New Jersey's Democrat-led Assembly passed 22 gun-control bills on Thursday that proponents say will help curb gun violence in the wake of the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
The measures, which have yet to clear the Senate, place limits on ammunition rounds, require mental health clearances and photo IDs for gun permits, and bar anyone on the federal terrorist watch list from obtaining a gun.
"We've got some of the best gun laws in the country, but we also know we have some things we can tighten up," Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said before the votes. "That's all the Assembly is seeking to do. We are not seeking to prevent law-abiding citizens from purchasing, owning, utilizing their guns. We are not trying to impede hunters and sportsmen in the state. We are doing some very sensible initiatives."
Republicans zeroed in on several of the bills as haphazard and poorly written, and they were critical at the speed with which the legislation was moved through the chamber. The bills were advanced by committee in a special hearing last week.
"It's unfortunate that in a year where we've seen tragic events such as Newtown, where serious attempts should be made at addressing violence in our society, that Democrats in New Jersey have decided to rush through legislation that is drafted poorly and doesn't begin to solve the problems that we've seen across the nation with respect to violent shootings," Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick said.
Republicans were thwarted in their request to hold the bills and wait for direction from an anti-violence task force commissioned by Gov. Chris Christie to look at gun violence, mental health treatment and violent video games, three elements present in December's shooting of 26 students and teachers at their Connecticut school.
A measure to keep guns out of the hands of people on the anti-terrorism no-fly list was approved by a vote of 63-3 with 10 abstentions, but most others were roughly equivalent to the political split in the chamber, 48 Democrats and 32 Republicans.
Republican Assemblywoman Amy Handlin argued against a bill reducing the capacity of ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, from 15, would do nothing to stop people intent on killing others.
"The lunatic will get access to large-capacity magazines no matter what we do from other lunatics, from other states, from the Internet," said Handlin, who represents Monmouth County.
But Assembly Democratic Leader Lou Greenwald, a sponsor of the legislation, said such a bill may have saved the 9-year-old girl killed in the Arizona shooting rampage that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
A bill sponsored by six Democrats to bar state pension fund managers from investing in companies that manufacture, import or sell assault weapons to civilians drew criticism from Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, a Republican also from Monmouth County.
Casagrande found the bill ironic and hypocritical because the companies whose stock would be dumped are the ones arming U.S. troops overseas.
"Here is the ultimate irony," she said, "We'll buy their guns to keep our citizens safe, but we will dump their stocks to make a political statement."
New Jersey has invoked similar pension-investment restrictions only three times previously: for companies that did business with South Africa's whites-only government, with Sudan during times of genocide, and with Iran's extremist government.
Several similar measures have been introduced in the Senate, but no action has been taken pending a review by Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
Christie has not taken a position on the bills, though he promised to give the proposals ``due consideration if they reach his desk.
"I'm a little surprised at how quickly they've done it," Christie said Thursday after a political event in Sea Bright, where he picked up the Democratic mayor's endorsement. "This is a very difficult issue and a complex one. And one that our national government has taken a long time to look at and study. It's amazing to me how quickly the Assembly can move when they want to."
Christie's likely opponent in November's gubernatorial race, Sen. Barbara Buono, has sought to make gun-control a campaign issue. She supports stricter gun laws.