Senator: Make it easy for politicians to carry guns, no change for everyone else
In 1974, a distraught teenager who'd been previously ejected from Wanaque Judge Joseph Crescente's courtroom fired a gun from the street into the building, killing the 71-year-old judge and shocking the 50 people in the courtroom.
State Sen. Gerry Cardinale (R-Cresskill) said he wants to make sure that never happens again. He said given today's "emotionally charged" legal and political scenes, it's time to arm judges and other public officials.
Cardinale is sponsoring a bill that would allow state legislators, and municipal and Superior Court judges to obtain permits to carry handguns if they complete at least eight hours of safety training.
A public official wouldn't have to satisfy the state's difficult-to-meet "justifiable need" requirement — that is, he or she wouldn't have to prove to a local police department and then a Superior Court judge the firearm is needed for personal protection.
Gun permits are rarely issued in New Jersey because few applications pass that threshold. An applicant must be able to demonstrate specific threats or previous attacks that cause a "special danger to the applicant's life that cannot be avoided by other means" under New Jersey law.
Alexander Roubian, president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, would like the "justifiable need" requirement waved entirely. But for the restriction to remain in place while being waved for public officials, he said, is "completely hypocritical."
Judges and politicians are generally well-guarded by security and they have easy access to police, Roubian noted. And, he argued, they're already more likely than average citizens to pass the "justifiable need" test because they're friends with the judges who issue the permits.
"Basically, this is a clear-cut example of how New Jersey operates as a fiefdom. The politicians' and the judges' lives, they truly believe, are more valuable than those of average citizens like you and I," Roubian said.
The "justifiable need" restriction is in place "to promote public safety by keeping firearms out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them," Cardinale said.
The senator also said he is concerned about recidivism and retaliation against judges, and believes the knowledge that a public official could have a firearm — whether that person actually does or not — could be enough to deter criminals.
"Every criminal knows that the judge is very unlikely to be armed," Cardinale said. "What common sense notion is that, that we are creating greater public safety by depriving judges of a right to carry?"
The way the present legislation is worded "doesn't make any sense" to Cardinale.
"I don't believe that judges have a high likelihood of misusing firearms if they have them in their possession," he said, adding that judges are trusted officials who are thoroughly vetted during their nomination processes, including background checks by the New Jersey State Police.
That's not enough for Roubian, who said there should "never be any rights that certain elitists have that the rest of us don't."
For Cardinale, curbing crime remains at the heart of his bill.
"If we have a law that assures criminals that they will not be met with equal force, we're encouraging criminality," Cardinale said.
Louis C. Hochman contributed to this report.