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NJ reexamines gun laws as mass shootings continue

By Elliott Nguyen
Staff Writer

Following a wave of mass shootings, like the recent shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Gov. Murphy has reopened discussions on the state’s gun laws. He has made attempts to do so in the past, but they have been unsuccessful. 

Murphy’s struggle has been due in part to Senate President Steve Sweeney, who has a history of opposing gun control laws, according to Politico.

Nonetheless, Murphy is pushing forward with his proposals and aims to give the state the “strongest gun violence prevention laws in the United States of America,” as he said at a press conference.

The proposals, of which there are 13, would enact such changes as “[Requiring] gun permit applicants to first pass as safety course,” “[increasing] the purchasing age for a firearm to 21, from 18” and others, according to NJ 101.5

“I look at mass shootings, in pretty much all circumstances, as a consequence of two things,” said James Ottomanelli, a sophomore African American studies major. “Access to guns, and mental illness.”

Both, along with conditions of poverty, contribute not only to mass shootings but also to gun violence as a whole, he said.

David Mazeika, Ph.D., an associate professor of criminology and justice at the College, agreed. He spoke about some misconceptions regarding the issue in an interview with the Signal.

Many seem to think that mass shootings were absent in 2020, Mazeika said, but the year actually saw a sharp increase in gun violence, if not mass shootings, overall. He attributed this perception to media portrayals of the issue. 

“The average consumer is … getting their information from the news. And if you’re watching the six o’clock news, they’re perhaps more likely to choose the more sensational case,” Mazeika said. He explained that as a result, people may focus more on mass shootings than smaller gun crimes, which are more common—and equally important to a discussion on gun violence. 

“Mass shootings are common in the United States, but they’re not as common as people think,” Mazeika said. “We’re kind of missing the bigger problem. The bigger problem is gun violence, and mass public shootings are part of that. But the amount of people killed in these mass-casualty events is a relatively small fraction of all the people killed.”

There were 43,551 total deaths in the country from gun violence in 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive. That total includes gun-related deaths of all circumstances, including murder or homicide, suicide and unintentional deaths. The number represents a sharp increase from 2019, which had a total of 39,533 gun-related deaths. In both years, more of those deaths were from suicide than any other cause.

Changes to current state laws regarding gun control are being proposed in NJ (Envato Elements).

Ottomanelli commented on the difficulty of receiving mental health treatment that faces many of those who need it, and how the pandemic could worsen this problem.

“It’s really hard to see a mental health professional regularly if you don’t have health insurance,” he said. “And even if you do, sometimes your insurance only covers a few sessions a year. This has been going on, and … quarantine, the lockdowns and our whole social conception of Covid-19 has exacerbated mental illness.”

Refocusing on the “access to guns” side of the issue, both Mazeika and Ottomanelli agreed that an abundance of guns in America allows people relative ease of access to them. There were around 393 million firearms in the U.S. in 2018, according to the Washington Post. The U.S. currently has a population of around 330 million people, according to the Census Bureau.

“Not even mentioning that [the Indianapolis shooter] should have been treated for mental illness when they took away his gun right then and there … there’s a more than one-to-one ratio of guns to people in this country,” Ottomanelli said, referring to reports that the Indianapolis shooter had previously had firearms confiscated from him. “When people say ‘how do they keep getting guns?’ Gee, I wonder.”

Mazeika pointed out that though gun control debates often center around rifles such as the AR-15, which are commonly used in mass shootings, the vast majority of gun crimes involve handguns. According to an FBI report that examined active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2018, roughly two-thirds of the guns used were handguns.

Despite the tragedy of the continuous shootings, Mazeika said when asked if there were any positives to take away from the issue, the overall amount of gun crimes is lower than what it was several decades ago. In 1993, the rate of gun homicide deaths was seven per 100,000 people, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2019, that rate was about four deaths per 100,000 people, according to NPR.

“More young people are being more aware of this issue than at any time in recent history,” Mazeika said, adding that heightened awareness is another positive trend. “Last year was a bad year all around, but … young people seem to be more active and motivated to do something about it instead of accepting the status quo.”

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