TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would enhance the penalties for trespassing on private or posted property if the trespasser has a firearm in his or her possession was unanimously approved by the Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee today.
“When a hunter steps foot on someone’s property with a loaded gun, that’s a recipe for tragedy,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “We need stronger laws in place to act as a deterrent, and keep a safe boundary between hunters and private property. There needs to be some places that are off-limits to hunters, to ensure public safety and safeguard against fatal accidents.”
Senator Vitale’s bill, S-517, would upgrade the penalties for trespassers on private or posted property without permission for the purpose of hunting when that trespasser possesses a firearm. Under the bill, a hunter would be subject to a fine of between $500 and $1,000 for a first offense, and $1,000 to $2,000 for second, and subsequent offenses. If the hunter is in defiant trespass, meaning that the trespasser stays on private property despite notice having been given of trespass, either verbally, through postings or enclosure designed to exclude intruders, the hunter may be subject to a fine of not more than $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months. Additionally, hunters convicted under this bill would forfeit their hunting license for two years for a first offense, and five years for all subsequent offenses.
Current law designates a fine of $100 to $200 for a first offense and $200 to $500 for subsequent offenses for trespassing for the purposes of hunting, and a fine of not more than $500 and/or up to 30 days imprisonment for defiant trespassing.
“Whatever anyone’s personal feelings are about hunting, brandishing a loaded weapon on someone else’s property without their prior knowledge or express permission is dangerous to say the least,” said Senator Vitale. “The presence of firearms in cases of trespassing can escalate things rather quickly, especially if a homeowner misreads a hunter’s appearance as a sign of aggression against themselves or their family. We need strict penalties, to tell hunters that a mistake may be a mistake, but when it involves a gun, it cannot be tolerated.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.