When it comes to access to firearms, it used to be that mental health was the one area everyone agreed on. And by “agreed on” I mean that everyone believed that those with issues related to mental health should not have access to firearms. Considering that about half of gun deaths in the USA are suicides, it’s policy that makes sense. (NJ, by the way, has a lower than average suicide rate, and the more stringent than average gun laws are credited.)
Therefore, it was not particularly surprising when S2360/A3593, had bi-partisan sponsorship and passed unanimously in both chambers of the New Jersey Legislature. It’s a pretty clearcut piece of legislation that requires that law enforcement be informed when an applicant seeks expungement of mental health records for the purposes of obtaining a firearm. In other words, if someone wants to wipe clean their history of mental health issues in order to buy a gun, local police need to be told. And this bill was especially requested by the NJ Courts. Makes sense, right?
Everyone in NJ politics seemed to think so — except for Governor Chris Christie.
Suddenly, now that the Assembly plans to override the Governor’s Veto, several Republican Assembly members who previously unanimously supported this basic bill refuse to support it. Ahhh Jersey politics!
For your convenience, and so that you can see exactly how our Garden State Governor and Legislators are playing around with our safety, please find some information regarding the nuances. The override vote in Trenton is on Thursday, December 17th — if you wish to contact your State Assembly Members before then, find them at this link. This information specifically addresses “concerns” mentioned by Assemblywoman Schepisi, Assembly Minority Leader Bramnick (who COSPONSORED the bill!), and others.
What is the difference between S2360/A3593 and Governor Christie’s Conditional Veto?
S2360/A3593 and Governor Christie’s conditional veto are two distinctly different policies. They are also NOT mutually exclusive.
S2360/A3593 makes one change to the law: It requires that applicants who are seeking to have their mental health history expunged for the purpose of obtaining a firearm inform law enforcement prior to the expungement hearing.
Governor Christie’s conditional veto removed the court-requested change. It replaces the original language with recommendations for broader reform of the entire mental health system.
Why not accept Governor Christie’s Conditional Veto S2360/A3593 and pass the broader mental health reforms?
The proposals contained in the conditional veto are notably broad and include unspecified changes to the involuntary commitment process for both outpatient and inpatient care.
Mental health professionals have expressed concern with accepting this conditional veto as-is for two primary reasons:
- The exact changes are not specified, and therefore the mental health community has not been able to fully evaluate them.
- There is concern that some of the changes would perpetuate the stigma of mental illness, which could prevent individuals from seeking treatment. The changes may also affect those with problems that pose no danger of violence, including post-partum depression, eating disorders and military personnel returning home from service with PTSD symptoms.
Reforming the mental health system should happen, but it must include input from the mental health community. In the meantime, there is no reason to postpone the enactment of the court-requested safety provision in S2360/A3593.
Doesn’t S2360/A3593 leave a loophole by which expungement applicants can expunge their mental health records without disclosing that they seek to purchase a firearm, and then still go buy a firearm afterwards?
No. There are two types of expungement. The first type of expungement “erases the stigma associated with a mental health record that may be discovered by a prospective employer or in other situations involving background checks.” The second type is specifically for applicants seeking to expunge their record for the purpose of obtaining a firearm. It is the second type of expungement alone that erases their mental health records from the NICS background check system.
Well, shouldn’t we expand the requirement that an applicant notify law enforcement to include all mental health expungements?
Mental health professionals have expressed concern that expanding the law enforcement notification requirement to include the first type of expungement is unnecessary and would only increase stigma surrounding mental health.
Whether or not the notification requirement should be expanded is certainly open to debate and could certainly be addressed. However, there is no valid reason to wait to pass the unanimously passed legislation that was requested by the courts. Why force the courts to wait any longer for the assistance they have requested for this public safety issue?
Isn’t this just about overriding the Governor’s veto for political purposes?
No. This bill was never expected to make any political waves at all. S2360/A3593 had bi-partisan sponsorship and passed with unanimous support. The legislation was requested by New Jersey’s Administrative Office of the Courts for the benefit of judges seeking law enforcement input for public safety purposes.
In fact, the unanimous passage of this straightforward, commonsense bill exemplified non-partisan policymaking. Continuing support of S2360/A3593 should not be considered a political decision.
UPDATE: This vote went unrecorded as it did not meet the threshold for override. It is expected that the Assembly will make one last attempt to override in January. Read a Politico NJ article on it here. The breakdown of the vote was 49-11 with 18 abstentions, however since the House was Under Call, members knew that abstentions would count as NOs. Therefore, the outcome was 49-29. This bill passed the Assembly UNANIMOUSLY 74-0 in June.