- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey might be tightening domestic violence offenders’ access to guns.

The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on Monday advanced legislation that would require domestic violence defendants to give up their guns if a restraining order is in effect. They would also have to surrender their firearm purchaser identification permits under such orders, losing them altogether if convicted.

Under current law, people convicted of domestic violence crimes must give up their weapons and would even have their firearms seized during a final restraining order hearing.

A hearing on Tuesday shone a spotlight the disagreement between some aiming to curb physical violence by curtailing the availability of guns and others who raise questions about the constitutionality under the Second Amendment. Both sides agree domestic violence is a scourge and the law ought to permit offenders to be prosecuted fully.

The disagreement centers on how far the law should go. But the issue also touches an emotional chord for some.

Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, one of the Legislature’s biggest supporters of domestic violence survivors and whose mother overcame it, sponsored the bill and briefly became emotional when introducing the legislation during the hearing.

“When is the violence against women going to stop?” she asked. “The answer with your help? Now.”

The legislation also has the support of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was wounded in a gun attack during a campaign event at a Tucson grocery store in 2011. She’s also the founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group that has raised awareness of domestic violence abuses in New Jersey.

“This common sense legislation will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous abusers and make New Jersey a safer place to live,” said Hayley Zachary, executive director of Americans for Responsible Solutions.

Opponents say it could negatively affect defendants accused of non-violent crimes.

“Most people are surprised to learn that something as minor as annoying a partner during a verbal argument can and frequently does result in conviction for-called ‘domestic violence’,” said Scott Bach, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of Rifle and Pistol Clubs. Instead of the bill under consideration, he called for bills that “throw the book at violent offenders instead.”

The bill contains other provisions that call for defendants to prove they surrendered their weapons and for a line on restraining order forms indicating whether those accused have access to guns. The bill requires weapons to be returned when the order expires.

The new legislation now heads to the full Assembly for a vote, along with another measure that bars those convicted of carjacking, being gang members and racketeering from buying or owning guns. Lawmakers on Monday also approved a measure requiring law enforcement be notified when a prospective gun buyer seeks to expunge a mental health record.

Similar bills have been introduced in the state Senate.

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