In Paterson Tuesday, Governor Phil Murphy joined with Congressman Bill Pascrell, State Senator Nellie Pou, State Senator Joe Cryan, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, Mayor Andre Sayegh, gun control advocates, and clergy at the St. Luke Baptist Church in the heart of Paterson.
The governor used the occasion to advocate for a “comprehensive gun safety legislative package” which had been put forward in 2012, twelve months ago. The battery of measures would seek to restrict New Jerseyans from owning .50 caliber weapons, require out-of-state residents making New Jersey their home to obtain an NJ firearms ID and register their guns within 60 days, raise the age a New Jerseyan can buy a longarm such as a shotgun or rifle from 18 to 21, require those seeking a firearms ID to go through a safety course first, and require gun owners to store guns in a locked storage container when not in use.
The governor’s gun control package would stretch further, however, with A-1302 requiring retailers who sell handgun ammunition to maintain electronic sales records and report those to the New Jersey State Police. A Cody-Greenwald bill would require manufacturers to install “microstamping technology” on new guns sold in the state within a year, which would create a unique identifier on handgun ammunition casings. A-1765/1893 acknowledges the overwhelming majority of guns used in crimes in the Garden State are from beyond New Jersey’s borders but says gun manufacturers have not taken measures to prevent illegal private gun sales, shows, straw purchases, and theft. This would amend the public nuisance laws by empowering the Attorney General to investigate a “person, firm, corporation, company, partnership, society, joint stock company, or any other entity or association engaged in the sale, manufacturing, distribution, importing or marketing of firearms, ammunition, ammunition magazines, or firearm accessories.”
“The bills that I introduced one year ago are basic measures that will keep guns out of the wrong hands, help law enforcement apprehend the perpetrators of gun violence, and hold the gun industry accountable for its deceptive and dangerous practices,” Governor Murphy said. Despite New Jersey already having some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, the governor said that he wants to make New Jersey “a national leader in gun safety.”
Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin, who formerly served as the governor’s chief counsel, said, “Under the leadership of Governor Murphy, and in partnership with the Legislature, New Jersey is nationally recognized as a model for preventing gun violence through common-sense laws that protect our communities, keep our residents safe, and save lives.”
On a strictly political level, those initially dismissive of Murphy having any ambitions to run for president may have their skepticism dented on taking note of the language employed.
The remarks delivered were in the City of Paterson which is experiencing one of the worst spates of violent crime since the early 1980s. The number of Paterson shooting victims, however, did see a drop of 5% in 2021 compared to 2020, a year characterized by the coronavirus lockdowns and a huge spike in unemployment statewide as businesses were forced to shut down or slash operations.
For Paterson’s mayor, Andre Sayegh, crime and public safety have been the keystone topics lobbed against him by his opponents as he seeks re-election. Mayor Sayegh was recently endorsed by Governor Murphy while Sayegh’s chief rival, Councilman Alex Mendez, teamed up with former Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, slamming the incumbent for the city’s unsafe streets. Sayegh, for his part, seeks to capitalize on the apparent hypocrisy of Mayor Torres (who did time for corruption) and Councilman Mendez (under indictment for alleged electoral fraud) criticizing him. Alson Goow, a police officer, past councilman, and staunch Sayegh rival, accused the mayor of being more interested in photo ops and bullying critics than substantive leadership.
Sayegh, however, has been at the forefront of spearheading unique crime prevention initiatives and was at the governor’s side as the latter joined with urban mayors around the state to push his gun control agenda. In 2021 there were a reported 98 shooting victims in Paterson while the city was in the midst of the still-active coronavirus pandemic. That number was even higher for Newark, Trenton, and Camden last year. It should be noted that the rise in violent gun crime is not a uniquely New Jersey phenomenon, however, but part of a national trend. Regardless, Sayegh has not sat on his hands.
In December of 2021, Mayor Sayegh and Congressman Pascrell announced that a Gun Crime Intelligence Center would be set up in the City of Paterson to study and help combat violent gun crime that has been plaguing the seat of Passaic County. The first of its kind in the Garden State, it would benefit from a $700,000 Justice Department grant. Sayegh has also joined with other mayors and state leaders to call for an amendment to New Jersey’s bail reform policies, calling for those facing gun crimes charges to remain in pretrial detention rather than risk a repeat of further gun crimes. These represent notable line items for Sayegh’s campaign resume as he endures the slings and barbs from Mendez (and by extension, Torres), and Goow in the days leading up the election on May 10.