Bill upgrading unlawful firearm possession penalties advances

TRENTON – The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee released bill S2804, which would upgrade the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm to a 1st degree crime.

Sen. Shirley Turner, a cosponsor, called it a “long overdue bill.”

The provisions of the bill make it crime of the 1st degree for a person to unlawfully possess a machine gun, handgun, rifle or shotgun, or an assault firearm following a conviction for a crime included in the No Early Release Act.

Under current law, violations of these provisions are either a 2nd degree offense, in the case of machine guns, handguns and assault firearms, or a 3rd degree offense, in the case of rifles and shotguns.

Scott Bach, of the New Jersey Association of Rifle and Pistol Clubs, said the legislation cleans up a long-standing part of state law that hurt what he termed good people with “hyper-technical’’ offenses.

Most of them were not eligible for pre-trial intervention, because PTI is only available for 3rd degree offenses. Unlawful possession of a firearm is a 2nd degree crime.

“While we are getting the bad guys, we need to fix something that has long put away the good guys (on hypertechnical offenses),”  he said.

But committee members said another bill would need to be drafted to address that technicality.

Bill upgrading unlawful firearm possession penalties advances