Members of the Sussex County Chapter of the Brady Campaign carry a "body bag" to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen's office in Morristown
Photos courtesy of the Sussex County Chapter of the Brady Campaign
Anti-H.R. 38 protesters
Demonstration outside Frelinghuysen's office
By Meghan Byers
MORRISTOWN — Protesters from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gathered once again outside the office of U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ11) last Wednesday, continuing their fight against what the Sussex County Chapter President, Sue Hannon, referred to as the "Arm Anyone Bill."
New Jersey's 11th Congreressional District includes parts of Morris, Essex and Passaic counties, and five municipalities in Sussex County — Byram, Hopatcong, Ogdensburg, Sparta and Stanhope,
The bill's official name is H.R. 38, or the Concealed-Carry Reciprocity Bill. Introduced by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) in January of this year, H.R. 38 has been a cause of alarm for gun control advocates, and a source of cautious optimism for many gun rights supporters. The proposed bill would allow an individual with a concealed-carry permit from any state to legally carry a concealed handgun in every state which allows concealed firearms — regardless of whether or not that individual meets the state's requirements for gun possession.
The National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action stated that the H.R. 38 bill would "eliminate the confusing patchwork of state carry laws" that cause unintentional infractions when legal gun owners cross state lines. Gun violence prevention advocates say that the bill would also eliminate important gun safety measures adopted by states like New Jersey.
"This bill usurps states' rights," Hannon said. "The weakest law is the law of the land. Regulations that make sense in Wyoming don't make sense in densely populated states like California."
Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of NJ Rifle & Pistol Clubs, called H.R. 38 "a step in the right direction" toward improving gun rights in New Jersey, which he believes the state has "long disparaged."
"New Jersey is an outlier," said Bach. "We're out of step with the rest of the country...Unfortunately, federal action is needed to force New Jersey to respect and honor the second amendment."
Under current state law, New Jersey residents must meet stringent requirements in order to qualify for a permit to carry a handgun in any place other than their own home or business. This includes endorsements from "three reputable persons," a written certificate of "justifiable need" to carry a handgun for protection, and a demonstration of "thorough familiarity" with the safe handling of a handgun. Currently, non-residents of New Jersey who wish to carry a handgun in the state are required to obtain a permit under this same process.
Although Bach agrees that gun owners should be "properly trained" and undergo a basic safety course, he says that the state's strict requirements, along with numerous cases of lengthy delays in processing permit applications, interfere with residents' basic rights. While gun control advocates "may be well-intentioned," said Bach, "they are arguing that an individual doesn't have the right to protect himself."
Dwight Panozzo, direct action coordinator for the Brady Campaign in New Jersey, disagreed.
"People do have their second amendment rights, but they should be balanced by their second amendment responsibilities," said Panozzo, going on to cite the second amendment's use of the phrase "well-regulated militia."
"Everyone's rights must be balanced against everyone else's rights...I am all for people handling guns responsibly and being well-trained," said Panozzo. "I don't foresee a world in which we'll ever not need that."
Supporters of the H.R. 38 bill, including Rep. Richard Hudson, have emphasized that it would prevent law-abiding gun owners from becoming accidental offenders of widely varying gun transport laws from state to state. New Jersey has some of the strictest gun transport laws in the nation, and Governor Christie has pardoned multiple accidental offenders since 2015.
Panozzo, however, believes that gun rights groups should be "offering education to their membership" about differing state laws, rather than "pushing for lax gun laws."
"Where is your public education system to inform all potential gun owners of their rights?" said Panozzo.
According to Hannon, the Sussex County Chapter of the Brady Campaign will continue to work at the local level to address concerns about H.R. 38.
"We're working on getting resolutions opposing it," said Hannon. "People have to be smart with guns; we have strict gun laws, and that's great."
Wednesday's protest was intended not only to raise awareness about the bill as it moves through Congress, but also to specifically question Frelinghuysen's stance on the issue. 188 of Frelinghuysen's Republican colleagues have co-sponsored H.R. 38, including New Jersey Representative Thomas MacArthur (R-NJ3).
"We want clarification from our congressman," said Sue Hannon, who added that she had written to Frelinghuysen multiple times and received form letters in response. Hannon speculated that Frelinghuysen might be "more prepared to toe the party line" after facing backlash from conservatives for his refusal to support the recent healthcare reform bill.
Frelinghuysen, who has also faced backlash recently for lack of open communication with his constituents, has yet to issue any statement on H.R. 38. His press secretary did not respond to a request for comment.
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