New Jersey gun law narrowly passes congregation after aggressive debate

New Jersey took a step closer to overhauling the state’s concealed carry laws after a sweeping gun control bill was passed by the Assembly Monday after a tense 90-minute debate.

Democrats introduced the measure (A4769) in response to a June ruling by the US Supreme Court that expanded gun owners’ rights to carry concealed weapons in public. The bill, which is expected to face a legal challenge from pro-Second Amendment groups, passed with only Democrat votes.

“I will vote as a father, as a husband, and as a proud gun owner. I will vote as someone who understands that public safety is a responsibility – our responsibility,” said MP Joe Danielsen (D-Middlesex), lead sponsor of the bill.

That Measure just passed 42-29, with one abstention (legislation requires 41 votes in favor in assembly to pass). The bill must also receive approval from the state Senate, where it is not scheduled for a vote before going to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.

It would create an extensive list of areas where guns are prohibited, including beaches, bars, zoos and sports stadiums. It would also impose new fees and fines, insurance requirements, and retention requirements for gun owners.

Republicans argued Monday that the new restrictions would hurt legal gun owners and protect criminals who flout gun laws, repeatedly noting that New Jersey already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. MP Erik Peterson (R-Hunterdon) called the bill a “legislative insurrection.”

“The real problem is the criminals, the bad boys and bad girls. But no, we don’t want to target them. We want to target the most law-abiding citizens who are well educated and who go through those background checks,” said Hal Wirths MP (R-Sussex). “And it’s like I said, since day one … the real goal for a lot of you, honestly, is to take the guns down.”

Republicans cited Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, the rise in auto thefts, protection of life in and outside the womb, and threats to democracy as reasons to vote against the measure. Congregation spokesman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) repeatedly urged them to stay on topic.

Rep. Brian Bergen (R-Morris) has clashed with Democrats over his opposition to the gun law. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

Rep. Brian Bergen (R-Morris) went back and forth with the bill’s sponsor on whether the measure was constitutional. Bergen has repeatedly said he believes the measure violates both the US Constitution and the June Supreme Court ruling.

He asked Danielsen to define wording in the bill, including “accidental entry”. The law would make it a crime to knowingly carry a gun to certain locations, except “in the case of brief, accidental intrusion on property.”

“No,” Danielsen shot back. “I think you should consult a lawyer or the dictionary.”

Bergen then called Danielsen an expletive and later said so on Twitter he “meant it”.

Democrats said the bill respects the Second Amendment while protecting New Jersey residents. They argued that the Supreme Court’s June decision allows states to enact gun regulations.

Before the vote, Danielsen reiterated his confidence that the bill was constitutionally sound based on “extensive research.”

“It is a bill that strikes the important balance of respecting and protecting people’s Second Amendment rights while ensuring that we do so in the most responsible and safest way,” Danielsen said.

The legislation is supported by several New Jersey police departments and law enforcement unions, including the New Jersey State PBA, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Former Troopers Association.