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Amid Controversy, New Jersey Assembly Advances New Gun Crime Measures

Gun control has recently been a hot button topic on the national political landscape. While gun crime is nothing new, the reach of recently proposed firearm legislation surpasses that of any prior legal framework. New Jersey does not take gun crime lightly, and if the bills currently before the legislature pass into law, more citizens than ever will be at risk of facing gun crime charges.

New Jersey gun control measures moving forward too quickly?

In late February, the New Jersey Assembly passed 22 new gun control bills. Led by the Democrat majority, many advocates in the Assembly believe the measures can help reduce gun violence.

“We’ve got some of the best gun laws in the country,” Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver told the Associated Press, “but we also know we have some things we can tighten up. That’s all the Assembly is seeking to do.”

A number of Assembly Republicans were less enthusiastic, calling several of the bills haphazard and poorly written.

Although Governor Chris Christie has taken no official position on the bills, he alluded to concerns that the gun control measures may have been advanced too quickly by the Assembly in comments made after a political event held on February 21. “I’m a little surprised at how quickly they’ve done it,” said Christie. “This is a very difficult issue and a complex one.”

To become law, the measures still need to pass in the Senate – which, like the Assembly, has a Democratic majority – and get approval from the governor. Christie, a Republican, has promised to give the bills “due consideration” should they reach his desk.

Some of the proposals include:

  • Reducing the maximum capacity of magazines to 10 rounds (New Jersey already has a 15-round cap for magazine owned by citizens)
  • Requiring background checks on private firearm sales through a licensed retail dealer, exempting transfers between immediate family members, law enforcement officers and licensed collectors
  • Prohibiting the state Treasury from investing assets of pensions or annuity funds in companies that produce, import or sell assault firearms for civilian use
  • Requiring a gun safety training class as a prerequisite to obtaining a permit to purchase a firearm and a firearm purchaser ID card
  • Banning handgun ammunition that is capable of piercing body armor

Graves Act makes New Jersey one of the harshest states on gun possession crimes

New Jersey already has some of the harshest gun laws in the nation. Under a statutory scheme known as the “Graves Act,” those convicted of certain possessory firearm offenses, or convicted of using a firearm in the course of committing other offenses such as drug distribution, face minimum prison terms as well as parole ineligibility for three years, or between one-third to one-half of the total sentence imposed, whichever is greater.

Graves Act crimes do not include only violent or gang-related offenses; for example, possession of a sawed-off shotgun, possession of a defaced firearm (in other words, a gun whose serial number has been filed off or is otherwise illegible), and the unlawful possession of a machine gun are all crimes that fall under the mandatory sentencing structure of the Graves Act. What’s more, prosecutors are required to charge Graves Act offenses whenever there is a legitimate legal basis to do so.

Getting charged with a gun crime in New Jersey is already a grave matter, and if the new gun control bills become law, it will become even easier to be drawn into the criminal justice system over matters of firearm ownership. If you are facing gun crime charges, talk to a New Jersey criminal defense attorney today – a strong legal defense may be the only way for you to avoid real prison time.

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