Another slaughter in suburban America took place when a 22-year-old, reportedly perched overlooking an Independence Day Parade, opened fire on the family-friendly event, killing six and injuring at least 38 people in the Chicago neighborhood, home to a large Jewish population. Marchers said that the sound of gunfire was initially mistaken for fireworks, or rifle salutes, but then it quicky became apparent what the grim reality was. Police have yet to officially remark as to whether or not there was a stated objective behind the bloody attack. The suspect, apprehended, is a featherweight of some 120 pounds with several facial tattoos. He had been seen dressed as Where’s Waldo at a Trump rally, and had a penchant for using the symbol of the far-right Finnish organization Suomen Sisu.
The shooter’s uncle, who lived with him, was interviewed on television and denied any knowledge of seeing troubling behavior by his nephew. Social media, however, found the shooter had produced rap videos with violent references, including a mass shooter being gunned down by police in a pool of blood.
The attack has sparked outrage once again across the nation and comes on the heels of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting, the Buffalo, New York, shooting, and countless others before.
Governor Phil Murphy responded shortly afterward, stating that he had been in touch with his Illinois counterpart, Democratic Governor Pritzker, and that on July 5 he would be signing new state gun legislation into law.
At a Tuesday morning press conference ahead of the signing, Senate President Nick Scutari said that the New Jersey legislature’s action was “not a reaction” to gun violence, but rather a deliberate policy that has been put into place.
“We’ve been working on this for days, weeks and months on end, to make sure that we were laser focused on issues that would make a difference in New Jersey, safeguarding certain aspects of legal gun ownership and upgrading penalties for illegal gun ownership.” Scutari pointed out Senator Cryan and those who sponsored ghost gun laws. Ghost guns are untraceable weapons. Usually they are kits or 3-D printed at home. “These are absolutely illegal,” Scutari said. “People that are manufacturing, distributing, passing around, and selling ghost guns are up to nefarious activity and have to be dealt with harshly.”
Scutari added that the new legislation was designed to make weapons handling safer. “Talking about people coming in from out of state, talking about safeguarding their weaponry, talking about making sure that weapon’s ammunition is delved into properly, these are things that responsible gun owners should have no problem with in New Jersey. We’ve contacted them, we’ve worked with them, we understand that there is a constitutional protection to the right to bear arms under the federal constitution. But in New Jersey, we’re going to take every measure possible to make sure that that is as narrowly tailored as possible, because it is an important aspect of our way of life here in New Jersey. I think that the legislature today is taking very important steps to narrowly focus gun safety laws where we can, and where we do not run afoul.”
The senate president said that the new budget put forward $10 million towards gun violence prevention. The budget is “putting more money into mental health services in this state this year than ever before. Mental health awareness and mental health illness is at the heart so many problems that we face in society, not the least of which are gun violence, unemployability, homelessness, veteran issues. All of these things that we can address through a more narrowly tailored viewpoint on what we do with mental health and I want to thank the members of the legislature for investing so heavily in it this year. You’re going to see that hopefully next year–the fruits of our labor–when we see more and more folks being able to get into mental health crisis prevention from issues, helping to encourage people into that program. I think that that’s going to be helpful.”
Governor Murphy thanked Senator Cryan and his colleagues for their work on ghost gun legislation. “If you’re supporting ghost guns in any way, you’re not a law-abiding gun owner, you’re a criminal.”
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin addressed the audience next. The day after the shooting in Highland Park, a deliberate targeting of a festival, Coughlin spoke straight to the point. “I love being among people. I love the Jersey Shore. I love parades and fireworks and sporting events, just like I suspect so many of you do. But at this point in time in our nation, it’s not unfair to ask, ‘Where’s the next target going to be?’ When you have to ask that question, it impinges on all of our rights, because students and children have a right to feel safe when they’re at school, or in the park, or at their soccer game. Residents have the right to feel safe when they’re grocery shopping, and to go to the community centers, and to be at a concert. All of us deserve to be able to feel safe when we worship at our church or synagogue or mosque. New Jerseyans and all Americans deserve to go about their day with peace, happiness, and prosperity, free of the fear of being challenged by guns. It’s the job of all of us, all of us who are fortunate enough to be able to serve the people of New Jersey as elected officials, to do what we can.”
