TRENTON – A package of gun-control bills supported by Gov. Phil Murphy advanced through two Assembly committees Monday, after lengthy debates and partisan divergences.

The package includes seven bills and one resolution. All the proposals were endorsed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee, and five were also given approvals later in the day by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“At the heart of all the bills that we’re talking about today is responsible gun ownership,” said Lorraine Lombardi, a volunteer for the New Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “And we feel that that is the key to safe communities.”

The votes on all the bills were along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

“I think the Democrats’ next move is to require 18th-century style muzzle-loading pistols that will be kept unloaded and have the people of New Jersey try to defend themselves with those,” said Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris. “This is absurd.”

Some Democrats expressed hesitation about some of the bills and indicated that they were not yet committed to supporting the bills in a later vote, perhaps depending on whether they’re amended. The package is now in position to be considered by the full Assembly, perhaps at its Dec. 20 voting session.

List of bills

The proposals include:

  • A1280   Revises the definition of destructive device to include certain weapons of 50 calibers or greater.
  • A1292   Regulates the sale of handgun ammunition and develops a system for electronic reporting of firearm information.
  • A3686   Requires firearm owners who become New Jersey residents to obtain a firearm purchaser identification card and register firearms acquired out-of-state.
  • A5030   Provides that firearms purchaser identification card is valid for four years; requires training prior to issuance of firearms cards and handgun purchase permits; revises procedures for passing of firearms to heir or legatee.
  • A5647   "New Jersey Safe Storage of Firearms Act"; establishes certain requirements and penalties regarding firearm storage; repeals law governing minor's access to a firearm; requires Attorney General to establish public awareness campaign regarding firearm storage; appropriates $500,000.
  • A5787   Requires newly manufactured semi-automatic handguns to be micro-stamped; establishes handgun database.
  • A6218   Allows Attorney General to bring a cause of action for certain public nuisance violations arising from the sale or marketing of firearms.
  • AR277   Supports Governor's call to reconvene the "States for Gun Safety" Summit and calls for the summit to reconvene as soon as it is safe for participants to attend.

It’s not clear how many of the bills Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, might post for consideration in the Legislature’s upper house. Just two of the bills are listed on the agenda for the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee meeting Thursday.

Guns over here, ammo over there

The vote on the safe-storage bill was stalled while the Murphy administration and Assembly Democratic representatives worked on amendments. The bill requires ammunition to be stored separately from guns, which critics said renders the gun useless in an emergency situation such as a break-in.

“At what point do we say we’re going to inconvenience a law-abiding gun owner with a constitutional right,” said Assemblyman Bob Auth, R-Bergen.

Assemblywoman Joann Downey, D-Monmouth, its lead sponsor, said it is better to rely on alternatives such as locking doors, perhaps installing an alarm system and having quick access to a phone to call the police for help.

“To leave it to the professionals to have the guns would be much better,” Downey said. “Again, it might not make people feel, you know, safer but there are other things hopefully that they can do.”

'Hidden gun ban'

The proposal allowing the attorney general to bring lawsuits related to gun marketing is a ploy to evade federal protections for lawful commerce, said Rob Nixon, a lobbyist for multiple gun-rights groups.

“This bill is yet another gun ban that’s wrapped inside threats that the state will simply sue lawful gun manufacturers out of business for the criminal behavior of third parties,” Nixon said.

Karen Kanter, the Middlesex County chair for the New Jersey chapter of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, said it’s needed.

“There is no question that gun violence is a public health issue and one that must be attacked from all sides,” Kanter said. “Indeed, our communities must be protected from the reckless marketing of guns, which has cost our state too many lives, too many injuries, too much fear.”

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Theresa Inacker, New Jersey state director for the gun-rights DC Project, said the bill making firearms purchaser identification cards valid for four years, rather than indefinitely, is unworkable given that it has already taken her as long as six and a half months to get a handgun permit in New Jersey.

“These timeframes and these ideas about renewals – fix your system first,” Inacker said. “Fix your house first.”

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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