March 23, 2023

Over intense objections from Republicans, the Democratic-controlled state Assembly on Monday passed a sweeping proposal that would revamp and strictly limit the concealed carry of guns in New Jersey in response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

That puts the measure just a few steps away from becoming law a little more than a month after it was introduced.

The issue sparked a 90-minute debate at the Statehouse in Trenton that got so stormy, one lawmaker was caught on microphone calling another a choice name under his breath.

Democrats who lead the Assembly, the lower chamber of the state Legislature, ultimately had enough support to narrowly approve the Democratic-sponsored bill, 42-29, with one abstention. Thats a single vote above the 41 needed to clear the house. All Republicans who were present voted against the measure, which supporters say is necessary to protect residents but opponents argue is unconstitutional and unreasonable.

The Democratic-controlled state Senate would now have to approve the bill before Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy could sign it into law, which he has vowed to do.

Still, advocates on both sides of the issue say the measure is likely to face a court battle.

The proposal (A4769) would require gun owners in New Jersey seeking to obtain a carry permit to purchase liability insurance and take training courses, while prohibiting people from carrying firearms in a wide range of sensitive places in the state, including schools, public parks, courthouses, and bars. Get politics news like this right to your inbox with the N.J. Politics newsletter. Add your email below and hit “subscribe”

For years, New Jerseys concealed carry laws were among the nations most stringent, so much so that few besides retired law enforcement officers could get a permit.

But the Supreme Court ruled in June to effectively invalidate New Yorks concealed carry restrictions, making it easier for people in other states to obtain carry permits, as well. New Jerseys Democratic leaders responded with this bill to overhaul concealed carry in the state, saying safeguards are needed if more people are carrying guns.

MORE: N.J. is seeking tough restrictions for carrying guns in public. Will they hold up in court?

Assemblyman Joe Danielsen, D-Somerset, a main sponsor, noted hes both a gun collector and Army veteran.

Guns have been a part of my entire life. But I am also a son, a brother, a husband, and a father, Danielsen said before Mondays vote. And that is why this issue is so important that I felt the need to sponsor this legislation.

He called the proposal the most important public-safety measures in the states recent history.

Its a bill that strikes the important balance between respecting and protecting peoples Second Amendment rights, while also making sure we are doing it in the most responsible and safest way possible, Danielsen said.

The Assemblys approval came a week after Democrats amended the bill to be more specific in case of a court challenge. Most notably, the previous version would have banned residents from carrying a broad array of weapons, such as knives and brass knuckles. Now, the bill would ban destructive devices, such as firearms and grenades.

The amendments also added medical offices and places where ballots are stored to the list of locations where guns would be prohibited in New Jersey, as well as allowing retired police officers to renew their concealed carry permits every two years instead of each year.

All four of the states major police unions endorsed the measure after the changes. Danielsen said sponsors made the amendments after consulting with law enforcement organizations, second-amendment groups, and Republicans.

We cannot wait for the loss of lives to take action, he said.

Danielsen added hes 100,000% confident this bill is constitutionally defendable, based on extensive research and consultations with the National Rifle Association, the Second Amendment Society, and the state attorney general.

He said studies have shown lenient right-to-carry laws lead to an increase in firearm-related crime.

Guns are rarely used in self-defense, but when they are they cause harm to innocent bystanders, he said.

Still, a string of Republicans lambasted Democrats for pushing the bill. Assemblyman Hal Wirths R-Sussex, described it as a solution looking for a problem.

The real problem is the criminal, the bad guys and bad gals, Wirths said. But no, we dont want to target them. We want to target the most law-abiding citizens who are well trained and go through these background checks. And its just like I said, since day one the real goal among many of you, quite frankly, is to take the guns away.

The exchanges got even more heated after that, with many Republicans saying the bill violates the Second Amendment.

Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, argued the proposal directly contradicts the Supreme Courts ruling, as well.

Then, he asked Danielsen to define a phrase in the measure that says it would be a crime to knowingly carry a gun into safe spaces unless its a brief, incidental entry onto property.

Danielsen said no.

I think you should consult an attorney or the dictionary, he said. Im not going to take these hypothetical, creative scenarios.

Bergen shot back: This is the lunacy, the stupidity, quite frankly, of the approach you take.

Bergen was then caught on mic saying under his breath about Danielsen: God, hes such an a**hole.

After a reporter tweeted that comment, Bergen replied: I did say it. And I meant it.

Assemblyman Erik Peterson, R-Hunterdon, called the bill nothing more than a legislative insurrection against our Constitution.

Thats a threat to our democracy, Peterson added, loudly arguing Democrats have a history of taking away our constitutional rights.

Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer, R-Gloucester, called the bill offensive and argued it would leave people unarmed in the face of danger.

Youve got to see the blood on your hands as people are getting killed, Sawyer said. We should be able to protect ourselves.

Assembly Minority Leader John DiMaio, R-Warren, painted the proposal as confusing, saying it appears to be designed to trip people up.

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-Essex, countered that gun violence in the U.S. is a public health emergency. She referenced how Mondays vote came two days after five people were killed and at least 25 others were injured during a shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub and a week after a gunman killed three football players at the University of Virginia.

We have all seen the catastrophic consequences when these weapons are unleashed in our schools, houses of worship, movie theaters, and other public places when access is not restricted, Jasey said.

In one of the most notable moments of the session, Bergen attempted to read a passage from the state Constitution to make a point, but Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, stopped him.

Who decided it wasnt constitutional? Coughlin asked about the bill.

Me, Bergen responded.

Laughter erupted.

Coughlin likened the Republicans reply to his child once telling him, You are not the boss of me.

Bergen also called the measure the stupidest thing I have ever heard.

Coughlin cut him off again.

I wouldnt allow anyone to personally insult you, he said.

Later, Coughlin stopped Bergen again as he delivered lengthy diatribe against the bill.

Youre out of order, Coughlin told him.

Thank you, Bergen replied.

Said Coughlin: Dont thank me. Knock it off.

A few moments later, the speaker cut Bergen off again.

Take your seat, Coughlin said. Youre out of order. Sit down.

NJ Advance Media staff writer S.P. Sullivan contributed to this report.

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Brent Johnson may be reached at [email protected] Follow him at @johnsb01.

Susan K. Livio may be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio.

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