Photo provided by Sue Hannon.
Brady campaign protesters outside of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s office in Morristown.
BY MEGHAN BYERS
MORRISTOWN — Approximately two-dozen members of the Sussex County chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence protested at the office of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-11, last Wednesday, carrying signs that read "Disarm Hate" and "No to Concealed Carry." Protesters marched over from Schuyler Place to the Morristown Green, aiming to raise awareness about the proposed concealed-carry reciprocity bill, which was introduced on Jan. 3.
The bill, also known as H.R. 38, would allow an individual with a concealed-carry permit from any state to legally carry a concealed handgun in every state that allows concealed firearms — regardless of whether that individual meets the state's requirements for gun possession.
"We want to know what our congressman thinks of the bill," said Sue Hannon, a Sparta resident and president of the Sussex County chapter of the Brady Campaign. "We don't want him to co-sponsor it. We want to know what our congressman thinks about the issues of the day."
Frelinghuysen has so far remained quiet on this particular issue, although many of his Republican colleagues have co-sponsored H.R. 38. According to North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, who introduced the bill, H.R. 38 is an attempt to address the widely varying gun laws from state to state, and to keep legal gun owners from facing excessive charges.
Gun violence prevention advocates, however, say that this would be at the expense of safety.
"This bill usurps the laws of individual states," said Hannon, explaining that under H.R. 38, someone who was deemed unfit to own a gun by New Jersey's standards could acquire a gun in a state with less strict vetting, and legally carry it in New Jersey. "We're trying to keep guns out of dangerous people's hands."
Hannon, who has been a Sparta resident for 16 years and has two sons in Sparta schools, became active in gun violence prevention after the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012.
"I just feel deeply that there's something wrong with the fact that we don't seem to do anything," said Hannon. "Every time there's a mass shooting, nothing is done. We have to be able to do something."
According to its website, the Brady organization's goal is "to create a safer America by cutting gun deaths in half by 2025," in part by focusing on issues such as safe gun storage and universal background checks. Hannon stated that the Sussex County branch of the organization has approximately 60 to 70 active members.
"We don't want to take anyone's guns away. We want to educate and change the way people think about guns," she said. "We support common sense regulations."
"New Jersey's gun laws are very strict, and we like it that way," said Dwight Panozzo, direct action coordinator for the Brady Campaign in New Jersey. Panozzo also became involved in the organization following Sandy Hook. "We don't want anyone from any state to be able to carry a gun in New Jersey," Panozzo went on, citing Vermont as an example of a state with very few restrictions on who is allowed to purchase and carry a gun.
New Jersey, on the other hand, has some of the strictest gun transport laws in the United States. Gov. Chris Christie has pardoned multiple accidental offenders since 2015, including a United States Army Ranger and a Marine recruiter. The National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action said in a statement that the H.R. 38 bill would "eliminate the confusing patchwork of state carry laws" that lead to these unintentional infractions.
Hannon and Panozzo argue that the bill would leave New Jersey residents vulnerable. "It is your right to own a gun," said Panozzo, "but with any right comes responsibility, and that is the responsibility to not get people killed."
“This is a public health issue,” said Hannon. “It’s not a Democrat or Republican issue.”
Panozzo added that he hoped that gun owners could work with the Brady Campaign on the issue of gun violence. “We want well-trained, fit American citizens to have guns and use them for the defense of their family, for hunting, for sport,” he said.