Lawmakers seek to make gun buybacks annual event in NJ
Note: The bill was amended when advanced Jan. 5, 2018 by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee to reduce the number of required annual gun buybacks to three, rather than nine.
New Jersey has bought more than 20,000 firearms through buyback programs since 2012, with Gov. Chris Christie’s attorneys general calling it an important component of a broader strategy to reduce gun violence.
Now, in the waning days of the legislative session and Christie’s tenure, lawmakers may vote to make the buybacks more frequent and formal, including a tax credit to encourage donations to pay for the program.
A bill (S1154/A2374) requiring nine buyback programs a year, which has already been passed 52-17-5 by the Assembly, is scheduled for a Senate budget committee vote Thursday. It could then be passed Monday, the last day of the two-year legislative session.
“There’s nothing more important” than getting guns off the street, said state Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, a sponsor of the bill. “If guns are hanging around the street, they’re going to fall into the wrong hands for sure, and we want to get as many of them off the street as we can.”
The bill would require three buyback programs a year apiece in North Jersey, Central Jersey and South Jersey – “an attempt to be organized and frequent,” Greenstein said.
“Up to now, buybacks have been taking place, but only occasionally when the Attorney General’s Office decides to do it,” she said. “I think they’ve been somewhat successful, because buybacks have happened, but probably not anywhere near what we should be doing given the number in the state.”
Democrats in Trenton figure to act on a number of gun-related bills after Gov.-elect Phil Murphy takes office in mid-January. But they’re seeking an early start this week while Christie remains in charge with two proposals they think he might favor – a ban on bump stocks that allow semi-automatic guns to fire more quickly, plus the proposal making gun buybacks an annual event.
Over the last six years, Christie’s Department of Law and Public Safety conducted roughly a dozen gun buyback programs. A record of nearly 4,800 guns were turned in at the most recent buyback last summer, held at churches in Camden, Newark and Trenton, at which people were paid $100 to $200 for each gun surrendered, up to a maximum of three guns. The guns are then melted down.
No questions are asked at the gun buybacks, at which more than 2,000 firearms were turned in since 2012 that were illegal to possess in New Jersey.
The state has spent around $2.75 million buying back guns since 2012. Almost all of that money has come from money law-enforcement agencies had seized through asset forfeiture.
The current bill would also provide up to $2 million a year in income and corporate tax credits for donations to the program, which would put a small dent in state tax collections.