Letters to the Editor 2019

To the Editor: 

Cape May County freeholders made New Jersey history Jan. 14, becoming the first gun sanctuary county in the state. As a native of Cape May County, a firearm researcher and a medical student, I find the establishment of gun sanctuaries across New Jersey concerning. 

A gun sanctuary, at a minimum, implies a symbolic gesture against gun reform, and, in some regions, directs local police to defy state law in the name of protecting the Second Amendment.

One example of a local gun sanctuary is Stillwater. The Stillwater Township Committee recently passed a symbolic gun sanctuary resolution, which specifically condemned our state’s extreme risk protection order law.

Unfortunately, local legislative actions such as these undermine sentiments to treat gun violence as a public health crisis. Worse, they may bias local police to reduce the application of specific firearm laws.

Addressing the gun violence epidemic does not imply opposition to the Second Amendment, rather these laws are applied to make it safer for firearm owners. 

In 2018, the Legislature passed laws that have been proven to save lives: extreme risk protection orders, magazine capacity limitations and background check requirements on private sales, among others. This year, the Legislature approved further resolutions aimed at restricting firearm violence.

Most of the laws passed by Trenton (and opposed sentimentally by Cape May County leadership) save lives, and the existing research emphatically confirms it.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) are laws that allow household members, law enforcement, and less commonly, health care professionals to temporarily remove access to firearms from people who are thought to pose an imminent risk to themselves or others.

They require buy-in from the local police and family members of those in crisis. ERPO laws have been demonstrated to prevent suicides and homicides in multiple studies, and have been passed in 17 states.

When it comes to magazine capacity reduction, a landmark publication in 2019 demonstrated attacks involving large capacity magazines had a 62% higher mean death toll.

In states requiring background checks on all handgun sales, there are considerable reductions in firearm homicide and suicide rates. Evidence in other states confirms the laws recently passed by the Legislature will make New Jersey safer, but they require buy-in and enforcement.

Firearm access is a constitutional right important to many Americans, and can be addressed through a public health framework without impinging upon that right. We have applied similar fundamentals to contain alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

To reduce the harm caused by intoxicated drivers, we established maximum blood alcohol concentrations, restricted closing times of bars, and raised the drinking age to 21. Consequently, alcohol-related traffic fatalities rapidly declined.

Gun violence should be treated similarly. We should think about making access safer, so law-abiding citizens may exercise their constitutional right.

Saving lives through gun reform legislation requires buy-in from all citizens, including gun owners and law enforcement. Gun sanctuaries threaten to destabilize support from evidence-based laws, and in doing so, make it less safe for our entire state.