By Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver
From Colorado to Connecticut to a courthouse, far too many lives have been cut short by senseless gun violence.
These are the mass tragedies that grab headlines. But every day, on the streets that wind their way in between, even more innocent Americans fall victim to a bullet. In 2011 alone, 269 New Jerseyans were killed by gun violence.
This week, the General Assembly will vote on a comprehensive package of roughly two dozen bills aimed at curbing this epidemic.
These measures are a blend of temperance and temerity – the temperance necessary to address this issue pragmatically without trampling on Second Amendment rights and the temerity to tackle this issue once and for all instead of punting it to the next tragedy.
The debate, thus far, has been passionate, to say the least.
For those that argue that our efforts are an emotional response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I don’t entirely disagree. To not be driven by emotion to address the incomprehensible slaying of 20 innocent children would be baffling.
What this is not, however, is a knee-jerk response. The time to get serious about protecting our communities from gun violence is long overdue. Many of the proposals we have put forth are the result of long-running discussions, expert advice and common sense measures to close glaring loopholes.
Limiting ammunition magazines to no more than 10 rounds may help prevent would-be shooters from gunning down half of a movie theater. Taking guns away from an individual deemed dangerous by a mental health professional may help prevent a future college campus tragedy.
Many of our other proposals are designed, not to infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens, but to keep guns out of the hands of criminals or those prone to violence by severe mental health issues.
Requiring government-issued photo identification cards to purchase a firearm is no more unreasonable than requiring photo identification cards to drive an automobile, especially since an automobile wasn’t designed with the intention to kill.
Another proposal would prohibit anyone on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from obtaining a gun permit. In case you were wondering, nearly 250 people on the terrorist watch list bought guns in 2010 alone, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Still other proposals would ban the sale of powerful, often battlefield-style, weapons of .50 calibers or more; establish gun-free zones around schools, prohibit the sale of body armor-piercing bullets to protect law enforcement; require the state to submit certain mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to help law enforcement agencies nationwide conduct more thorough gun background checks; require all state law enforcement agencies to report information relating to abandoned, discarded or seized illegal guns to the National Crime Information Center to determine whether that firearm has been reported stolen; and require ballistic tests to be conducted on such guns and reported to the National Integrated Ballistic Identification Network to determine if the firearm is associated with a crime.
Our comprehensive package promotes common-sense measures, without infringing on the Second Amendment rights enshrined in our Constitution. By keeping dangerous weapons off our streets, cracking down on illegal gun trafficking and addressing mental health issues and school security we can stop these tragedies from becoming all too common.
We cannot expect to put an end to each and every gun crime, but we can responsibly close the gaps and make our laws stronger. With the vast majority of Americans now supporting stronger, smarter gun laws, it begs the question: If not now, then when?
When will the cries of bereaved parents and the deafening silence on our playgrounds finally tip the scales towards action rather than inertia? If we sit on our hands we will mourn, not just the victims we have already lost, but the many more that will inevitably follow.
The General Assembly will tilt the scales towards action on Thursday because, to borrow the words of our President, “They deserve a vote.”