsylvania legally buys a BB gun for her grandson, she could be arrested and placed behind bars if she brings the firearm to New Jersey, Bramnick said.
“It’s time for the Legislature to memorialize what I think most prosecutors would like us to do, give them discretion especially when we’re talking about out-of-state individuals,” he said.
The lawmaker also said we need to remember that “most prosecutors aren’t going to be willy-nillying - if that’s a word - dismissing gun charges.”
Bramnick said right now, a prosecutor can make a decision to not prosecute someone for gun possession, based on a directive from the Attorney General, rather than a state law, so they may be hesitant to make that call.
“The law is clear. There is no plea bargaining, it is minimum mandatory three years in prison for grandma, assuming she’s got a gun, right,” Bramnick said.
He also said someone could wind up going to jail for years for a stupid mistake if you have an unreasonable prosecutor who says “I’m going to follow what the Legislature says, I don’t care about some directive, Attorney Generals change.”
Bramnick said he is urging support for a measure already introduced by Assemblyman Ron Dancer that would make this change in the law, but he’s also open to other options as well, including drafting a new bill.
Democratic Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Union) issued a statement on Bramnick's Gun Possession Reform plan stating that the proposal would "give judges more discretion in gun cases where state prison is not appropriate."
According to the statement, the lawmakers agree that "certain 'possession' charges should not mandate state prison and prosecutors should have discretion pursuant to the Attorney Generals guidelines." Both legislators agreed to memorialize the guidelines in legislation, the statement indicates.