NORTHFIELD — Second Amendment advocates packed the Atlantic County freeholders’ meeting Tuesday, asking them to declare the county a sanctuary for lawful gun ownership.
“We are law-abiding citizens, and gun laws in place only hurt law-abiding citizens,” said Sandy Hickerson, of Absecon, organizer of a group of Atlantic County gun owners asking the board to pass a resolution.
“I brought a few close friends,” she said of about 50 people there in support, filling the seats available and every corner of the meeting room.
Several mentioned this week’s gun-rights protest in Virginia, where a recent election gave control of the State House to Democrats promising stronger gun control laws. Thousands marched peacefully in Richmond on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, saying gun control laws harm only lawful citizens and don’t stop criminal behavior.
Melinda Bruckler, of Egg Harbor Township, said she bought a gun and learned to shoot after a stranger walked into her home at the end of a long private driveway when she was there, then turned and left after seeing her.
“I took a class at the Atlantic County gun range,” she said. “I’m in a ladies group that meets there the fourth Tuesday of the month.”
Hickerson said gun owners are particularly upset about New Jersey’s “Red Flag Law” that took effect last year. Under the new law, a judge may authorize police to confiscate a person’s firearms if the judge determines the person poses a significant risk of personal injury to himself or others.
“There is no due process, it’s unconstitutional,” Hickerson said. “We are guilty until proven innocent.”
Cape May County became the first in the state to pass a 2nd Amendment/Lawful Gun Owner Sanctuary resolution, brought to its freeholder board last month by an associated group of gun owners there.
Some towns, including Maurice River and Downe townships in Cumberland County, have passed similar resolutions, Hickerson said. Middle Township Committee passed a similar resolution Wednesday night.
The resolutions vary from one jurisdiction to the next, but most declare the intention of local officials to oppose any “unconstitutional restrictions” on the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
The current movement began last year in Illinois and quickly spread to numerous states, including California, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida.
“No other constitutional rights are under attack as much as the 2nd Amendment,” said James J. Casas Jr., of Egg Harbor Township. “No others have financial impediments on them.”
Casas said the group is asking for “an affirmation of inalienable right to self preservation.”
“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue,” Casas said. “It’s not about being white supremacist or a gun extremist.”
“Everything you are bringing up here, we’ve heard,” said Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica, a Republican. “I was in business 50 years, and carried a lot of money. I tried to get a concealed carry permit for 30 years. It can’t be done.”
Formica asked for more time to study the resolution, and for more information from the group about specific bills being considered in the state Legislature that concern them.
“We are creatures of the state. We can’t affect gun control at the county level. That comes under the (state) attorney general,” Formica said. “But we are a voice and want to listen.”
Democrats Ashley Bennett, Ernest Coursey and Caren Fitzpatrick said they would study the issue.
“I have a lot of homework to do, and I will do it,” Fitzpatrick said.
Freeholder Amy Gatto asked that the freeholders’ public safety committee take it up and bring any resolution back to the board “as an advertised agenda item.”
When the law changed in 2018, making it illegal to own any magazine capable of accepting more than 10 rounds of ammunition for semiautomatic weapons, Formica said it left him with 20 illegal magazines.
“You’re now a felon,” said someone in the audience.
Joe Raine, of Galloway Township, said the group wants the freeholders to make a statement that Trenton is “pushing citizens too far, making them felons. According to the law, I am one now.”
“Just the other night, my daughter came this close to being abducted,” said John Trainor, of Dennis Township, who said he is retired from the U.S. Army and is involved in the group that convinced the Cape May freeholders to pass a resolution. “It took the police 10 minutes to get to her.”
Trainor said he has top secret clearance yet cannot carry a gun legally in New Jersey, and said people need to have the right to carry guns to protect themselves. Law-abiding citizens would not abuse that right, while criminals will not obey any gun laws, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.