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Added Background Checks for Gun Owners

October 22, 2013 | Posted In Criminal Law

The state’s judiciary parties are working with state police to perform background checks on residents who submit applications for gun permits, to screen for any records of mental instability, criminal lawyers in New Jersey say. Using information taken from previous records of gun ownership and mental health institution admittance records, state legislators and law enforcement officials hope to eliminate potentially dangerous applicants from obtaining guns the legal way. 

In New Jersey, residents who want to purchase a rifle, shotgun, or handgun must first go through several steps to obtain a lifetime Firearm Purchaser Identification card (an FPIC, FPID, or FID card). In addition to an FPIC, handgun purchasers must also obtain a permit from the Chief of Police in their municipality, or the Superintendent of State Police, if they do not have a local police department. These permits are required for each handgun purchase, and a person must wait 90 days between handgun or rifle purchases.

Obtaining these permits requires a lengthy application process, in which applicants must answer several questions, provide references, and submit to a background check through the State Bureau of Identification, as well as the state police. If the applicant meets the standard criteria, authorities can issue the permits, and the gun can be purchased. A denied application is usually a result of a felony conviction, domestic violence charge, or disorderly persons offense. In August 2013, the list of persons banned from owning guns was expanded to include anyone on the terror watchlist. 

In an effort to further screen gun applicants with a history of mental illness or instability, the Administrative Office of the Courts has given over 400,000 records of people who were involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, or who have been labeled by the courts as dangerous, either to themselves or others. Working with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and the FBI, state authorities will be able to compile a database of mentally ill people to compare against gun permit applicants. 

Ordinarily, civil-commitment records are kept confidential, but amendments to the state protective statute, introduced in 2010, allow authorities to disclose information in compliance with the data reporting provisions of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act, and the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The new law, A-3717, was signed by Gov. Chris Christie on August 8th, and allows the disclosure of information about people who voluntarily check themselves into mental health facilities. According to the new legislation, this sharing of information will be mandatory, to screen applicants against their mental history. 

Supporters of the new law say that restricting gun sales from people will mental-health issues in their background will be a step in cutting down on gun-related suicide attempts. The law is part of an anti-gun legislation package that was presented after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, last year. The NRA in New Jersey and the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs did not oppose its passage. 

The criminal lawyers at New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, P.A., offer legal counsel to anyone who needs to know how their criminal and health records are being shared, and what impact that will have on their futures.

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