Former congresswoman Gabby Giffords has struggled to speak since 2011 after she miraculously survived a gunshot to her head. However, she was not going to let this struggle prevent her from voicing her message in an address to the public at the Gun Violence Against Women Roundtable held last week at the Statehouse in New Jersey.
Pushing for NJ state legislation that would tighten restrictions on access to guns for those subject to restraining orders or charged with or convicted of domestic violence, the Arizona Democrat hosted a public discussion with NJ state Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Camden), and nine women leaders on domestic violence and gun control issues. Giffords, who was shot by a mentally ill man while attending a constituent relations event in Tucson in 2011, limited herself to just one important comment during the Roundtable yesterday:
“Dangerous people with guns are a threat to women. Criminals with guns, abusers with guns, stalkers with guns- that makes gun violence a women’s issue. For mothers, for families, for me and you, women can lead the way. We stand for responsibility. We can change the laws, we can win elections.”
The bill Giffords is pushing, A4218, would amend NJ domestic violence law to require the seizure of weapons belonging to any person who is subject to a restraining order. Although under the current state law, convicted offenders are barred from purchasing guns and may be ordered to surrender weapons already in their possession, the Gifford’s bill would close an existing legal loophole that allows individuals who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders, but who have not been convicted of a domestic violence crime, to continue to legally possess guns.
Among other provisions, the new law would:
- Create a mandatory requirement that those subject to domestic violence restraining orders surrender their guns. Under current NJ law, judges have complete discretion over whether to order a defendant who is under a restraining order to surrender their gun. The new law would also provide for the immediate suspension of any gun permit possessed by the offender.
- Require prosecutors to inform victims of their ability to seek revocation of defendants’ firearms ID cards and purchase permits before their guns are surrendered.
- Require authorities to search a registry of domestic violence reports before issuing gun purchase permits. One of the most dangerous gaps in federal firearms laws today is the “private sale” loophole. Although the stats show that gun offenders overwhelmingly purchase their firearms from private sellers, federal law only mandates licensed dealers, not private sellers, to run background checks at the point of sale. A state law that requires a background check in order to even obtain the right to purchase a gun from any seller, may help to close that gap.
Not surprisingly, gun rights advocates touting the Second Amendment say that restraining orders are not proof of guilt and that the bill goes too far. But the bill’s supporters say that this is not a gun rights issue, rather it’s about keeping guns away from individuals who have shown a propensity for violence against women. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy who is supporting similar legislation in his state has noted that “the period of time immediately following a domestic violence victim’s application for a restraining order is one of the most volatile, and access to a firearm in that situation presents an additional, outstanding threat.” If a judge determines that a victim is in danger enough so that he orders a restraining order, that victim “should not have to wait until they are fully protected.”
Giffords also met privately with Governor Chris Christie, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) to lobby the bill. Although Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts says that the Governor, “has incredible admiration for [Gifford’s] courage and perseverance…and [that] he was honored to have the opportunity to meet with her…to discuss domestic violence and gun issues,” there is no real indication yet of whether Christie will support the bill.
In fact, many speculate that it might be tough to impose more restrictions on gun access in NJ, which already has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. Governor Christie, who is hoping to become the Republican nominee for president, vetoed legislation last year that would have reduced the number of bullets allowed in gun magazines and in December, he remarked that New Jersey gun laws “might be too strict.”