Coughlin said that New Jersey was “out in front” in the nation as far as gun laws were concerned, not by accident but the product of thoughtful policy. “But we can’t be complacent,” he added. “We can’t take things for granted. We need to continue to be proactive. For those still impacted by the all too real fear of gun violence, our communities need the protection that we can provide, so we should be proud of the work that we’ve done, as the governor, the senate president, and attorney general have outlined there.”
Critics of gun control frequently point out that those who break the laws do not respect the laws by default, rendering the legislation as punishing only the law abiding. Coughlin defined the bills as “common sense” measures, however. “Here’s what we’re asking them to do: hold the people in the gun industry accountable. Is that too much to ask? Require firearms training. Is that really too much to ask? Enhancing the traceability of new guns and ammunition, help law enforcement do their job preventing powerful guns that could take down an airplane and gear from getting into the hands of those intent on using it for bad purposes—that is hardly too much to ask. In fact, it’s something we should do and we ought to do if we’re going to live up to our job and your standards.”
Senator Teresa Ruiz hailed the legislation and lamented the fact that more children are now lost to gun violence than to fatal car accidents. “As a mother that is not something that you want to hear. As a public advocate, it is something that I will not tolerate. As an elected official, it is something that I will not stand by. But there will be uncomfortable conversations that will have to be had after today. After the applause and the headlines die down, we must go back to work to make investment in human capital that creates prevention and systems that elevate every single community.”
State Senator Joe Cryan thanked William Castner (pictured), who had served as the governor’s senior advisor on firearms policy, when he spoke. He described his experiences working with law enforcement as Union County Under Sheriff, describing the screams of those who had lost family members as ones which “never leave your head.” Cryan said that “our children have a right to a better tomorrow.”
“I’ve dealt with folks, the officers who I had the privilege of leading, some of the most hardened professionals in this state on crime scenes and investigatory process, seeing them stand there and not know what to do next with that feeling,” Cryan said. “Folks with weeks of training and years of experience, stand and say ‘What can you do?’ We often refer those folks to counseling because of the crime scene itself and what it takes to actually have the fortitude to do the job that they’re entrusted to do… Yet today, we have hope. Today I can look at somebody and say, actually, we’ve done something.”
Cryan noted that there is controversy surrounding gun control and that voices are loud on both sides. He thanked the advocates, and added, “Somewhere in this world between 1776 and today, between a musket and an AK 47 the rules changed. They may be a right under the Second Amendment, but it should darn sure be a regulated right. It’s my opinion that it is actually a privilege these days.”
Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds–Jackson was the last to address the audience. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we get to push ‘pause’ in this moment and celebrate our accomplishments. Then pick up tomorrow and be able to continue the work that we’ve started is just so important. When you think about licenses that you have to get for your medical or your driver’s license, even for cosmetology, you’d have to go back for refresher courses. The things that we’re doing here are absolutely important. We want to make sure that we are protecting our children.”
Reynolds-Jackson said that New Jerseyans need more enforcement of the laws. Additionally, “we need to be able to say there are alternatives.” She called for more after-school programs, camps, and other venues for youth “to show that there is a whole world out there of options and it doesn’t have to be guns. It doesn’t have to be violence. But it’s up to us, as public officials to make sure that we bring those things home back to our community.”
Just before closing the microphone to move on to the actual signing, Governor Murphy wanted to address the critics and skeptics of his gun policies, noting that the Illinois shooter reportedly owned the weapon used legally. “Skeptics may ask–I know the advocates won’t ask—’Well, why do all this? If that’s true?’ Let me say two things. This is an ‘and-both’ realities meeting. We really need Congress to act. They took some modest but important steps, a good step in the right direction with a long way still to go. We need our neighbors to be strong in their gun safety laws. But at the same time, this is the way I think about it: we’re trying to improve our batting average. The goal is to bat a thousand. We probably will never bat a thousand. But, if by signing these laws today, we can improve our batting average–in other words, you measure your batting average by fewer gun crimes, fewer fatalities, fewer injuries, more positive street teamwork, better prosecutions, better holding the manufacturers more accountable, whatever it might be. All of that may not move the needle all the way to batting a thousand, but it improves our batting average. That’s what we are all in this to do.”