Senate Passes Gopal Bill to Allow Preventive Firearm Seizures

Legislation sponsored by Senator Vin Gopal that would require law enforcement, upon order of the court, to seize a firearm that is in the possession of a person determined by licensed healthcare professionals to pose a threat of serious harm to themselves or others, was passed by the Senate today.

“When someone is suffering from a mental disorder serious enough for them to consider harming themselves or others, healthcare providers could be the safety valve needed to help the patient cope, as well as to keep weapons out of their hands and protect others,” said Senator Gopal.  “Having mental health professionals inform law enforcement when there is a potential risk for violence will help protect the individual, their loved ones and their community from the lethal dangers of gun violence. Not only are we keeping the public safe, we are helping those who suffer from a mental health disorder.”

The bill, S-160, substituted by A-1181, would require healthcare professionals to inform the municipal police department in which the person resides or the Superintendent of State Police if they reside in a municipality that does not have a full-time police department that the “duty to warn and protect” has been incurred, along with the individual’s name and non-clinical identifying information.

The bill would require law enforcement officials to determine if the individual has been issued a firearms purchaser identification card, permit to purchase a handgun, or any other firearm permit or license.  Law enforcement may void the permit if the patient has been convicted of any crime, is drug dependent, is a habitual drunkard or alcoholic, has been confined for a mental disorder, is subject to a domestic violence court order prohibiting firearms possession, or is named on the Terrorist Watchlist maintained by the FBI.

Additionally, the bill would provide that if the court has probable cause that the patient has failed to surrender all firearms, the court may order a search and removal of the items.  It also allows for a seized firearm that is owned by an individual other than the patient to be regained by the owner upon submission of a written request to the prosecutor attesting the patient cannot access the gun.

The bill would further provide that a patient’s firearms license or permit could be reinstated if a medical doctor or psychiatrist submits a certificate or other satisfactory proof to the Superior Court that the patient is no longer suffering from a medical disorder that would interfere with the safe handling of firearms.  

New Jersey’s current law allows a healthcare professional to fulfill their “duty to warn” obligation once incurred through arranging for the patient’s voluntary admission to a qualified psychiatric facility; initiating involuntary commitment procedures to a qualified psychiatric facility; advising local law enforcement of the patient’s threat and the identity of the intended victim; warning the intended victim or, if under 18, their parent or guardian, and warning the parent or guardian of a patient under age 18 who has threatened to commit suicide or self-harm.

A healthcare professional is defined as a person licensed to practice psychology, psychiatry, medicine, nursing, clinical social work, or marriage and family therapy.

The bill was released from the full Senate with a vote of 30-5, and now goes to the Governor’s desk.