By Samantha Marcus | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com | Posted Jun 12, 2019
The long and heated debate over smart guns — handguns that can only be fired by their designated owners — is about to reignite in New Jersey.
The state Assembly Judiciary Committee on Thursday will consider a half-dozen gun control bills, including one requiring Garden State retailers offer a personalized handgun for sale.
It’s likely to once again put New Jersey in the crosshairs of gun activists who have fought the measure since the state first tried to require them back in 2002.
Democrats say that law — which requires that only personalized handguns be offered for sale in New Jersey three years after they’re on the market in the U.S. — actually stifled the development and delayed the sale of so-called childproof handguns.
They want to repeal the law and replace it with one that would require every retailer offer at least one personalized handgun model for sale. This, they hope, will shake loose the research and development they say was stymied by gun rights advocates who didn’t want to start New Jersey’s three-year clock.
The Democratic-controlled state Legislature tried this twice while Republican Chris Christie was governor. He vetoed it both times, saying in 2016 that it “is reflective of the relentless campaign by the Democratic legislature to make New Jersey as inhospitable as possible to lawful gun ownership and sales.”
But with Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy vowing to sign every gun control measure vetoed by his Republican predecessor, the Legislature is moving on the bill again.
State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, who was also behind the original 2002 law, said the bill is designed to protect retailers who would like to carry personalized handguns on their shelves but are at risk of “harassment.”
Past efforts by a California and a Maryland retailer to stock the Armatix iP1 were met with backlash from gun rights advocates who feared it would trigger the New Jersey law, which they consider a violation of the Second Amendment.
The Maryland store owner, Andy Raymond, posted a video on the internet saying he received “numerous death threats.” He backed off plans to sell the gun.
And 17 years after the 2002 mandate was signed into law, smart guns still are not available anywhere in the U.S.
Weinberg said she doesn’t understand opposition to the proposal mandating retailers offer a personalized gun for sale, saying the delay in getting the law changed means even more children who have gotten access to a weapon have died.
“I do not understand why anybody who supports hunters’ rights or gun owners’ rights would be against this,” she said.
Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, said if lawmakers truly wanted to see the advancement of smart gun technology, “they would keep their hands off.”
Bach said the Legislature already showed its hand when it passed the 2002 law. And while gun owners would love to buy smart guns, he said they believe it’s just an excuse to ban conventional handguns.
“The intention is to be back with the ban after they force and compel acceptance of the technology,” he said.
Bach also said personalized hand gun technology is still imperfect and hasn’t gained the trust of gun owners.
A spokeswoman for Murphy declined to comment on the bill.