TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner announced that she will introduce a pair of bills that will give five year mandatory prison sentences to individuals found guilty of illegally possessing a firearm or selling a firearm to a minor, assisting law enforcement efforts to combat gang violence.
“Gangs are increasingly becoming a problem in our schools and communities,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “We need to empower our law enforcement officials with the tools they need to combat this growing menace. Those who contribute to the problem by selling guns to our youth should not be back out on the street with just a slap on the wrist.”
Senator Turner noted that Tuesday night’s seizure of an arsenal of assault weapons in Trenton and ammunition and the arrest of six members of the Bloods street gang are an example of why the penalties need to be strengthened in New Jersey. One of the individuals arrested in the bust had already been arrested twice in the past year for gun possession offenses, including an arrest in February by the same two detectives who arrested him on Tuesday – Jason Astbury and John Carrigg.
“At least one of the individuals arrested this week had been arrested twice in the past year on weapons possession charges – yet he wasn’t put in prison, giving him the opportunity to continue the cycle of gang violence,” said Senator Turner. “The fact that the Trenton police are looking into transferring the charges to the federal courts so that they can face stiffer penalties shows that we need to consider these crimes more seriously in New Jersey.”
Senator Turner’s two bills would amend current law to make the unlawful possession of an assault firearm or the sale or transfer of a firearm to a minor a second degree crime. Both crimes would then be punishable by a mandatory term of imprisonment of five to ten years and a fine of up to $150,000. Currently both crimes are of the third degree, which carries a punishment of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
“Right now, first time offenders of a third degree crime for the most part get off without serving time in prison. When it comes to crimes involving guns, especially when selling them to children, this is unconscionable. By making these crimes second degree felonies, we are ensuring that those found guilty will not be able to immediately return to the streets to continue their criminal behavior,” explain Senator Turner.
New Jersey has often been sited by groups such as the Million Mom March as a leading state in promoting responsible gun ownership laws.
“New Jersey has a proud history of banning assault weapons and fighting gun violence. Our residents support an assault weapons ban that is much more strict than the federal ban and these bills are another way we can keep our schools and neighborhoods safe. We need to do everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of our children,” added Senator Turner.
Senator Turner will introduce the legislation during the next legislative session and hopes that it will be considered before the Legislature adjourns for the summer.