Senator Vin Gopal introduced three pieces of legislation to better regulate firearms in the wake of the tragic Parkland, Florida, shooting that claimed 17 innocent lives and the subsequent national outcry for more stringent gun laws.
The three-part bill package includes a bill that prohibits an individual who has been convicted of animal cruelty from possession or purchasing a firearm; a bill requiring the safe storage of a firearm and establishing penalties for improper firearm storage; and a bill which establishes a process by which a family or household member, law enforcement agency, or an employee of a high school or institution of higher education may petition a court to have a person’s firearms temporarily seized upon finding that the person poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others.
“These are common sense measures designed to keep gun owners, their families and their fellow New Jersey residents safe,” Sen. Gopal said.
“Animal abuse and human violence tend to be linked. The FBI sees animal cruelty as a predictor of violence against people and considers past animal abuse when profiling serial criminals. In assessing youth at risk of becoming violent, the U.S. Department of Justice stresses a history of animal abuse.
“There is absolutely no reason for individuals with violent histories towards animals to obtain the weapons necessary to continue their acts of violence against humans.
“In the Parkland, Florida, shooting, there were multiple institutional failures and as a result, we have seen a national call for increased preventative measures. In keeping weapons out of the hands of individuals who have proven their propensity for violence, or who pose a threat to the safety of others, it is my hope that we can prevent future tragedies and save innocent lives.
“I implore New Jersey firearms owners to embrace the tenets of responsible gun ownership and keep all weapons stored securely.
“This is a simple, common sense measure that can and will go a long way in keeping gun owners, their families and their communities safer. If a firearm is not in use, there is no reason for it to be left out and accessible. Responsible gun ownership extends beyond when a weapon is in use. New Jersey gun owners must take responsibility for keeping their firearms secure at all times to prevent unnecessary accidental discharges and the resulting injuries or fatalities.”
“As we saw in Parkland, school district officials, law enforcement officials, students and staff members were aware of the shooter’s propensity for violent outbursts and troubling behavior. In establishing a process by which those closest to a dangerous individual can petition a court to remove their weapons, citizens are empowered to speak out. If a troubled individual even makes it on to school property with a weapon, we have already failed. By removing a weapon from a troubled individual with a documented history of violence or concerning behavior, we are significantly reducing the likelihood of that individual carrying out a violent attack on a large scale.
Prohibiting Possession and Purchase of Firearms by Individuals Convicted of Animal Cruelty
Bill S2239 prohibits a person convicted of animal cruelty from possessing a firearm and from being issued a firearms purchaser identification card or a permit to purchase a handgun.
Current law provides that a person who is convicted of certain crimes is prohibited from purchasing, owning, possessing, or controlling a firearm. These offenses include, but are not limited to, aggravated assault, arson, burglary, homicide, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, and certain animal cruelty crimes, such as dog fighting, harming or killing a law enforcement animal, and harming or killing a service animal or guide dog.
The bill provides that a person who has been convicted of any animal cruelty offense also would be prohibited from possessing a firearm. A violation of the bill’s provisions would be a fourth degree crime. Fourth degree crimes are punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. Additionally, the bill disqualifies a person who has been convicted of an animal cruelty offense from being issued a firearms purchaser identification card or a permit to purchase a handgun.
Safe Storage of Firearms
In New Jersey, there are storage requirements and penalties that protect minors from accessing loaded firearms when they are not in use in the home. However, there currently are no general requirements for storing firearms when they are not in use.
Bill S2240 requires a legal owner of a firearm that is not in use at a premises under the owner’s control to store the firearm: in a securely locked box or container; in a location which a reasonable person would believe to be secure; or to secure the firearm with a trigger lock. If the owner of the firearm fails to properly store the firearm as required under the bill, the owner will be guilty of a disorderly persons offense punishable by up to six months imprisonment, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
Under current law, the legal owner of a firearm is authorized to lawfully keep or carry a firearm at the owner’s place of business, residence, premises, or other land owned or possessed by the owner, and is permitted to transport the firearm under limited circumstances, as specified under current law. The bill clarifies that these provisions of current law regarding a legal owner’s right to keep or carry a firearm are not modified by the bill. Current law also provides that the legal owner of a firearm may temporarily transfer a firearm to another person under certain circumstances, whether or not that person has a firearms purchaser identification card or a permit to carry a handgun. The bill clarifies that its provisions do not apply to or modify current law regarding the temporary transfer of a firearm.
Process for Seizure of Firearms
Bill S2238 establishes a process by which a family or household member, law enforcement agency, or an employee of a high school or institution of higher education may petition a court to have a person’s firearms temporarily seized upon finding that the person poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others.
Under the bill, a family or household member, law enforcement agency, or school employee would be permitted to petition the court for an extreme risk protection order which would allow a law enforcement agency to hold a person’s firearms for one year.
The bill requires a court to hold a hearing and issue an extreme risk protection order upon a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that the person poses a significant danger of causing personal injury to self or others by having a firearm in the person’s custody or control, or by purchasing, possessing, or receiving a firearm. In determining whether grounds for an extreme risk protection order exist, the court may consider: a recent act or threat of violence by the person against self or others, whether or not the act or threat of violence involves a firearm; a pattern of acts or threats of violence by the person within the past twelve months; any dangerous mental health issues of the person; and other factors.
Under the bill, a family or household member, law enforcement officer or agency, or school employee, by motion, may request a renewal of an extreme risk protection order at any time before the order expires.