LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

NJ lawmakers introduce bills to ban bump stocks

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

When Las Vegas Metro Police first ran to the scene at Mandalay Bay on Sunday night, they didn’t know the shooter’s exact location. But they called dispatch and warned responders about the gunfire that was mowing victims down.

“Be advised it is automatic fire,” an office radioed in. “Fully automatic fire from an elevated position. Take cover.”

After it all ended, SWAT teams searched shooter Stephen Paddock’s room. They didn’t find any automatic weapons, which are federally banned. But they did discover semi-automatic rifles that had been modified — retrofitted with a little-known device called a bump stock. Bump stocks accelerate a gun’s firing rate by using the gun’s recoil to bump it back and forth. So with one trigger-pull, a gunman can shoot 400 to 800 rounds per minute. It’s less accurate — but highly lethal. And now it’s highly controversial.

“These weapons of war have no place in our society in any way, shape or form,” said Sen. Ray Lesniak.

Democrats Lesniak and Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Republican Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi introduced bills on Thursday to outright ban bump stocks, requireing them to be returned to police. Technically, state law allows the sale and possession of bump stocks in New Jersey. It’s just illegal to actually use them.

“These bump stocks are not banned, that’s why we have to do it. And it’s pretty common, you can get it over the internet. And not only will we ban any sale, but any possession,” said Lesniak.

I’m hoping we will get bipartisan support,” said Weinberg. “There is no reason in the world to be able to buy a device that converts your semi-automatic gun into an automatic gun.”

Phil Murphy, the Democrat running for governor, fully endorsed banning bump stocks and supports strengthening gun control laws.

After the Vegas massacre, GOP gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno said in a statement, “I won’t change the gun laws, simple as that. I won’t change the gun laws.” Her boss was even more emphatic.

“There was nothing that law enforcement or the government could’ve done to prevent it,” Gov. Chris Christie said on Wednesday. “Seems to me every time something bad happens, people think the government should find a way to solve it.”

But the bump stocks issue elicited a different response. Guadagno noted, “Automatic weapons are already illegal, so we should absolutely have a discussion about bump stocks, which seem to violate the spirit of the law.” Christie spokesman Brian Murray noted, “The governor is more than willing to consider further regulation of bump stock devices, which are already restricted by state law.”

Their positions seemed to align with the National Rifle Association, which surprised its members and politicians by asking the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to re-examine the issue of bump stocks. But it’s a very qualified ask.

“We ought to take a look at that, see if it’s in compliance with federal law, and if it’s worthy of additional regulation,” said NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. “That being said, we didn’t say ‘ban.’ We didn’t say ‘confiscate.'”

“I think this is kind of craven on their part,” said Rutgers-Camden political science professor Richard Harris. “I think they see an opportunity to move toward what appears to be some sort of compromise without actually compromising any of their pretty hard line decisions.”

New Jersey lawmakers will probably vote on the bump stock ban bills after the election in a lame duck Legislature. And the lame duck governor has said he’s willing to work with them on the issue.