TRENTON – Senator Shirley K. Turner, the Senate’s leading advocate in strengthening the State’s efforts to combat gang violence, made the following statement today following the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee’s approval of a package of gang-related bills that included S-2009 and S-2012:
“I expect that by the time the new year rolls around, we will have put in place a solid package of reforms that will make 2007 the year that New Jersey began to reduce the presence of gangs in our communities and fought back against those who bring senseless violence to our streets.
“There is no single solution to the challenges that our communities face when criminal gangs set up shop and threaten the safety and well-being of New Jersey residents. The package of bills being moved forward by the Legislature tackle all aspects of this threat.
“We need to make it harder for gang members arrested for gun crimes and drug charges to post bail and get back out on the streets in a matter of hours. And when we convict them of these crimes, they must serve serious time. We can’t hope to end the cycle of violence if we can’t keep these known criminals in jail.
“The key to combating gang violence in our neighborhoods is to not only punish those involved, but also provide meaningful alternatives to young New Jerseyans, so that they are not lured to the mythical glamour of gang life promised by gang recruiters. We must go beyond the symptoms and get to the root cause of this disease.”
S-2009 would establish enhanced penalties for persons who possess, receive or transfer a community gun. A community gun is a firearm that is transferred within any group of two or more persons who engage in criminal activity while in possession of the firearm. The bill makes this a crime of the second degree and subject to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of one-half of the sentence imposed by the court or three years, whichever is greater and during which the defendant shall be ineligible for parole. A crime of the second degree is punishable by a fine of up to $150,000, imprisonment for a term of five to 10 years, or both. The bill is designed to address the problem of firearms that are transferred among and between gang members who, while possessing them, engage in criminal activities.
S-2012 would require courts to conduct the inquiries concerning the source of bail funds in all cases where the defendant is charged with a crime of the first or second degree, possessing a weapon for unlawful purpose, unlawfully possessing a weapon, a crime related to criminal street gang activity, or certain drug charges. The inquiry would make sure the funds used to pay the bail were acquired through legal means.
Both bills were approved by the Committee by a vote of 4-0 and now head to the full Senate for their approval.