Conversation over gun control ensues as New Jersey shows lean towards stricter laws
In wake of the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, the debate over stricter gun control has been renewed throughout the nation. New Jersey remains one of the strictest states in terms of firearm regulation, with the majority of citizens favoring that laws stay the same or get stricter.
The recent school shooting in Parkland has the most casualties at 17. As with most mass shootings on a school campus, this tragedy brought media attention to the topic of gun control, and whether the country needs more of it in order to protect its citizens.
Student survivors of the Parkland shooting took to activism quickly after the incident, engaging in actions like preparing for a nationwide protest on March 24, according to CNN.
In response to national calls for a review of current gun laws, New Jersey lawmakers began pushing bills that would disarm at-risk people. Bill A1217 — "Extreme Risk Protective Order Act of 2018" — for example, authorizes gun-violence restraining orders and firearm seizure warrants, according to the bill.
This is consistent with a current desire among some New Jersey residents to either maintain or increase gun regulation.
Ashley Koning, director of the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Public Interest Polling, said that 59 percent of the state's residents approve of enacting stricter gun-control regulations according to a poll the institute recently took.
“New Jersey is (a) very blue state when it comes to issues like this,” Koning said. “The majority of New Jersey residents, overall, definitely want to see a strengthening of gun laws ... despite it (already) being one of the top (states) in terms of stringent gun laws.”
Koning said in New Jersey a majority of Democrats and Independents want to see stricter gun laws passed, while approximately 40 percent of Republicans feel similarly.
Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) said that he would sign gun regulation that former Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) vetoed, create mandatory gun-safety training for owners and seek other solutions, such as mental health evaluations, according to his campaign promises.
Ross Baker, a professor in the Department of Political Science, said that the gun control debate is fundamentally rooted in the Second Amendment.
There have been two major Supreme Court cases regarding the Second Amendment and the right for Americans to own firearms privately, he said. But the cases have not prevented regulations from being imposed to try to limit the amount of weapons in circulation, or stopped states from setting stringent access laws.
“The fact that there are 85 guns for every 100 Americans, I think tells you a lot about how any kind of gun-control legislation could possibly be effective,” Baker said. “You've got to deal with the reality that there are just a lot of guns in circulation, so if somebody wants a gun they are probably going to be able to get it.”
He said instead that people who want change should focus on things that are achievable.
Baker said things like more diligent background checks — where agencies cooperate with one another and pay close attention to certain individuals and information — are a good start to solving the problem. Extending these background checks to gun shows as well could reduce the amount of firearms circulating in the nation.
Baker said one ideology gaining traction among gun advocates over the last decade is that American citizens need to be armed in order to prevent government oppression, and that firearms are the last defense the common man has against authoritarianism and tyranny.
Baker disagreed with this viewpoint and said wishing to protect oneself is acceptable if in a dangerous area, but there is no record of the United States being an unjust threat to individual safety.
“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, according to TIME. This statement expressed an idea among some gun advocates that an active shooter can be stopped by having more armed, vigilant civilians.
This idea has been talked about recently with regard to school shootings. Some have called for arming civilian teachers with firearms to protect students. A few schools already do, with no serious repercussions currently, according to The New York Times.
Most of the schools with teachers who have access to firearms are located in small, rural communities, away from the large, dense high schools found in more urban areas, according to The New York Times.
Other people disagree and think bringing guns into schools would alter the learning environment in a detrimental way.
“The idea of coming to class armed, I find very unappealing. I would not do it. It changes the atmosphere of the classroom,” Baker said. “I cannot imagine an implement of any kind being brought into the classroom that would more profoundly change its atmosphere.”