New Jersey Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington) had the following published Wednesday in The Star-Ledger as the Assembly plans Thursday to vote on more than 20 gun violence prevention bills:
“As President Obama remarked in last week’s State of the Union address, ‘It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans — Americans who believe in the Second Amendment — have come together around common-sense reform.’
As a father, my heart breaks for the families who lost loved ones that tragic December day at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Twenty beautiful 6- and 7-year-olds were senselessly taken from this world, along with six courageous educators who sacrificed themselves in the protection of their students.
We know of the mass tragedies in Newtown and Aurora, in Tucson and in Blacksburg. We also recognize that gun violence takes the life of a New Jerseyan almost every day; in 2011, 269 New Jerseyans were killed by guns — a 9 percent increase from the previous year. We must take notice when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention project that gun deaths are expected to exceed motor vehicle fatalities for the first time by 2015.
Whether it is a movie theater in Colorado, a college campus in Virginia or a street corner in New Jersey, enough is enough.
This is why the New Jersey General Assembly is advancing a comprehensive package of common-sense bills to prevent gun violence. In addition to combating illegal gun trafficking by criminals, the legislation seeks to ban high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets, address New Jersey’s mental health crisis, improve school safety and begin a tough conversation about a culture that too often glorifies senseless violence.
Some have suggested that these common-sense measures are an attack on the Second Amendment. This is simply not true. The Second Amendment is a fundamental freedom that protects the individual right of citizens to bear arms for lawful purposes. Yet, just like the freedom of speech — which does not protect slander or false shouts of “Fire!” in a crowded theater — this right has its limitations.
In its 2008 ruling in District of Columbia vs. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court held: “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. ... Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on … laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” This opinion, it should be noted, was delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia — widely viewed to be the court’s most conservative member.
Our comprehensive package of bills balances reasonable proposals to prevent gun violence in New Jersey while respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. The legislation strikes a balance between the right to bear arms and our public safety imperative to close dangerous gaps in our existing gun laws.
In New Jersey today, individuals on the terrorist watch list can still purchase firearms. Massive purchases of ammunition over the internet — the method used by the Aurora movie theater shooter to easily amass an arsenal of more than 6,000 bullets — are permitted without a face-to-face transaction. Gaps exist in the mental health background check system — the type of issue that enabled the Virginia Tech shooter to purchase weapons with which he then murdered 32 people and wounded 17 others.
Closing these gaps should not be an issue of ideology or political partisanship, for surely we can agree that more needs to be done to protect our children and our schools. Surely we can agree that people on the terrorist watch list should not have access to firearms. Surely we can agree that stronger mental health background checks are needed, and that taxpayer dollars should not be invested in companies that sell military-style assault weapons to civilians. And surely we can agree that gun owners’ personal information should not be released to the public.
We can and we must do better. Our children, our families and our communities deserve it.”