ROSELLE — Last week, on the steps of borough hall, the Democratic candidate hoping to unseat Gov. Chris Christie unveiled her plan to reduce gun violence, hammering her Republican opponent for being too soft on the issue.
Middlesex County Democrat State Sen. Barbara Buono — the current front runner expected to win the party’s nomination in June — made an announcement of her hard stance on the controversial issue of gun reform at a press conference just two weeks after the governor released his own recommendations.
But the Democratic challenger, expected to run against Christie in November, focused primarily on legislation previously authored by Democratic State Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
The governor’s recommendations were based on the findings of the NJ SAFE taskforce appointed by Christie right after the elementary school shootings in Connecticut. His target was treating the root cause of violence, not limiting the number of bullets in an ammunition magazine.
Buono took shots at Christie in her plan, noting that while the NJ SAFE taskforce recommended further investigating reducing the number of bullets in ammunition magazines, the governor “has chosen not to act.”
She also pointed out in her written explanation of her plan that the governor refused to even acknowledge there is a private sale loophole.
“Again, he has ignored his task force’s recommendations on background checks,” Buono said.
“While governors in New York and Connecticut have led the fight to reduce gun violence in their respective states, Gov. Christie has offered a shallow proposal that fails to adequately address the problem,” Buono said in a statement last week, blasting Christie for not taking a stronger stance on the issue. Buono used this opening to further berate the governor and slam his take on the issue, one she felt had everything to do with his future political ambitions.
“The governor had an opportunity to call for bold action, but instead settled for a proposal that only satisfied his political ambitions. New Jersey deserve sensible solutions, not more pandering from the governor,” Buono added.
Christie has continued to say publicly that finding a way to prevent unspeakable tragedies such as what happened in Newtown, Conn. is what is needed most.
But while Buono said she believed the school shootings would have lessened in their severity if the number of bullets allowed in a magazine had been reduced to ten, Christie does not.
Christie, on the other hand, has remained firm about how he feels on the issue of gun control.
“Listen, I think that where we are now is the right place to be. We are as strict as almost anybody in the country at 15. In fact, I heard the president last week say that Colorado’s was a national model when Colorado moved to 15, which is where we are,” the governor said in a statement released by the state house last week.
Instead, the governor’s plan focused on stiffening penalties for those caught selling guns to criminals, making it more difficult for children to buy violent video games and loosening laws so the mentally ill can be committed more easily. Christie also is seeking to reform bail laws for gun-related crimes by restricting the release of suspects charged with possessing ammunition and engaging in firearms trafficking.
Although only a handful of people passing by stopped by long enough to hear Buono’s solutions designed to improve New Jersey’s gun laws, other powerful party members and public safety officials came out to support her.
Those attending, though, including State Sen. Ray Lesniak, Assemblyman Nicholas Scutari, Union County Sheriff Ralph Froehlich, Roselle Mayor Jamel Holley and Union Mayor Clifton People Jr. arrived late and left immediately following the event. None stayed for the reception and light refreshments afterward.
And, despite saying recently that Buono would get his vote but little else in the way of support, Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage also made a brief appearance.
Buono went into little detail about her platform on gun control, zeroing in on how critical she thought it was to limit the number of bullets in ammunition magazines from 15 to 10.
“I spoke with parents from Newtown, Connecticut whose children were killed and as much as we tell ourselves its not the guns, five additional bullets means five additional lives,” said the gubernatorial candidate, adding that she could not support legislation that does not include a limit on bullets.
However, on April 30, the Democratic challenger sang a different tune when it came to her support of seeing gun control legislation passed. At that time, according to media reports and statements released by her campaign headquarters, she said passing a gun control legislation was too important to let a disagreement over magazine limits spoil the entire effort.
Buono made this particular comment to the media after meeting with three of the parents of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting recently, pointing out that while magazine limits should be a priority, she was “not ready to write off the whole thing if we can agree on this.”
The push to limit the number of bullets in a clip from 15 to 10 has continued to divide Democrats in the state senate and assembly, but so far there has been no consensus on the issue.
Democrats along with gun control advocates have been pushing for tougher legislation, saying the package focuses too much on mental health issues and not on firearms. Republicans also are torn on the issue, many believing that the governor’s stance on the issue could hurt him if he decides to run for president in 2016. The hurdle is the fact the assembly is Democrat controlled, so any legislation has to get pass this majority.
New Jersey has the second toughest gun laws in the country, according to both Buono and Christie, and the governor’s plan would strengthen them further.
Legislation authored and sponsored by senate president Sweeney is stronger than the national model, overhauling the process for buying firearms so it requires instant background checks on all purchases, to help stop those who should not have guns from getting them.
If this legislation passes muster, anyone buying guns would be required to have firearms identification and handgun permit information encoded into their driver’s license.
Five years after this bill becomes law — allowing time for installing the technology — no retailer would be allowed to sell or transfer a firearm to a New Jersey resident without a valid driver’s license or ID card containing the appropriate information.
In turn, whenever a person tried to buy a gun, their licenses would be swiped and three background checks would be done immediately. This would include a name check, a national instant criminal background check and a check of the state’s new expanded mental health records database.
This “instant check system” would also allow the courts to revoke gun licenses and permits if a person was convicted of a crime or involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
Some Democrats, such State Assembly leader Sheila Oliver, were willing to consider the governor’s suggestions in the state legislature but noted the proposal “lacked teeth.”
In a statement released in late April, Oliver said her concern with the governor’s plan was not so much what was in it but “what may not be.”
The controversial issue of gun control has come into the spotlight every few years, often following national tragedies. But back in the 1700’s Benjamin Franklin took issue with how this particular matter was being handled by legislators attempting to strengthen gun laws. His arguments then are often made now by supporters of the second amendment.
“The right to bear arms, or more commonly known recently as owning a gun, is a right protected by the second amendment in the United States. If we are to challenge this through court ruling, we are challenging the constitution as a whole. If we change one amendment, where does it stop,” Franklin asked in his missive to the court. He also had another view of gun violence, one gun supporters have used as well.
“Finally it is naive to think that guns actually kill people. People are going to murder regardless of weapon; one would simply be trading shootings for stabbing and beatings. There is a huge disconnect between pulling a trigger and saying that the gun actually is what does the killing,” he added, giving a final thought on his theory of gun violence overall.
“People kill each other, if not with a gun it would still happen. If people think that guns are responsible for the murders that are carried out each year, they need to wake up,” Franklin said, adding later that “any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”
And while much has changed in society since Franklin defended the right to bear arms, including the carrying capacity and firing power of guns, many opponents of the second amendment counter that today’s United States is often governed by outdated laws.
The sheriff had his own take on one aspect of the issue. A legitimate, registered hunter, he said, can only have 5 to 9 rounds when hunting deer, because legislation said it was “unfair” to deer to have any more.
“If we can change three shots for a deer, why can’t we change it for victims? What’s the difference to a hunter if we take away five rounds? Nothing. He is still a hunter. While the difference to a victim is their life.”
Froelich in the past has also spoken of how many bullets is “unfair” for a police officer when responding to an active shooter.
One thing is for sure: whether or not gun laws are strengthened, violence will rear its terroristic head again to the horror of residents of all ages. And the issue will come back into the national spotlight in county’s across the country all over again. But for the current campaign cycle, it appears dueling stances on gun control have taken a front seat.