TRENTON – Democratic lawmakers rewrote the legislation establishing new limits on the carrying of concealed handguns Monday, securing the endorsement of police unions after changing it to ensure retired officers can continue to carry.

The bill was endorsed again by the Assembly Judiciary Committee and has now been passed by four Assembly committees in less than one month’s time. Its next action in the Legislature’s lower house might have to wait, though, as the next voting session isn’t scheduled until Dec. 15.

Update on Nov. 16: The Assembly added a voting session on Monday, Nov. 21, and included the gun legislation on its agenda.

Republicans still oppose the bill as unconstitutional and, due to the permit and insurance costs, unfair to lower-income residents. Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex, said that’s disingenuous.

“Does anybody really want to put more guns in the hands of people that live in Paterson and Newark and Elizabeth and Camden to say, ‘Here, all the money you’re charging isn’t fair, that’ll make things safer’?” McKeon said.

The Democratic struggle to craft a bill that can get the votes needed to pass – 41 in the Assembly, 21 in the Senate – comes following the June decision by the Supreme Court in a case out of New York that has the effect of also invalidating the system New Jersey has used to issue few concealed-carry permits.

But Brady: United Against Gun Violence lobbyist Rebecca Lubot says the Supreme Court decision that invalidated the old system did leave it to states to regulate things such as where guns could be carried.

“The definition of sensitive places has been conceived in terms of their characteristics – the physical traits and vulnerability of the people within them,” Lubot said. “We can’t just decide that places aren’t sensitive simply because there’s a lot of them.”

Critics of the bill say it’s so broad that it’s impossible to say where a gun could legally be carried.

“Yes, there are sensitive places that can be restricted,” said Assemblywoman Victoria Flynn, R-Monmouth. “But it didn’t mean that everywhere except for your home is that sensitive place.”

Christian Thomas, a safety officer at the RTSP shooting range in Union, said the bill “functionally voids” the right upheld by the Supreme Court in June.

“This bill is racist, classist, newly sexist and potentially deadly,” Thomas said.

The bill requires more comprehensive background checks to get a permit; prohibits guns from being carried in around two dozen types of public areas; and creates a requirement to carry liability insurance.

“When a permit-to-carry holder in your district is jammed up by this law, their family and their career ruined, we in the New Jersey gun community will be there on the ground, on social media, on billboards reminding everyone of your yes vote on this horrible bill,” said gun owner Brad Hendrick.

A police union lobbyist had spoken against earlier versions of the legislation, and it went through extensive changes to get their backing, in a bid to bring additional reluctant lawmakers on board.

“I would like to thank legislative leadership for agreeing to over 20 amendments at our request over the last several weeks to get this bill to a better place,” said Patrick Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association.

“Although we would like to have seen a few more changes, this bill respects the training, qualifications and tremendous experience our retirees deserve,” Colligan said. “They will remain an important component in keeping the residents and visitors of New Jersey safe and secure.”

“Our members served honorably and are highly trained and qualified to handle firearms and should not have any restrictions burdening them,” said George Wren, president of the Former Troopers Association.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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