Church leaders applaud law banning abusers from gun ownership
By EmmaLee Italia| Correspondent
The bipartisan effort to restrict domestic violence offenders’ access to firearms ended in victory Jan. 9, when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed bill S2483/A4126 into law.
A clear triumph for Catholics and others who advocate for the safeguarding of life and families, the new law prohibits people under restraining orders or convicted of domestic violence offenses from possessing a firearm for two years, or for the duration of the restraining order, whichever time period is longer.
Furthermore, the law requires anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime to sell or surrender their firearms. It’s an amendment to prior N.J. law, which left the decision to surrender all firearms up to the courts. Convicted offenders must also turn in their handgun purchase permits and firearms identification cards, and authorities will be subsequently notified.
The widely-supported bill passed by a 61-2 vote in the N.J. Assembly and a 32-0 vote in the N.J. Senate. Two earlier versions of the bill had been vetoed by Christie, who “proposed a rewrite of the bill that would instead expedite the permit process for domestic abuse victims seeking access to guns for their own protection,” stated an article on NJ.com.
Ultimately the Democratic- and Republican-supported revised bill was supported by Christie, “because it added a provision that increases criminal penalties for offenses, including maximums for repeat offenders, which he ‘urged’ lawmakers to adopt,” the article continued.
Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), the bill’s sponsor stated in a November article on Patch.com, that the law closes a loophole that “leaves victims vulnerable to gun violence.”
“It is already illegal for someone subject to a domestic violence restraining order or a convicted offender to possess a firearm,” Weinberg explained. “This bipartisan bill will address the deficiencies in the law by putting in place a mechanism to take guns out of the hands of domestic violence abusers. This will substantially strengthen enforcement of our current laws and create better protections.”
Protecting the Abused
The New Jersey Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic bishops of New Jersey, expressed its support of the new law, and its potential for protection of innocent human life.
“This bill is important because domestic violence is often not paid attention to, and doesn’t get as much visibility, but it wreaks devastating harm on families,” said Patrick Brannigan, NJCC executive director. “We are thankful for Governor Christie signing the legislation into law.”
James King, director of the NJCC office of social concerns, called the signing of the law “a big deal” in light of Catholic social teaching.
“Domestic violence is an assault against the human person,” said King. “Any action that is taken to protect people, to help people stay safe, would be supported by the Church.”
Efforts to protect families from gun violence have long been promoted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In 2000, the USCCB issued a pastoral statement, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,” in which the bishops called for all people to do more to end violence in the home and help victims break free from abuse.
“We support measures that control the sale and use of firearms and make them safer … and we reiterate our call for sensible regulation of handguns,” the statement said.
“The USCCB will remain engaged in the public debate on gun violence prevention,” reads a separate statement on the USCCB website. “We call on all people of good will to urge their Senators and Representatives to support policy and legislative measures that promote mercy and peacebuilding in our communities by implementing reasonable regulations on firearms …”
In affirming the importance of the new firearm access law, King referenced the USCCB’s 2002 statement, “When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women.”
“One line that stood out to me [in their statement] was that ‘no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage’ … and how some may hesitate to seek divorce or separation, but it is the ‘violence and abuse, not divorce, that break up a marriage.’”
King views the law as a tool that helps further the dialogue about domestic violence.
“As Catholics, we’re asked to pay attention to so much in our society,” he explained. “It’s good to have reminders like this law.” King hopes that it will help continue the conversation about the work that organizations like Catholic Charities and parishes are doing to combat the problem of domestic abuse, and to support its victims, which would in turn “put resources in place for what is needed, to engage and help those most vulnerable in our society.”
“For every teaching [the Church has] on pro-life and being the voice for the voiceless, that term can be used in [domestic violence] situations as well,” he continued. “As a father, I take this seriously. I have to show my sons how to act as a man, and I hope I demonstrate for my daughter what she should expect from a relationship with a man.”