New Jersey has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. In just the past two years, Governor Phil Murphy has signed into law a 10-round magazine limit; a ban on “ghost guns” (firearms that can be assembled with untraceable components at home); and a bill to provide suicide prevention training for gun retailers and firing-range operators in New Jersey.
Gun-control advocates say such measures have made a difference. The Garden State ranks 45th among the 50 states in the number of gun deaths, averaging 5.3 gun deaths per 100,000 people a year, according to the Giffords Law Center. The national average is 11.9.
Further, New Jersey’s red flag law, formally known as the Extreme Risk Protective Order Act of 2018, took effect in September. It allows a judge, in response to a request from family or household members, or law enforcement, to order the removal of guns and ammunition from someone who “poses a significant danger of bodily injury to self or others.”
So, if gun laws seem to be working, why are some municipalities adopting resolutions in opposition to these laws?
In Sussex Borough, for example, the local council passed a resolution by a 5-0 vote in December declaring itself a Second Amendment/Lawful Gun Owner municipality.
“It is all about defending the rights of the legal, law-abiding gun owner,” says Assemblyman Parker Space, R-24th District, who proposed the resolution. “They are taking our rights away…We are not the problem, it is the criminals who don’t follow the law.”
Space sees gun laws in a larger context. “Legislators have given the right to illegal citizens to get a driver’s license, and therefore the right to vote, with just a rent receipt, where others need six points of identification. They even just gave convicted felons voting rights.” Space believes Trenton lawmakers are making scapegoats of gun owners.
Also in December, West Milford, in Passaic County, took its stance against further gun-safety legislation. Under a resolution introduced by Councilman Lou Signorino, West Milford declared itself a Second Amendment sanctuary.
Sussex Borough did not include the sanctuary notion in its resolution. Space says he did not want people to think that they can do whatever they please, since all citizens still have to follow the law. Instead, says Space, “The resolution takes a stand. It says enough is enough, don’t tread on us more.”
Space says he voted against Trenton’s red-flag law in 2018 because it allows for a situation where you could be meeting with someone for coffee, and something you say could be taken out of context and you are red flagged. When that happens, he says, you are “guilty until you are proven innocent.”
In the months since West Milford and Sussex Borough adopted their Second Amendment resolutions, at least three other Sussex County municipalities—Branchville, Franklin, Hamburg—followed suit, as well as Cape May County.
Space says we need to better inform our legislators and citizens about the myths and realities surrounding gun control. “Most legislators have never applied for a firearms ID card or pistol permit,” he says. “They think you can walk into a gun shop and get a pistol or shotgun. It takes months to go through the process of obtaining a firearm.”
Bottom line? While the Assemblyman attempts to make this volatile gun issue sound simple, the reality is far more complex. Gun rights will continue to be debated in New Jersey, probably right through the 2021 gubernatorial election.