Democrats say they’ll seek to block Gov. Chris Christie’s administration from making it easier for people to get permits to carry guns, though they also promise to draft a proposal meant to better enforce an oft-ignored requirement that police process gun permit applications within a month.

Christie on April 8 announced that the state would change the state’s famously stringent gun rules to allow serious but generalized threats to be sufficient reason for a person to be eligible to carry a gun. Two lawmakers and a group of gun-control groups say that’s too broad and overreaching.

“It would allow every cab driver, pizza delivery driver, Uber driver and anyone else living or working in a high-crime neighborhood to qualify for a firearm permit,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen.

“The change in regulation as promoted by the governor doesn’t just strip away the intent of the Legislature to limit who can carry outside the home, it is worded so vaguely that virtually anyone will be able to come up with a reason to carry a gun in public,” said Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Camden.

“Ultimately we believe that these changes would expand the scope of the right to carry well beyond, well beyond what is authorized under current law,” Weinberg said.

Greenwald and Weinberg are introducing a resolution that says the Christie administration’s proposal is inconsistent with the Legislature’s intent. It’s the start of a process that includes a public hearing and the chance for the Legislature to invalidate the proposal, if the administration doesn’t change or shelve it.

Christie’s office said the proposal maintains standards in existing state law.

“Contrary to the hysteria some people will always generate over gun rights, the proposed changes harmonize New Jersey firearm regulations with the existing Supreme Court precedent on an individual’s justifiable need to carry a handgun, while maintaining statutory standards that balance the safety of the general public with an individual’s Second Amendment right to bear arms," said spokesman Jeremy Rosen.

Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen, said national statistics show that violent crime goes down when states choose to become a ‘shall issue’ state for gun permits.

“The justifiable need requirement makes it virtually impossible for normal people in this state to get a permit to carry a firearm,” Cardinale said.

Christie in making the proposal referenced the case of Carol Bowne of Berlin, who was stabbed to death last June, allegedly by an ex-boyfriend against whom she had a restraining order, while she awaited an overdue response for her gun-permit application.

Lawmakers said that’s a tragic and sensational case that merits a legislative response but not the solution Christie proposes.

“A mass arming of our society is not in my opinion the right way to fix this problem,” Greenwald said. “The proposed regulation to allow a serious threat to be a justifiable need to receive a carry permit is reckless.”

“What happened in this case is not an excuse for expanding regulations and changing the intent of the law,” Weinberg said.

The presence of weapons makes domestic violence cases five times more deadly, said Jane Shivas, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence. She said abusive people threaten people with guns, if they have them, to frighten them into saying in an unsafe relationship.

“Increasing access to weapons is not going to save lives of victims of domestic violence. It will increase the risk of lethality in every domestic violence incident,” Shivas said.

Jane Shivas, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media)
Jane Shivas, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence (Michael Symons/Townsquare Media)

“It’s critical to reduce access of people who are abusive to guns because that is the way that we are going to protect the lives of victims of abuse in New Jersey,” Shivas said. “We need to strengthen our guns laws, not weaken them.”

Greenwald and Weinberg said they will propose legislation that seeks to standardize the process for approving gun permits by clarifying definitions and the time limits for local or county law enforcement to process applications.

Weinberg said time limits exist now – 30 days, theoretically – but “are followed less often than they should be.” Told by a reporter than in some towns applications aren’t acted upon for 18 months, she said: “That is not according to the law and shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

“It’s truly about bringing clarification, predictability and certainty to this process,” Greenwald said of the pending bill, which Weinberg said she hopes will be ready next week.

The Christie administration announced the proposed regulatory change at the same time as a guideline to law enforcement about the types of travel within the state that should not trigger charges that apply when a person legally transporting a gun while traveling deviates from a course of direct travel.

Weinberg said she and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, are discussing a legislative proposal that would address such situations, though they haven’t reached an agreement yet.

“I think if we can do something to leave more leeway to judges to decide those cases of somebody who is traveling through, is not engaging in selling guns, and has an appropriate permit from other whatever state he or she lives in and is just going through New Jersey, to allow judges to make a decision,” said Weinberg.

The Christie administration also issued a directive regarding quicker processing of gun permits.

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