3 new NJ laws to combat gun violence — but not through gun control
Three new state laws intended to reduce gun violence were enacted Monday, in the wake of mass shootings over the weekend in Texas and Ohio in which more than 30 people were killed.
The new laws seek to install violence intervention programs in hospitals that would offer information and resources to victims of violence, not limited to those who are shot, that they could use to improve their lives and hopefully avoid being involved in future violence – either as a victim or perpetrator.
University Hospital in Newark has New Jersey’s first hospital-based violence intervention program. Program support specialist Michael Ordonez said in its first two years, the program has served 189 victims of violent crime and there have been just three cases of recidivism.
“During these intense personal moments, our community outreach workers establish vital bonds with our participants, as we move through the moments of survival and recovery,” Ordonez said. “These bonds lay the groundwork that allow the community outreach workers to meaningfully intervene with our patients and engage in serious lifestyle considerations that extend beyond the physical boundaries of the hospital. These dramatic events can often serve as a catalyst to real and meaningful change.”
Acting Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, who used to be University Hospital’s acting chief executive officer, said intervention programs “may change the trajectory of a victim’s life, giving hope to the hopeless.”
“This is a public health crisis, and it requires all of our resources – our political, public health and community leaders, our leaders of faith, our first responders and our hospitals and health care providers. All of us,” Persichilli said.
The chief proponent of the new laws was Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, D-Camden, who said the intervention programs have been shown to reduce recidivism by 400%.
“This does not threaten anybody’s constitutional rights. It improves the quality of life and the life and liberty of victims and families going forward,” Greenwald said.
The new laws are:
- S3301: Establishes "Hospital-Based Violence Intervention Program Initiative" in the Department of Health.
- S3312: Requires certain hospitals to provide hospital-based or hospital-linked violence intervention programs, in order to be designated as Level One or Level Two trauma centers.
- S3323: Requires the Victims of Crime Compensation Office’s victim counseling service to partner with trauma centers to refer certain victims to violence intervention programs.
They were signed by Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who is acting governor until Gov. Phil Murphy returns Wednesday from a family vacation in Italy.
Oliver Monday was the first of many speakers to make references to the weekend shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas, also mentioning Gilroy, California, where a gunman killed three people in a July 28 mass shooting at a festival.
She called the three “all-American legacy cities now linked by what is rapidly becoming the most all-American instances.”
“We cannot continue to be the only advanced country on this planet where such acts of domestic terrorism not only happen so regularly yet elicit so little action from our national leaders beyond their muffled thoughts and prayers,” Oliver said. “Thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers aren’t strong enough. It is well past the time for action in this nation.”
Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, blamed President Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric for the El Paso shooting, saying he bears “the culpability of setting flame to coals filled with hate.”
“That individual came for people who look like me because we are sitting in an era that is filled with hate and venom,” Ruiz said.
“And so New Jersey has stood up, but this country has to stand up,” Ruiz said. “We took no action after Sandy Hook, and I hope now congressional leaders and that Washington will wake up.”
Another related bill, S3309, which would establish the New Jersey Violence Intervention Program to fund violence reduction initiatives, was not signed by Oliver. The Governor’s Office said that bill is still under review.