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Gun bills clear N.J. Senate panel

One would bar firearms of .50 caliber or greater. Not taken up: Limiting magazines.

TRENTON - A Senate committee advanced six gun-control measures Thursday but did not take up the most contentious one being debated in the Legislature: limiting ammunition magazines to 10 bullets.

The Senate is moving more deliberately than the Assembly, which adopted 22 gun-control measures in February, just two months after the slayings of 20 children and six adults in a Newtown, Conn., school reignited debate across the country on gun laws.

The bills adopted Thursday would bar firearms of .50 caliber or greater, force state-run pensions to divest from companies that make military-style guns for consumers, and require people applying for permission to buy guns to submit some mental-health records to a national background-check system.

Others would allow authorities to impound cars involved in gun crimes and would change the state's gun-permit system so that permits would have electronic records and would expire after four years.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), the prime sponsor of that bill, said the system would allow police to bar people from buying guns based on up-to-the-minute information, such as a call to someone's house for a domestic-violence complaint, even if charges are not filed. That bill also would require firearms safety training for those wishing to buy guns.

Five of the bills were passed along mostly party-line votes with most Democrats in favor and most Republicans opposed. One Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jeff Van Drew of Cape May County, voted with Republicans on the issue.

One bill, which would suspend the licenses of gun dealers who knowingly sell to people planning to use weapons in crimes, was adopted unanimously.

All the other bills drew protest from gun-rights groups, including Scott Bach, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of Rifle and Pistol Clubs and a board member of the National Rifle Association.

He told the lawmakers repeatedly that their proposals would harm law-abiding gun owners.

For instance, he argued against the high-caliber rifle ban: "Someone who is intent on doing evil is going to do evil regardless of whether one particular tool is available or not."

Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) expressed frustration with the gun-rights groups.

"I constantly hear that they want to keep guns out of the hands of the bad guys," she said. "But everything we've proposed to find out more about keeping the hands out of the bad guys, they've opposed that, too."