After a year-long push by families of children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre, a bill to reduce the permitted size of ammunition magazines in New Jersey took an important step today.
The state Senate’s Law and Public Safety Committee today voted 3-2 along party lines to approve the legislation (A2006), which lowers the allowed size from 15 rounds to 10. The bill has been kicking around the Legislature since 2012 as one of several dozen pushed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Ct. But while it has already passed the Assembly twice, this is the first time it has advanced in the state Senate.
“Large capacity magazines are not needed for hunting or for self defense. They are used to claim as many victims as possible, as fast as possible,” said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the bill’s sponsor. “If a gunman has to stop and reload, it offers a critical window of time to take down the shooter.”
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who faced re-election last year in a relatively conservative district, refused to put the bill up for a vote last year. But Sweeney said he changed his mind after parents of 6- to 7-year-olds killed in the Newtown school shooting personally lobbied him.
To become law, the bill – which the Assembly passed 46-31 in March – must pass the full Senate and be signed by Gov. Chris Christie. Although Christie has not taken a position on the bill, he noted at a March town hall meeting that he had vetoed more bills than any governor since at least 1947.
Gun rights advocates vastly outnumbered gun control supporters at the committee hearing, with about 100 packing the room.
The meeting also attracted three out of the four Republicans running for U.S. Senate in the June primary, and former Philadelphia Eagle Garry Cobb – who hopes to challenge state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) in the U.S. House race in South Jersey’s 1st District. Some of the candidates wore National Rifle Association stickers.
“I’ve never been afraid to stand up and defend the rights of people who are having them taken away by the government,” said Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rich Pezzullo.
Opponents of the bill said it would do nothing to improve public safety, but it would penalize law-abiding gun owners.
“Criminals travel in packs, and home invasions happen,” said Scott Bach, executive director of the New Jersey Association of Rifle and Pistol Clubs. “And when a gang of armed thugs kicks in your door at 3 in the morning, they won’t be using 10-round magazines.”
Bach also said the bill would inadvertently ban several popular models of .22-caliber rifles with “fixed” magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. Even though lawmakers amended the bill to exempt the gun popularly known as the “Boy Scout rifle,” Bach said it would still ban other weapons because lawmakers have “no depth of understanding of New Jersey’s tangled web of gun laws.”
Some gun rights supporters said they would not turn over their 15-round magazines. The bill would give them 180 days to do so.
“And I can tell you all here today, I will not comply,” said Anthony Colandro, who owns a firing range in Woodland Park and hosts an internet radio show. “Who’s with me?” he added to applause.
The committee also voted 3-2 to pass a bill (A2777) that says those transporting firearms in cars can make stops for “collecting and discharging certain passengers, purchasing fuel, using a restroom, and contending with an emergency situation.” Under current law, drivers can make stops “reasonably necessary under the circumstance,” but those are not defined.
Although the bill was intended as an olive branch for gun rights supporters, they claim that it would make the law worse for them by giving judges less discretion.