TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey would change the age for purchasing rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21 under legislation an Assembly committee advanced on Wednesday, part of new bills aimed at tightening the state’s already strict gun laws.
The measure comes after fatal shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, where authorities identified the shooters as 18-year-olds. The fate of the bill, though, is uncertain because the state Senate has not so far taken up the measure.
New Jersey's bill follows New York, which earlier this month adopted legislation setting 21 as the age at which residents could buy semiautomatic rifles — weapons already banned in New Jersey. Rhode Island adopted a similar measure just this week.
Under current law, New Jersey requires residents to be 21 to purchase a handgun. The new measure would raise the age threshold to 21 for those seeking to purchase rifles and shotguns, but also include several carveouts. Under the bill, those younger than 21 could possess a long gun under the direct supervision of a parent or guardian or another person permitted to carry a firearm; or for military drills, target practice, instruction, or training; or for hunting during the designated season along with holding a valid hunting license and taking a safety course.
The committee also considered eight other bills, broadly in line with Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy's repeated calls for more gun safety measures. The other measures include legislation sought by Murphy to allow the state attorney general to probe and seek injunctions against gun manufacturers whose weapons go against the state's public nuisance laws.
The hearing unfolded over nearly four hours, with a handful of advocates and opponents in attendance.
Wearing a red Moms Demand Action T-Shirt, Amy Faucher directly linked the bill increasing the firearm purchase age to the shootings in Texas and New York.
“Our nation has been shook to the core over the past month with two horrific mass shootings," said Faucher, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action. "If this bill can save one life in one city somewhere, to me it’s worth it.”
Darin Goens, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, criticized the bill, indicating it amounted to turning 18-to 20-year-olds into a second class of citizens who couldn't exercise a constitutional right. He predicted the bill would be challenged all the way up to the Supreme Court if it becomes law in New Jersey.
“In our estimation this is a complete violation of the Second Amendment,” Goens said.
Bills that pass out of committee typically head next to the full Democrat-led Assembly for consideration. The Democrat-controlled state Senate is considering the same legislation Thursday, except for the increase in the purchase age.
Asked recently about the bills, Senate President Nicholas Scutari said he was evaluating the bills and “making sure that we bring common sense gun solutions ... not just bills to pass bills but bills that are focused on a specific issue that could solve issues in our society.”