Gun-control advocates nearly opposed reform bills until critical changes made

TRENTON – Gun reform advocates say they nearly pulled their support of the Senate’s gun bills earlier this week before there was eleventh-hour wrangling and “bottom line” revisions made to key proposals.

The gun package, which is being spearheaded in large part by Senate President Steve Sweeney, cleared a Senate panel Thursday but nearly failed to garner the support of groups that have been the loudest voices for gun reform in the state.

The groups argued certain “critical” details were missing from the bill package and, what’s worse, some language appeared to weaken current statutes, they said.

“When I woke up Thursday morning, based on some communications … Wednesday night, I thought we were done,” said Bryan Miller, executive director of Heeding God’s Call, who has been a leading advocate in the state for gun reform.

“I thought we were going to go in there and reluctantly oppose what I’m calling the Sweeney bills,” he said. “We had been negotiating with the Senate president for about two months. There was movement, but it wasn’t sufficient movement for us.”

Miller described his and others’ reluctance to even agree to support the proposals based on just a verbal compromise, explaining the hearing Thursday stalled as amendments to bills were reworked and printed.

“We [couldn’t] go into the hearing and agree on things until we [saw] things in black and white,” he said.

The group took particular exception with a few “bottom line” proposals that Miller and others argued had to be part of the package, including the replacement of a seven-day “cooling off” period that appeared to be eliminated from Sweeney’s electronic card system bill.

“There were good components to it but overall, there were aspects to it that we thought would roll back our current law,” said Nicola Bocour, director of Ceasefire NJ.

Bocour explained that reform advocates “acknowledged that there was good stuff in there,” but contemplated pulling support based on the language of the bill.

A Sweeney spokesman declined to offer comment on the negotiations leading up to Thursday’s vote in which a Senate panel advanced several gun bills from committee.

Miller explained the largest hurdle left to clear for reform groups is the advancement of a bill that would impose further restrictions on the size of magazine clips. The reform, which seeks to limit magazine clips from 15 rounds to 10 rounds – is part of an Assembly gun reform package, but is omitted from the Senate.

“We made it very clear to the Senate president that our endorsement yesterday did not in any way lessen our determination,” Miller said.

“We feel that having the magazine limit is a critical part of any gun violence package,” he said. “We’re going to push this thing … [and] we know there’s huge public support for it.”

At the same time, Miller credited the Assembly f leading the charge in helping advance the coalition’s cause through the Legislature.

“Overall, I think it’s very positive,” he said, referring to the recent vote in the Senate, adding, “However, we wouldn’t be in this place if it wasn’t for the strong leadership in the Assembly.”

Gun-control advocates nearly opposed reform bills until critical changes made