This piece was published as an op-ed in the Star-Ledger on May 30, 2015.
This Monday, the N.J. Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee will hear bill 4218, legislation that would require domestic abusers to turn in their guns. This is just one of two critical pieces of public safety legislation currently before our state legislature. The other is Senate bill 2785/Assembly bill 4348, which fixes a dangerous gap in our state's gun background checks law.
As faith leaders, we've seen firsthand the devastating effect that domestic violence and gun violence can have on families, on loved ones, on an entire community. As spiritual advisors, we are often a shoulder to cry on – and always deeply invested in the hopes, dreams and anxieties of our congregants. These important bills will help to heal New Jersey, ensuring dangerous people cannot buy guns and that domestic abusers turn in their firearms before they cause further harm. Our elected officials should stand up for safety and vote yes.
We're proud to live in a state that is a leader in public safety. Our legislature has a tradition of writing laws that protect New Jersey and give residents the opportunity to live full and fruitful lives. And it's no surprise that our state has a gun homicide rate far below the national average. But still over 270 New Jerseyans are killed with guns each year. That's far too many lives cut short by gun violence – and we need our leaders to fight for people in danger. Critical gaps remain in our laws, and right now, there is legislation pending that would close them.
Bill 4218 (bill 2786 is its companion bill in the Senate) would close the gap that enables domestic abusers to access guns and terrorize their victims. New Jersey already leads by prohibiting abusers from having guns if they are convicted of crimes or under final restraining orders. But the law does not require that they turn in the guns they already own, meaning an abuser can go home from court or even from prison – and use guns they have at home to do more harm to their family and community. S2786/A4218 would fix this law, requiring every restrained or convicted abuser must immediately turn in their guns. Fifteen states already require restrained abusers turn in their guns, and ten states already require the same for convicted abusers. We must act to protect victims.
S2785/A4348 would close the gap that makes it too easy for felons, abusers and other dangerous people to buy rifles and shotguns. Currently a person must pass a background check before buying any gun from a dealer, or before buying a handgun from any seller. But the permit required in New Jersey to buy a rifle or a shotgun (called an FPIC) never expires and is never up for renewal. This means a permit holder can commit a felony – but still use his FPIC to buy a gun from a stranger he meets online. S2785/A4348 would fix this law, requiring rifle and shotgun buyers must pass a background check before every sale, using the same process as when they buy directly from dealers. Nearby states like Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Rhode Island have this same requirement.
This legislation is an urgent public concern, and indeed newly released polling shows each of these policies is supported by more than 80 percent of New Jersey citizens. We have joined with over 30 other faith leaders to send this message directly to the legislature, which has a responsibility to enforce the laws already on the books. This is exactly what these bills do – making sure prohibited people cannot buy guns or keep the ones they already own. Make no mistake, this is also a moral imperative: New Jersey must act to protect its citizens. As faith leaders, we urge the legislature to take up these bills which will make New Jersey communities healthier and safer and vote yes.
Mark M. Beckwith is the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark and Co-Convenor of Bishops United Against Gun Violence; Matthew D. Gewirtz is the Rabbi of Temple B'Nai Jeshurun in Short Hills; W. Deen Shareef is the Imam of Masjid Waarith ud Deen in Irvington and Convenor of the Council of Imams in New Jersey.