NJ lawmakers set to hear "Gulag for gun owners" bill

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New Jersey is not known for being a friend to the Second Amendment or any civil liberties for that matter. Through much debated bail reforms over the years, those that get simple possession charges for not being in possession of an unobtainable CCW in the Garden State, have skirted mandatory pretrial incarceration. A newly introduced bill in New Jersey is scheduled to be heard on Monday, March 14 at 1:00 p.m. by the New Jersey Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee. The bill, A2426 seems to be well intentioned, but the way it’s written, would allow for draconian penalties for simple technical violations of the law. From the bill’s statement:

This bill establishes a rebuttable presumption that a defendant subject to a mandatory prison term for a firearm-related crime pursuant to the “Graves Act” is to be detained prior to trial.  P.L.1981, c.31, also known as the “Graves Act,” sets forth mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment for individuals convicted of certain crimes involving  the use or possession of a firearm.

Under P.L.2014, c.31, also known as the “Criminal Justice Reform Law,” criminal courts are authorized to order the pretrial release of a defendant pending further proceedings, or order pretrial detention of a defendant who is found to be a flight risk, a danger to another or the community, or likely to obstruct further criminal proceedings.

Currently, there is a rebuttable presumption that a defendant who is charged with murder or a crime that subjects the defendant to an ordinary or extended term of life imprisonment is to be detained pending trial.  This rebuttable presumption applies when a prosecutor makes a motion for the pretrial detention, and may be rebutted upon a showing of proof, by a preponderance of the evidence, in favor of the defendant.  If the presumption is not rebutted, the court may order pretrial detention of the defendant.  If the presumption is rebutted, the prosecutor still has the opportunity to establish grounds for pretrial detention.

This bill provides that the rebuttable presumption of pretrial detention also applies to defendants charged with a firearm related crime under the “Graves Act.” The act requires the court to sentence a person who unlawfully possesses a firearm or commits certain serious crimes while possessing a firearm to a mandatory term of incarceration. The mandatory term of incarceration is one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed, or three years, whichever is greater.

The big issue with this bill is it does not distinguish the difference between violent criminal acts and the victimless crime of exercising a Constitutional right. Remember that the State of New Jersey is a “may-issue” CCW state and the threshold of being able to receive such a permit is so high it’s estimated only 1200 ordinary peasants hold such a license. 

New Jersey’s law criminalizes the simple possession of a firearm if one is not in possession of the appropriate government documents (firearms ID card or permit to carry). All other firearm possession is allowed only under exemption of the law. Given the narrow scope of allowable exemptions, it’s very easy to quickly go from being a law abiding and legal gun owner to a felon in the state.

A recent Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs (ANJRPC) alert (Urgent: Oppose “Gulag for Gun Owners” Bill) further explains the issues at hand.

HONEST GUN OWNERS TREATED THE SAME AS MURDERERS FOR INADVERTENT, TECHNICAL LAW VIOLATIONS

No Violent Crime Required

Rot in Jail for Years While Awaiting “Trial”

Tell Lawmakers to Fix or Oppose This Poorly-Crafted Bill

On Monday, March 14 at 1:00 p.m., the New Jersey Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee is scheduled to consider A2426 – an apparently well-intentioned but badly botched piece of legislation whose intended purpose appears to be to throw the book at violent gun criminals – which law-abiding gun owners actually support.

But as written, the bill does not distinguish between violent criminal behavior and innocent technical infractions for the draconian presumption against bail to apply.  Law-abiding gun owners who inadvertently violate NJ’s thicket of hyper-technical firearms possession laws would be treated exactly the same as murderers—thrown in jail to rot for years without bail while they await trial someday for their “crimes.”

This is not an imagined concern, as the Garden State has a well-documented track record of throwing the book at honest gun owners for innocent technical infractions.  As written, this bill adds insult to injury and would throw honest gun owners in the gulag for years while they await trial for “infractions” like:

-Stopping for food, fuel, going to the bathroom, or medical treatment on the way to or from the target range.

-Transporting firearms to or from one’s place of business, a gun store, hunting, fishing, target shooting competitions, target ranges, re-enactments, gun buyback events, vacation homes or other destinations.

-Widows or widowers turning in firearms of their deceased spouses.

-Possession of antique and black powder firearms (even these firearms could trigger the draconian penalties under this bill).

The time to take action is now. It’s important that all New Jersey gun owners and other concerned citizens contact every member of the New Jersey Assembly to alert them that this bill needs to be changed to separate violent acts from simple mistakes. The laws in New Jersey are so strict as it is for the law abiding gun owner, this will just make things worse on them. To contact all members of the Assembly via email you can visit ANJRPC’s Assembly contact page HERE.

Assembly Email Addresses – Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs (anjrpc.org)

For your reference, this is what I wrote to the Assembly on the matter:

From: John Petrolino

To: Members of Assembly

Sent: Friday, March 11, 2022

Subject: Assembly Bill 2426

Attention Members of the Assembly:

I’m writing to you today concerning A2426 ( Establishes rebuttable presumption of pretrial detention for defendants who commit certain firearm offenses under Graves Act.) which is scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on March 14th. The bill may seem like a no brainer, however there is a very large flaw in it. The bill as written does not make a distinction between violent criminals and simple possession charges. As it is, the Garden State criminalizes the exercise of our right to bear arms as enshrined in the Second Amendment and noted in the Heller decision…adding this provision to the law could entrap and unnecessarily burden/punish a well intentioned gun owner that accidently breaks the law. It can and does happen. Our laws are just far too strict and do nothing to add to the public safety of our citizens.

Please see to it that the bill is amended to apply only to VIOLENT criminal possession or use of firearms, not every Graves act infraction. Or shelve this bill all together.

New Jersey citizens have for over fifty years had their rights violated and adding more restrictions is not the answer. Alabama was the 22nd state to pass permitless carry on the 10th of March, whereas it’s 100% NOT a criminal act to be in possession of a firearm, if the person is not disqualified to own one,  regardless of having a license or not. With an opinion coming on NYSRPA v Bruen, the Assembly and lawmakers should be looking towards passing bills such as Senator Durr’s, which removes the justifiable need standard from our carry law.

Thank you kindly in advance for your time in these matters.

Warmest Regards,

John Petrolino