WRI Policy Perspective: Gun Violence and Prevention in New Jersey

Recent mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton have once again left the nation shocked, saddened and seeking answers. To date, there have been 32 fatal shootings with three or more victims in the United States in 2019, each incident spurring debate among people of all political affiliations around possible gun violence prevention measures.  Public opinion has grown intense on all sides, with more than 61 percent favoring stricter gun laws according to a May Quinnipiac poll, and 36 percent responding to a February NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll that laws covering the sale of guns should remain the same.


Federal Gun Laws

At the Federal level, no substantial legislative changes addressing firearms have been recently enacted. In February 2019, the House approved two bills (HR8 and HR1112) to expand universal background checks, but the bills have not come up for consideration in the Senate. The reoccurring legislative impasse at the federal level leaves most firearms policy decisions to the states. In New Jersey, numerous bills and programs have been enacted to take action to mitigate gun violence.


How New Jersey Compares

According to data compiled through the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, New Jersey has the second strictest firearms laws out of the 50 states. Common gun laws in the Garden State include required background checks, an assault weapons ban, and handgun permit restrictions, among numerous other policies focused on citizen safety. Researchers have begun to parse out the data related to incidents of violence and firearms policies finding in one study that states with more permissive gun laws and greater gun ownership had higher rates of mass shootings and another suggesting that stricter US gun laws are linked to lower homicide and suicide rates. New Jersey ranks 45th among the 50 states in the number of per capita gun deaths per year according to the CDC, with 5.3 people killed via firearms per 100,000 residents compared to the national average of 11.7 firearms deaths per 100,000 residents. Hawaii has some of the nation’s strongest gun laws in the nation and reported 2.5 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2017. Alaska’s gun laws are among the most permissive in the U.S. and in 2017, reported 24.5 firearms deaths per 100,000 residents.   


New Jersey Takes Action

State-led firearms legislation may not be new, but action from New Jersey legislators on additional measures and research is. In June 2018, Governor Phil Murphy signed six firearm laws that close a loophole in the state’s background check law, strengthen the ban on high-capacity magazines, prohibit bump stocks, and enact an extreme risk protection order law. The measures also allocated $2 million to New Jersey’s Center on Gun Violence Research, a first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary research initiative led by Rutgers University to improve gun safety and create policy recommendations for gun violence prevention and public education. WRI is also a partner of this critical state-wide endeavor.

In 2019, the Governor signed four new gun violence prevention bills into law — the laws expand the list of crimes that bar someone from owning a gun in New Jersey, attempt to curtail gun trafficking from other states, aim to prevent suicides, and promote the availability of “smart guns” sold by gun dealers. “Smart guns” contain embedded technology that ensures the guns can be fired only by the designated owner. More recently, Acting Governor Sheila Oliver signed three gun violence bills promoting victim-focused violence intervention programs within New Jersey hospitals.  The programs, including the Gun Violence Intervention program, aim to bolster trauma treatment for victims.  More information about New Jersey’s firearms policies is here.

Gun violence embeds itself within all communities, both urban and rural, and affects populations across the state in various ways. Economists estimate that incidents of gun violence cost the state approximately $3.3 billion annually, approximately $368 per resident. Furthermore, over 3,300 lives were lost to gun violence in New Jersey between 2010 and 2016 according to a 2018 Impact Analysis and Policy report completed by Giffords Law Center. Gun violence and its effects consequently remain a significant public health and safety concern for New Jerseyans.


Local Prevention Measures

Across southern New Jersey, WRI engages in gun violence prevention and awareness work through two  community-based initiatives, the Cumberland County Positive Youth Development Coalition, also known as CCPYDC, and the Burlington County Partnership for Youth Success . Both are county-wide, collaborative efforts designed to create awareness around gun violence and safety prevention measures, and also to strengthen connections to law enforcement among area youth. WRI also supports the strategic planning and implementation of the Cumberland Collective To Help Reverse Inequality & Violence Everywhere, known as CC THRIVE, a U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention funded initiative focused on addressing youth gang and gun violence in Cumberland County. Learn more about WRI’s work in criminal justice and public safety here.