NJ 11th for Change, the grass-roots political organization in New Jersey’s Eleventh U.S. House District, hosted a lecture on gun control on February 24 in the wake of the recent gun violence in Florida.  The talk was given by Cori Menkin, a NJ 11th for Change member and an expert on gun safety and gun control laws who has helped lobby for stronger firearms control legislation in different parts of the country.  The purpose of Menkin’s lecture was to explain New Jersey’s gun laws and how they compare to or differ from federal and other state laws, as well as the controversial “concealed carry reciprocity” bill currently under consideration in Congress.

Cori Menkin of NJ NJ 11th for Change

Menkin began by noting that New Jersey already has one of the toughest gun–control policies in the nation, requiring background checks for all firearms purchase without any loopholes exempting gun shows or online gun sales and how a 90-day permit is needed for buying a handgun, which is where the background checks are handled.  The only loophole is a lack of an expiration date for a permit to buy a long gun. At the federal level, convicted felons, citizens convicted of domestic-violence misdemeanors, citizens with domestic-violence-related restraining orders against them or mentally ill people are prohibited from owning a gun by federal law, but Menkin said New Jersey goes farther still by banning people federally convicted of stalking and requiring knowledge of how to use a gun in applying for a concealed-carry permit, with endorsement from at least three reputable citizens.   New Jersey’s only failing, says Menkin, is the lack of a “red flag” law that could allow law enforcement to monitor those exhibiting questionable behavior who wish to own a gun.

Menkin said New Jersey’s tough stance on guns could be undermined by legislation in Congress supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA).  The Sportsmen’s Heritage And Recreational Enhancement, or SHARE, Act would eliminate permits for gun silencers, which would allow hunters to shoot at game without alerting them to the sound of gunfire, but gun-control advocates have noted it would allow criminals to shoot at people without alerting them.  (Hillary Clinton cited this bill in a tweet responding to the Las Vegas mass shooting in October 2017.  “The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots,” she wrote.  “Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get.”)  But the most dangerous bill for New Jersey, Menkin said, was the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would require states to recognize each other’s concealed-carry laws.  The bill, profiled in a recent report on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” was combined with another bill designed at strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The Eleventh U.S. House District’s retiring representative, Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen, voted in favor of both bills and voted also to combine them.

Menkin underscored the lose-lose situation of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act.  Passing the combined bill in the Senate and sending it to the White House to be signed into law would allow a resident of Mississippi, with its loose conceal-carry law, to take a concealed weapon into New Jersey in defiance of New Jersey’s concealed-carry laws.  But breaking the bill in two in the Senate would allow the bill strengthening NICS to be voted down.   

She urged the audience to play closer attention to the gun debate in Washington and to also confront members of Congress on their positions on guns – to ask them if they support the concealed-carry bill, attaching it to the NICS reform bill, closing gun-show background-check loopholes, or facilitating purchases of silencers.  She also made it clear how much New Jersey stands to lose if the NRA gets its way.  All of the states have laws such as requiring gun safety training, requiring live-fire experience, mandating a minimum age of 21 to buy a gun, or banning sales to convicted stalkers and to unmarried domestic partners with a history of abuse; New Jersey is the only state with all of these laws.

Menkin cited various tricks of the NRA to keep sensible gun laws from passing, such as arguing for state’s rights when the states pass their own laws to facilitate gun sales but insisting that national sovereignty surpasses the rights of the states to enact gun-control laws when the Second Amendment is involved.  She also noted the NRA’s use of decoy legislation, like background-check bills that don’t solve anything but allow conservative lawmakers to vote for it and defend their gun-control records to the voters.   Many times, she said, the NRA will use gun control as a reason a member of Congress it opposes was voted out of office despite other issues at play, enforcing the narrative that crossing the NRA is politically dangerous. Soberly, she said assault-weapon bans aren’t the answer, given the vast quantity of non-assault guns and the ability of gun manufacturers to adapt to bans by redesigning their products.

Menkin offered some hope, though, noting the pro gun-control support that helped elect Ralph Northam governor of Virginia and the recently announced compact between New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island to share registries of people banned from buying guns.  She also cited the rapid growth of gun-control groups in the aftermath of the 2012 Newtown shooting.  Her caveats included the concurrent growth of grass-roots gun-rights groups and the lack of strong support for magazine limits that would require reloading and give someone a chance to disarm a shooter.  But she did point out that moderate Republicans have helped try to strengthen gun control laws behind the scenes, showing what bipartisan issue gun control is, and she also urged people with financial investments to ferret out and divest of stock in gun companies as a way of fighting the gun lobby.  She confidently predicted that gun safety would be a major issue in the 2018 midterm elections, and she encouraged the audience to get involved in the issue in a bipartisan manner.