TRENTON — An Assembly panel approved measures Wednesday on mental illness and guns, amid a packed audience and testimony that the state's gun laws are already too restrictive.
One bill would require the state to submit certain mental health records to a national background check system; another would permit mental health professionals to alert authorities of patients deemed a threat to themselves and authorities could then seize those patients' firearms; and another measure would disqualify anyone on a federal terrorist watch list from obtaining firearms.
The Law and Public Safety Committee also sent to the full Assembly a bill exempting firearms records from New Jersey's public disclosure requirements, which passed unanimously and faced no opposing testimony.
The vote before the full Assembly is scheduled for Feb. 21.
Several dozen opponents said the bills make it harder for law-abiding gun owners to obtain and keep weapons instead of addressing isolated criminal violence in their communities. They said measures should instead focus on increasing penalties on individuals who use guns to commit crimes.
A large number of people who believe the state's gun laws are already too restrictive were in Trenton for the hearings, including a group of South Jersey residents who boarded a bus for the hearing to support gun rights.
Some opponents argued that the bills overlap with what is already illegal in the state such as unlawful possession. Many opponents also insisted that no types of weapons be banned.
The testimony prompted cheers and applause.
Only a handful of supporters testified in favor of the legislation.
The committee passed the measures as part of a package of gun control bills introduced by Assembly Democrats.
Committee Chairman Charles Mainor, D-Hudson, said it was "common sense" to ratchet up gun control laws in response to recent mass shootings, including the Dec. 14 killings of 20 first-graders and six educators at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Patrick Krisciunas, of Cape May Court House, called the bills “a knee-jerk reaction.”
"Law abiding citizens don't commit crimes. And this won't stop the criminals," Krisciunas said.
Galloway resident Rich Matthews said he was shocked at the "scope and audacity of some of these proposals. The fact that their mindset is such that they would propose these stuns us."
He said he believes this may represent the single largest response to the Newtown school shootings.
Matt Mattera, also of Cape May Court House, said criminals don’t pay attention to the laws now, so banning firearms will only leave law-abiding citizens vulnerable.
Belleplain resident Thomas Kendrick said, “It is an attack on the Constitution of the United States of America. It’s an attempt by liberal politicians to scapegoat law-abiding, peaceable citizens, for the actions of criminals.”
"This isn’t an issue of a gun or a magazine. It’s an issue of a second amendment right to bear arms,” said Peter Smith, of Cape May Court House.
The NJ Rifle and Pistol Association arranged for buses and pickups along the Garden State Parkway, including one at the rest area at Jimmie Leeds Road at 7 a.m.
Staff Writer Anjalee Khemlani contributed to this report.