Gov. Phil Murphy took his gun control efforts in a new direction this month, issuing an executive order that seeks to extend the reach of New Jersey’s regulations into other states.
New Jersey already had some of the strictest gun-control laws in the nation when he took office less than two years ago. Since then, the governor and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature have enacted another 10 gun-control laws.
Murphy’s executive order seems born of frustration and sort of an admission that those new laws won’t be very effective in reducing gun violence. The most significant among them tightened the existing limit on magazine capacity from 15 bullets to 10. Another required gun sellers to offer at least one smart gun — capable of only being fired by its owner — if such technology ever becomes reliable enough to reach the marketplace.
A key problem with gun regulation is that about 5% of gun dealers are responsible for about 90% of the weapons recovered at crime scenes — and guess what, those dealers aren’t in New Jersey.
The executive order seeks to reach those problem gun dealers by requiring that any manufacturers or dealers who do business with New Jersey (which buys guns for law enforcement) must disclose whether they follow measures to curb illegal firearms sales.
They’ll have to demonstrate how they screen for straw purchasers and firearms traffickers, and how they assist investigations into criminal possession of guns. If they don’t or can’t, Murphy said, “We reserve the right to stop doing business with them.”
This may turn out to be a good approach, not because New Jersey has a lot of clout in the firearms market, but because the executive order could set an example for enough other states that a critical mass of influence on gun makers and dealers is reached.
Other parts of Murphy’s order, depending on how the state implements them, could easily become overreaches of state power that will be stopped by the courts.
For example, he ordered the state to prohibit or limit the sale of insurance products that the state decides encourage the improper use of firearms. If that includes policies protecting against civil claims when a weapon is used legally, a court challenge seems certain.
Murphy also wants banks and other financial institutions that do business with the state to disclose their standards for dealing with the gun industry. He said the state could cut ties with any that give unsatisfactory responses.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation already has said the executive order looks like an excessive attempt to regulate interstate commerce elsewhere in the U.S.
Its general counsel said, “The governor views licensed and law-abiding small businesses that are just trying to earn a living, and are engaged in the lawful commerce of a constitutionally protected product, as somehow the problem.”
No doubt a small percentage of them are part of the problem, and state-demanded standards of behavior for them look like they could well reduce the trade in guns for criminals. But twisting banking and insurance regulations to achieve unrelated policy purposes of any kind would be a threat to commerce and liberty.
Frustration with gun violence should encourage a better understanding of it and an effort to achieve a sufficient consensus about it at the national level — not tampering with the structure of American democracy.