It's been just under a week since Gov. Phil Murphy outlined his $38.6 billion state budget, including a proposed $9 million hike on gun fees and taxes. And that's sent shockwaves through New Jersey's community of licensed gun owners and second amendment supporters.

Fred "Rick" Friedman, CEO and co-owner of gun range RTSP, said he's worried that if passed, the increases would make a constitutional right too expensive for a large part of the state's population.

As laid out in Murphy's budget blueprint, gun fees would increase from $5 to $100 for a firearms purchaser identification card, and from no charge to $50 for a duplicate ID card. They'd increase from $2 to $50 for a permit to purchase; from $20 to $400 for applications or renewals of gun-carry permits; and from $15 to $45 for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System review for firearms purchases.

“We’re not being terribly radical on this. Our current gun fees were set in 1966,” Murphy said in his budget address. “It’s now 2019. It’s actually cheaper to get a permit to purchase a handgun, $2, than it is to get a dog license in many of our communities.”

Additionally, a new excise tax on ammunition sales of 10 percent would generate $3.2 million. A new excise tax on firearms sales of 2.5 percent would generate $1.4 million.

Friedman said that Murphy trying to pass off the firearm-related increases as a money issue is "disingenuous" -- that' it's ultimately about effecting more gun control in NJ. He said the governor comparing the issue to the cost of a dog license isn't relevant, as dog ownership isn't protected by the U.S. Constitution.

He also said there are no other taxes associated with other constitutional rights, such as a fee for exercising freedom of speech on social media, or a tax to "attend a church, mosque or temple."

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, has suggested he's not eager to institute the fees.

“I think we’ve done a lot of gun reform in this state. We are the most progressive state in the nation when it comes to gun reform. And just to check a box to say you did something, I’m not sure that’s necessary,” Sweeney previously. “And I don’t think it’s going to raise a lot of money. But I’m always open. This is the beginning of the budget discussion. You never say never on anything, until we get through.”

Friedman said RTSP serves a wide cross-section of customers, from rural to urban and across income levels, and said there's notable concern about what the proposed fees and tax hikes could do to the affordability of gun ownership, whether for protection, sport or both.

As the state Legislature next will take up the Governor's budget proposal, Friedman said he hopes that gun owners and second amendment supporters are given a chance to be part of an honest conversation.

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