Trenton - Gov. Chris Christie signed 10 gun bills today, ranging from measures aimed at stiffening penalties for the unlawful possession and smuggling of firearms to requiring the state to submit mental health records to the federal government.
But the governor left five weapons-related bills on his desk, including some that could prove thorny as he campaigns for re-election in November and a possible presidential run in 2016.
One measure (S2723) awaiting Christie’s signature and sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney would overhaul how the state issues firearm permits and require buyers to show they have completed a safety-training course.
Another bill (A3659) that the governor promoted would ban .50 caliber rifles, the most powerful weapon available to non-military personnel. And a third (A3797) would require law-enforcement agencies to report to federal databases information on guns that are illegal, used in crimes, lost, stolen or discarded.
The governor, who is on vacation this week, gave no indication whether he planned to sign or veto the remaining bills. Last week he said he would probably act on all of them within the next “week or two.”
The package of bills Christie signed yesterday had for the most part sailed through the Legislature with bipartisan support and without inflaming supporters or opponents of gun control.
Scott Bach, executive of the New Jersey Association of Rifle and Pistol Clubs, said although his group opposed two bills Christie signed, they were not the top priority.
“We are most concerned about what the governor will do on three bills on which he took no action today,” Bach said. “The Sweeney ‘kitchen sink’ bill that attacks gun rights and does nothing to prevent crime; a ban on $10,000 rifles used by wealthy hobbyists; and a bill that would mandate that the State Police disclose law enforcement data in violation of federal law.”
Staking out an opposing position in the gun debate, the group New Jerseyans for Safety from Gun Violence issued a statement saying Christie’s signature on the 10 measures “is certainly a step in the right direction.”
“But make no mistake about it,” the group added, “it is only a step ... he must complete the task before him and sign the remaining gun violence prevention bills on his desk.”
Most of the gun bills were introduced after the shooting deaths of 20 elementary schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., in December.
The most far-reaching measures Christie signed would tighten New Jersey’s gun laws:
• Upgrade the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm to a first-degree crime. The unlawful possession of machine guns, handguns and assault firearms had been a second-degree crime and third-degree offense in the case of rifles and shotguns. The bill would also increase mandatory minimum sentences for such offenses by six months. (S2804).
• Make the crime of firearms trafficking subject to the No Early Release Act, which requires offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their terms. The bill (S2468) also requires authorities to seize cars used to smuggle weapons into the state and increases penalties to at least 18 months in prison for dealers who knowingly sell guns to customers disqualified from possessing them.
• Allow authorities to impound cars if an occupant illegally possesses a weapon. The bill (S2468) also allows authorities to impound cars used in cases of prostitution and buying or selling illegal drugs.
• Increase penalties for those who unlawfully sell or give a gun to an underage person from a third-degree crime to second-degree offense with a minimum mandatory prison sentence of five years. (S1279).
• Disqualify people on the federal terrorist watch list from owning guns, which is the only gun-related bill (A3687) Christie has commented on.
“As a former federal prosecutor, I understand the obligation of government to ensure the safety and security of its people,” the governor said in a bill-signing statement.
He added, “I urge Congress to take steps to ensure that law-abiding American citizens are never swept into these databases.”
Others bills Christie signed would give residents a 180-day window to get rid of certain illegal guns (A3796); make into law a state regulation banning the public release of personal information on firearms owners (A3788) and clarify that the total number of gun permits in a town are public record (S2720); require submission of mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (A3717); and create a study commission on violence (S2430).