More Control Needed of Guns, Games: Report

A panel created by Gov. Chris Christie to address violence called Wednesday for tightening some gun control laws in the state, regulating video games and providing more help for the mentally ill.

The group also recommended that schools have armed police officers but not in ways likely to raise fears of violence.

The NJ Safe Task Force, created after 20 children and six educators were shot dead at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school last year, made 50 recommendations in response to the Republican governor's starting point: that he would be willing to consider more gun laws but only in conjunction with addressing mental health and violence in the media.

Christie did not comment on any of the specifics of the plan but said in a statement that he would announce his proposals in the next week to 10 days. The state Assembly, controlled by Democrats, has been trying to push ahead on gun control. In February, it passed 22 bills aimed at increased gun control, but none of the measures has been taken up by the Senate.

State Sen. Barbara Buono, a Democrat who's expected to win her party's nomination to face Christie in the November gubernatorial election, criticized the Wednesday report for failing to recommend more sweeping gun control measures. She is calling for requiring background checks for private gun sales, limiting ammunition magazine sizes and outlawing military-style weapons.

The task force, led by former state Attorneys General Peter Verniero and John Degnan, did address gun laws; New Jersey's are considered among the strictest in the nation in some ways.

The group said that the state should require that licenses to own firearms be subject to periodic renewal, though it did not settle on how often. It also called for a law to ban straw purchasers, people who buy guns for others.

Other suggestions were aimed at clarifying existing provisions. One recommendation would make certain that people involuntarily committed for mental disorders but treated on an outpatient basis could be blocked from owning guns. Another would require prospective firearms purchasers to report their mental health histories.

The group cited studies that found that media violence has been a factor for some mass killers and recommended regulation of video games, including requiring parental permission for minors who want to buy games rated “mature” or “adults only.”

The report also calls for a broader system to help people with mental illness or addictions and those in crisis and to launch a public campaign aimed at destigmatizing mental illness.

When it comes to school security, the task force treads carefully, saying that having armed security officers or police in school “might unwittingly raise, rather than alleviate, the level of anxiety about gun violence.”

“High-visibility tactics that are intended to chill potential mass shooters may also have a chilling effect on the children we seek to protect,” it said.

Christie took a similar stance amid earlier calls for more armed school personnel.

But the report praises existing resource officer programs, in which armed police officers are regularly in schools, and says such programs could be expanded. It suggests leaving decisions about officers in schools to local school officials.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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