TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator Richard J. Codey that is designed to spur the development and availability of childproof handguns in New Jersey and across the nation was approved today by both houses of the Legislature, sending it to the desk of the governor. The vote comes after President Obama took executive action earlier this year to advance the use of smart gun technology.
“Unintentional shootings by kids continue to claim the lives of children and these tragedies are occurring at an alarming rate. This year, more than 100 children in the United States have been injured or killed in these kinds of firearms accidents. Sadly, a tragedy took place in East Orange this past weekend, which took the life of a four-year-old child. We have to take action to prevent these kinds of unintentional shootings,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). “This bill would give consumers the option to purchase a smart gun when they become available and are determined to meet certain standards. This is the right thing to do to help bring this technology to the market. Smart guns are the future of firearms in this country and ultimately they will save lives.”
“This bill is another example of New Jersey putting forward smart gun policies that will help to protect our residents and reduce the incidences of child deaths, as well as suicides and homicides that are carried out with stolen firearms,” said Senator Codey (D-Essex, Morris). “By making childproof handguns available, we will give consumers the ability to prevent these kinds of shootings, including those that are happening because a child got his or her hands on a relative’s firearm. This is about creating a safer New Jersey and inaction is unacceptable.”
Senators Weinberg and Codey were the sponsors of the 2002 Childproof Handgun Law that required all handguns sold in the state to be “personalized handguns” within three years of the technology becoming available for retail purposes anywhere in the country, and determined by the state Attorney General as meeting established reliability standards. The law was intended to encourage the development of personalized handgun technology, also known as “smart guns.” However, as prototypes were developed and the technology began to make its way to the market in the last year, opponents of New Jersey’s law increased pressure on retail stores not to sell the safety-equipped smart guns. The vehement opposition, which included threats to store owners, has blocked the technology from entering the market and made it difficult for developers to obtain funding for smart gun development projects.
The new legislation (Senate Committee Substitute for S-816) is the result of nearly a year of continuous discussions Senator Weinberg has had with the gun safety community. The bill would amend the current mandate to require each firearms retail dealer in New Jersey, with limited exceptions, to offer for sale a personalized handgun 60 days after the first personalized handgun is determined to meet standards established by a commission created under the legislation, and is placed on a roster of approved personalized handguns.
Specifically, the bill would create a 7-member “Personalized Handgun Authorization Commission” in the Department of Law and Public Safety, which would be responsible for establishing performance standards for personalized handguns and for maintaining a roster of personalized handguns authorized for sale to the public pursuant to the bill. It would also identify and approve a list of independent laboratories which would be used to determine whether handguns comply with the personalized handgun performance standards. The commission would consist of the following, as ex-officio members: the Attorney General or a designee; the Superintendent of State Police or a designee; the Commissioner of Health or a designee, as well as four public members appointed by the Governor with varied, relevant experience. Within one year of organizing, the commission would be required to develop personalized handgun performance standards, which a handgun would be required to meet in order to be placed on the roster.
Within 60 days of the first personalized handgun being included on the roster, each licensed firearms retail dealer would be required to have on the retail premises: at least one personalized handgun approved by the commission and listed on the roster as eligible for sale; an original exemption certificate, which would be granted by the commission to licensed retail dealers who demonstrate that offering a personalized handgun for sale would impose an undue financial hardship and to licensed retail dealers who demonstrate that their firearm inventory consists solely of firearms other than handguns; or a notarized copy of a pending application for an exemption certificate.
In the event that a licensed retail dealer’s inventory of personalized handguns is depleted and there are no personalized handguns available for purchase on the premises, the licensed retail dealer would be required to: place an order for at least one personalized handgun within 21 days of the sale of the last personalized handgun; maintain written records of the retail dealer’s efforts to place an order and maintain those records on the premises and allow them to be open for inspection at all times; and maintain a sign on the premises indicating that personalized handguns are routinely sold on the retail dealer’s premises and will soon be available for purchase.
Licensed retail dealers not in compliance with the law would be subject to a fine of up to $500 for a first offense, $1,000 for a second offense, and a six month license suspension following notice to the licensed retail dealer and opportunity to be heard for a third or subsequent offense. In addition, any person tampering or attempting to tamper with a personalized handgun by intentionally interfering with the user-authorized functionality of the personalized technology would be guilty of a disorderly persons offense.
“We have to bring this 21st century gun technology to the market and to our residents, and this bill will create that opportunity,” said Senator Weinberg. “Childproof handgun technology will help to protect against preventable tragedies that continue to take the lives of people in this state and across the country every single day.”
“We know we can’t stop all gun violence, but we cannot do nothing as tragedies continue to happen. We continue to see tragedies occurring in neighborhoods in our state and elsewhere,” said Senator Codey. “Many of them would be preventable with smart gun technology. This bill will ultimately provide gun buyers with the ability to purchase a safer product. It will give them the ability to make their own homes and our communities safer.”
According to news reports, a four-year-old child was tragically killed in East Orange after his 5-year-old sibling got hold of a gun in the home. Last year, there were more than 265 unintentional shootings in the country carried out by children that left 83 people dead, according to published reports citing Everytown for Gun Safety. Already in 2016, there have been at least 115 accidental shootings by kids, Everytown reported. According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2014, about a third of all Americans with children under 18 at home have a gun in their household, including 34% of families with children younger than 12. In 2013, there were 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides and 505 unintentional deaths by guns in the United States, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of firearm deaths in the US are suicides.
The Senate approved the bill in February by a vote of 21-13. The Assembly approved it today by a vote of 44-30. The Senate voted 23-14 to concur with amendments made in the Assembly. It now goes to the governor’s desk.