Gov. Phil Murphy said he had already scheduled a public meeting for Tuesday in Trenton with mayors and lawmakers from some of New Jersey’s largest cities to discuss more ways to combat gun violence in the Garden State.
Then, in a somber coincidence, a pair of shootings in Trenton over the last few days left one person dead and more than a dozen injured.
“This is the capital city. It’s one of the great American cities,” Murphy said as he opened up the roundtable discussion at his office with mayors from Trenton, Newark, and Paterson, as well as lawmakers representing Trenton, and gun-control advocates.
“This can’t go on,” the governor added. “It must not go on.”
Murphy, a Democrat, has made gun control a focus since taking office in January 2018. He has signed a string of new measures to tighten the state’s already strict gun control laws. And his administration has been publishing monthly reports to “name and shame” the source states and manufacturers for the guns used to commit crimes in New Jersey.
On Tuesday, Murphy said more than 80 percent of guns used in crimes here through the first three months of this year came from outside the state.
Bill Castner, the Murphy administration’s senior adviser on guns, said the next step is working with New Jersey’s cities to identify “bad-apple” dealers — problem merchants who are “actually selling the guns.”
Murphy’s administration said the details of that plan are still being worked out. But Castner said it could include imposing background checks on employees, training dealers to identify straw purchases, restricting the sale of certain firearms, and more.
The administration also couldn’t say whether the “naming and shaming” has resulted in fewer guns coming in or fewer crimes being committed.
Castner said they “need the information first and foremost.”
“We’re trying to look at this in a comprehensive way,” he added.
But Murphy said the arrival of summer marks a critical time in the battle.
“This is where we see a spike in gun violence and activities,” the governor said. “Our goal is to ensure this is a summer of safety in our communities.”
“And that begins with community-based nonviolence initiatives and with getting to root causes of this epidemic,” he added.
Much of the focus Tuesday was on Trenton. Mayor Reed Gusciora said part of the problem is that kids with “no alternative and no hope” turn to neighborhood gangs. Meanwhile, he said, businesses are “reluctant” to come to the city, even though there’s an effort to bring in economic development.
“Trenton can’t continue to be a tale of two cities,” Gusciora said.
State Sen. Shirley Turner, who represents the city in the state Legislature, said poverty, underwhelming education, and a lack of hope have helped caused gun violence to be an issue in Trenton for more than 20 years.
“No child is ever born saying, ‘I want to be a gang-banger when I grow up,’” Turner, D-Mercer, said.
She specifically noted how three of Trenton’s four libraries have closed in recent years.
“It’s easier for a kid to pick up a gun than it is a book,” Turner said.
The senator stressed that “prayers are not enough.”
“We’ve got to take some affirmative action to turn this around,” Turner said.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said another issue is that cities still lack the federal support they need.
“If you can’t pay attention to kids getting killed in elementary schools, who is going to care about kids getting killed on Avon Avenue in Newark?” Baraka asked.
Brent Johnson may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01.
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