New Jersey

Senate Committee Hears Testimony on Gun Control Bills

The Oct. 1 attack in Las Vegas was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history

A couple who survived last year's mass shooting in Las Vegas were among those who asked a Senate panel Monday to pass a slate of bills that include a measure to prohibit so-called bump stocks, a trigger modification devices designed to accelerate a firearm's rate of fire.

Opponents to the measures told lawmakers on the Senate Law and Justice Committee that law-abiding gun owners will be punished by the bills.

Monday's two-hour hearing drew nearly 1,000 people, leading security to set up additional overflow committee rooms for a mix of people wearing orange shirts or scarves and stickers reading "Gun Responsibility Now!" and others wearing shirts that read "NRA Stand and Fight."

Democratic Sen. Kevin Van de Wege, the sponsor of the bump stock bill, noted that he's a lifetime member of the NRA and a defender of the 2nd Amendment, but said "this is something that shouldn't be allowed."

"After the tragedy in Las Vegas, now is the time to take action," he said.

The Oct. 1 attack in Las Vegas was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Using a bump stock device, Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured hundreds more while firing from the Mandalay Bay Resort's 32nd floor before killing himself as police stormed the suite.

Phil Watson, with the Firearms Policy Coalition, expressed concern that the bill wouldn't have the result proponents want, and could be used to ultimately ban more than just bump stocks.

"There is zero evidence a law of this kind deters criminals," he said.

Senate Bill 5992 would prohibit the manufacture, sale, purchase or possession of trigger modification devices, which are defined in the bill any part or combination of parts designed or intended to accelerate the rate of fire of a firearm.

Emily Cantrell and Kyle Helms, of Seattle, who testified in support of the bill, told lawmakers how they were dancing one moment at the Vegas festival before, Cantrell said, "the music went silent and the screaming began."

"We were sitting ducks with nowhere to go," she said.

Ann-Marie Parsons, of Bainbridge Island, cried as she talked about her daughter, Carrie Parsons, who was killed during the shooting. She told lawmakers that if a similar gun was in the committee room she was testifying in "none of us could run fast enough" at which point someone in the crowd yelled "time!" and was removed by security.

Dave Westhaver, a gun rights proponent from Bellevue said the previous testimony about the Las Vegas shooting was powerful, and he recounted for the panel a fatal shooting he saw in Bremerton when he was 15. But he told lawmakers that doesn't change his opposition to the proposed measures.

"The criminals aren't going to be penalized by these bills, they're going to make criminals out of law-abiding gun owners," he said. "If you really want to make an impact on firearm safety, why don't you start addressing the mental health issues?"

Several other states are considering bump stock bans, including Connecticut and Rhode Island, and on Monday, New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed such a ban into law after it was passed by the Democratic Legislature.

Other measures the committee heard Monday were measures that would: ban most magazines that hold more than 10 rounds; require enhanced background checks for the purchase of an assault weapon; create a duty for the safe storage of firearms and creating a civil liability for violations of that duty what result in injury, death or committing of a crime; and repealing state laws that preempt local governments' ability to regulate firarms.

A committee vote on the bump stock bill is scheduled for Tuesday; no committee votes have yet been scheduled for the other bills.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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