(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton, Speaker Sheila Oliver, Assemblyman Tim Eustace, Assemblywoman Grace Spencer, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter and Assemblywoman Marlene Caride to enhance penalties in New Jersey for gun traffickers and those who enable them was approved Thursday by the General Assembly.
The bill is part of the ongoing Assembly Democratic gun violence prevention initiative.
"Many of the weapons used in gun crimes are brought into the state illegally. This bill sends a clear message that if you engage in illegal gun trafficking at any level, you will be punished, " said Singleton (D-Burlington). "If you smuggle guns, understand that you are going to spend a considerable time in jail. If you provide the car that enables a trafficker to smuggle guns, get ready to buy a new one. If you're an authorized dealer who knowingly sells guns to individuals who otherwise would not be allowed to own a gun, you will serve time and maybe even lose your license."
The bill (A-3853/3854) requires that any motor vehicle used by a person to transport, ship, or bring any firearm into the state for the purpose of unlawfully selling, transferring, or giving that firearm to another is subject to seizure and forfeiture. Innocent owners and the holders of valid liens are exempted from seizures and forfeitures under the bill. The bill also clarifies that transporting, shipping, or otherwise bringing firearms into the state for temporary transfers to individuals for firearms training purposes and shooting competitions are lawful activities, and that the vehicles used to transport and ship a firearm for these purposes are not subject to seizure and forfeiture.
In addition, the bill enhances the penalties for licensed retail firearms dealers who knowingly provide firearms to persons who transfer those firearms to individuals who are disqualified from owning a firearm. Under the bill, a dealer who violates these provisions is guilty of a crime of the second degree. A crime of the second degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to ten years, a fine of up to $150,000, or both. Under the bill, these dealers are subject to a mandatory 18-month minimum term of imprisonment. If the firearm has been used in the commission of a crime, the dealer is subject to a three-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment. A dealer convicted of this crime also is permanently disqualified from obtaining another retail firearms dealer license.
The bill further provides that a dealer who knowingly sells or transfers an inordinate number of firearms that later are discovered to have been recovered as abandoned or discarded firearms, or as firearms seized because they were unlawfully possessed, or as firearms used for an unlawful purpose, or as firearms recovered from the scene of a crime, or as firearms reasonably believed to have been used or associated with the commission of a crime is - after a hearing - subject to a permanent license revocation.
Lastly, the bill makes the crime of firearms trafficking subject to the No Early Release Act, which provides that a violator must serve 85 percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Firearms trafficking is a crime of the second degree. Under the bill, a violator would have to serve 85 percent of the five to 10 year term of imprisonment imposed for second degree crimes.
"Gun violence has become an epidemic in many of our communities. There is no one solution to gun violence, but these and other gun violence prevention measures we are proposing can collectively help put a dent on gun crime," said Oliver (D-Essex). "Whether it means forfeiting your car or your freedom, this bill ensures that if you smuggle guns into our state, you will pay the price."
"Behind many of these guns is a family grieving a loss. By providing the means to illegally transport these guns into the state, these individuals are essentially putting the guns directly in the hands of criminals," said Eustace (D-Bergen). "The enhanced penalties created by this bill may not end all gun violence, but coupled with other preventative measures, can help the fight against it."
"People who smuggle or help smuggle guns into the state are just as responsible for the gun violence that terrorizes many of our communities as the criminals who perpetrate it," said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). "If the devastation that gun violence leaves behind is not enough of a moral deterrent, then maybe the possibility of losing your car or serving a lengthy prison sentence will be."
"Many of the guns recovered in crimes in New Jersey came from outside the state," said Spencer (D-Essex). "Guns are being brought into the state illegally and innocent people are paying the price. Toughening the penalties for individuals who choose to play a role in the devastating cycle of gun violence can help protect more innocent bystanders from getting caught in the crossfire."
"Gun traffickers are supplying criminals with weapons they would otherwise not have access to, to the detriment of neighborhoods and law-abiding citizens," said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). "These smugglers are just as accountable for the violence, even if they did not pull the trigger. If they commit the crime, this bill ensures they serve the bulk of the time before parole is even an option."
The bill was approved 73-3 and now awaits further consideration by the Senate.