Will Congress overrule N.J.’s ‘concealed carry’ gun law?

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman speaks at a Feb. 28 Capitol Hill press conference to oppose legislation overriding state laws on carrying concealed weapons. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. is in the background.

WASHINGTON — To get a permit to carry a concealed weapon in New Jersey, a resident must show “justifiable need.”

That’s not the case in many other states, and New Jersey is one of only 10 states that won’t honor concealed carry permits issued outside its borders. Legislation in Congress would require states to recognize concealed carry permits issued elsewhere, the same way they now accept out-of-state drivers’ licenses.

The debate pits gun rights groups and their Republican allies against Democratic lawmakers, including those representing mass-shooting sites Newtown, Conn., and Orlando, along with law enforcement officers who say it will make them less safe.

The concealed carry legislation already has 32 Senate Republican and 164 House GOP sponsors, including Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3rd Dist.).

Another bill on the wish list of gun rights supporters, which would rescind a $200 tax on gun silencers, has the support of nine Republicans in the Senate and 114 Republicans in the House.

Already, Trump has signed Republican-sponsored legislation stopping the Social Security Administration from reporting to the database used for background checks the names of any recipients mentally incapable of handling their own affairs.

Both the president and congressional Republicans received strong support from gun rights groups, most notably the National Rifle Association, which spent $53 million last year to elect GOP candidates, including more than $30 million on behalf of Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group.

That has shifted the debate away from efforts to impose some limits on gun ownership; last year, Senate Democrats staged a filibuster and House Democrats held a sit-in to demand votes on legislation requiring background checks for all gun purchases and banning those on the terrorist watch list from buying weapons.

“We are here to speak out on what we believe, not to silence ourselves,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th Dist.). “You’ve got to speak up whether you’re in the majority or minority.”

Instead, Democrats and members of law enforcement found themselves playing defense in trying to block the concealed carry and silencer legislation, knowing that if the bills can clear Congress, Trump will sign them into law.

“We need laws that will strengthen, not weaken, our current gun safety laws,” Passaic County Sheriff Chief William McCrary said.

Pascrell and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th Dist.) joined fellow House Democrats and law enforcement officials on Capitol Hill earlier this week to call attention to the legislation.

Others participating included Reps. Esty, whose Connecticut district includes Newtown, where 20 elementary school children were killed in 2012, and Val Demings of Florida, a former police chief in Orlando where 49 people were shot to death in a gay night club in 2016.

“These bills are not only horrible, they are scary,” Watson Coleman said. “They make our communities less safe.”

MacArthur, the only New Jersey lawmaker supporting the concealed carry bill, said gun owners shouldn’t have to fear arrest when they cross state lines.

He said gun owners still would have to comply with the rules of the state they lived in, not avoid more stringent requirements by seeking a permit in a state with rules that are more lax.

“You just can’t shop a state,” MacArthur said. “You have to live in the state. It’s not different than a driver’s license.”

He cited the case of Shaneen Allen, a single mother of two and gun owner from Pennsylvania who was arrested in October 2013 for carrying a concealed weapon into New Jersey. She did not have the gun unloaded and locked in the car trunk when stopped by police for an unsafe lane change.

She was arrested and spent 40 days in jail before making bail, and at one point faced a prison term of three to five years. Gov. Chris Christie pardoned her in April 2015.

“These people should not lose this right once they cross a state border,” said Alexander P. Roubian, president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society. “However, what does occur is millions of Americans use a firearm for self defense every year and protect themselves and their loved ones against violent criminals who could care less about the laws.

The silencer bill may be of even greater concern to police officers, who said they may not be able to hear where shots originate.

“If we hear the sound of gunfire, we direct our attention to where the sound is coming from,” said retired Trenton Police Sgt. Luddie Austin, whose own son was shot to death.

Roubian said such silencers already are legal and the legislation merely removes the $200 tax levied on them.

“What is next?” he asked. “They will try ban mufflers on car and make the argument that suppressed cars provide criminals an easier opportunity to flee a scene?”

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