Lawmakers question plan for significant hike in NJ gun fees
TRENTON — Lawmakers expressed resistance at a Department of Law and Public Safety budget hearing Wednesday to Gov. Phil Murphy’s plan to raise gun taxes and fees by just over $9 million.
Murphy wants to significantly raise firearms fees, most of which haven’t been increased since 1966. He also proposes a 10 percent tax on ammunition sales and 2.5 percent tax on firearms sales. He also wants to raise the cost of a black-bear hunting permit from $2 to $100.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, said of the higher gun fees, which in some cases would increase 25-fold, that “some of them are a little bit steep in the jump.”
“I recognize fees have to be adjusted,” he said. “Don’t want to see fees adjusted to a point that they become steep, that they may drive a person who would follow a legal process in a different direction because they can’t come up with the money that we’re now demanding they come up with.”
Assemblyman John DiMaio, R-Warren, asked if the plans infringe on the Second Amendment.
“It seems to me that we’re looking towards making it more difficult for our legal, law-abiding citizens to obtain a firearm in New Jersey and raising their fees coming down the road here,” he said. “The legal, law-abiding citizens seem to be the target of the most scrutiny for the actual ability to obtain a firearm.”
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said his department provided research but that the Department of the Treasury developed the proposed fees.
“I am not chipping away at the Second Amendment rights of folks,” Grewal said. “Whatever the legislation is that comes into effect, we’re enforcing. We are implementing reasonable measures to ensure that folks go through a background check process, which I said in my opening remarks I think works in this state.”
Grewal said the revenue from the fees could be used to automate the system for conducting firearms background checks so it goes quicker.
“I don’t see anything that we’ve done that sort of undermines the abilities of someone who has a clean record, can otherwise purchase a firearm, to buy a firearm,” Grewal said.
“I don’t have an issue, and I don’t think any of us should have an issue, with someone who legally purchases a firearm,” he said.
The hearing covered a wide range of topics, with the potential legalization of recreational, adult-use marijuana a frequent talking point. Lawmakers asked about training drug recognition experts – not just police officers, but also what to do with ‘K9’ police dogs used to detect narcotics.
“If a dog has been trained to hit on drugs and already imprinted on marijuana, you can’t untrain that dog,” Grewal said.
Grewal said the State Police have stopped training dogs to detect marijuana. “You could always add it later, if you decide to add it back,” he said.
“That’s not to say that those dogs are now obsolete,” Grewal said of current K9 officers. “We will use them in other settings where they’ll still be needed – jails, schools, other places where you cannot have marijuana, even if it is made legal.”