New Jersey – -(AmmoLand.com)- The Republican primaries are quickly approaching in New Jersey, being held on June 8, 2021, and I have continued my quest in interviewing the GOP candidates on 2nd Amendment issues.
This morning I had a great chat with Jack Ciattarelli, a businessman and former member of the New Jersey Assembly. Jack, as he insisted I call him by name, is the only candidate that has a real record to discuss the issues. Jack is one of two candidates that specifically mentions the Second Amendment on his campaign web-page, with the following posted:
Defend the rights of law-abiding citizens
“New Jersey’s gun laws are among the strictest in the nation; so strict that many law-abiding citizens understandably consider them an infringement upon Second Amendment rights. Consistent with these rights, we need to prohibit criminals, terrorists and others who may endanger society from obtaining guns, while supporting and defending the Constitutional right of law-abiding citizens keep and bear arms.” – Jack Ciattarelli
- Reform any law that violates an individual’s constitutional right to due process.
- Grandfather in any firearm that was legally purchased, but that is deemed illegal in subsequent legislation.
- Standardize the process by which firearms ID cards and gun carry permits are processed and approved, and oppose all increases in related fees.
- Speed up gun permit application processes with “fast track” status for applicants who face imminent danger (e.g., victims of domestic violence).
- Advocate for “concealed carry” for certain dangerous professions.
- Promote and fund additional resources to address the underlying, serious mental health crisis in our country that too often manifests itself in gun violence.
Looking at Jack’s voting record, I was impressed. He has voted consistently on protecting the 2nd Amendment. Of all the legislation I could find that he voted on or was involved in, the only bill that raised a flag with me was a 2014 state-sponsored gun buyback program (A2895) which he co-sponsored. My first question to him about state gun buybacks revolved around how these programs are a great way for criminals to dispose of evidence. This is an unintended consequence to such “no questions asked” buybacks. Jack was not familiar with that being a concern in opposition of such programs and had this to say about gun buybacks:
At the time that the bill was presented, I did not hear that as one of the arguments for defeating the bill. In fact this is the first I’ve ever heard of that argument. So, I’m certainly willing to listen…More concerning to me is a fiscal concern that this might be a wasteful way of spending taxpayer’s dollars. I think if we were to study whether or not there has been a decrease in violent crime with a gun, as perpetuated by a criminal…if we have not seen that kind of decrease, that would say the intentions of that bill has not worked.
One of the biggest issues with gun owners in New Jersey is the matter of concealed carry permits. In New Jersey, pistol possession is regulated in that it is unlawful to possess a handgun unless they have first obtained a permit to carry. Right from the start, gun owners have to live under exemptions of the law (beyond the ability to carry a handgun for self-defense) because concealed carry permits are not issued in the Garden State. I asked Jack about his stance on permits to carry in New Jersey and this is what he said:
My goal as a nominee is to produce a Republican majority in the state legislature. If I’m successful in that quest, a lot changes in terms of our strategies and policy objectives. In the event there is a Democratic majority, what I believe we need to do with regard to conceal and carry is to take some small steps in the right direction, by granting conceal and carry rights to, for example, dangerous professions. I have heard numerous times, not to be gender bias, but, female realtors are not comfortable spending all day in an open house by themselves in neighborhoods that are unfamiliar to them. I’ve also heard from truck drivers who spend overnights in their cabs when going on longer trips. So, again it all depends on the makeup of the legislature and if there is a Democratic majority, I think we need to try and make small steps in regards to conceal and carry.
I prodded Jack on if there is a conservative majority in New Jersey:
A conservative majority, then everything is on the table, in regard to fiscal policy, economic policy, gun policies and alike.
I then followed up with the direct question “And would you be committed to signing a law that would lessen the restrictions to concealed carry?”
I certainly would be open to not making it as difficult as it is. Right now it seems next to impossible for anyone to receive a concealed carry license.
Indirectly related to permits to carry in the state are the strict transportation laws. In New Jersey, it is basically only legal to take a pistol from one’s home to the range and from the range back home, without any “unnecessary deviations”. I brought up a fictional situation as an example
“Hey Jack, let’s go meet at the range. Okay, cool. We go and shoot a couple of rounds through our new handguns, and afterward we say, ‘Let’s go grab a bite to eat.’ Something like that would be illegal in New Jersey based on our transportation laws.”
I asked him what he would do on an executive level to loosen this restriction. Jack retorted with:
In a number of different ways it appears that our gun laws have gone too far here in New Jersey. You just cited a perfect example where the gun laws have gone too far and really seem a violation, not at all commonsensical, and a violation of people’s rights. So with regard to transport of a firearm all those laws certainly need to be revisited. There is also the famous story of the woman [Shaneen Allen] who had her gun stored properly when she left her home state, but when was traveling through New Jersey was pulled over for a traffic violation, volunteered the information that she had a firearm in the car and it was not stored consistent with New Jersey law. We ended up arresting that woman. To most people that seems terribly unreasonable and something that needs correcting.
I brought up current governor Phil Murphy’s announcement on more so-called gun control measures. I asked Jack about his stance on the provisions that Murphy brought up and he said the following about Murphy:
If it was up to Phil Murphy the Second Amendment would be repealed and removed from the Constitution. We all know the Second Amendment isn’t going anywhere, people have a right to bear arms, they have the right to defend themselves, and Mr. Murphy needs to be reminded of that.
One of the talking points Murphy brought up was mandatory training for simple ownership of firearms. Jack and I discussed this concept and he responded to my questions with:
I certainly would want to talk to Second Amendment advocates as to what type of training is necessary and proper in order to own a firearm…[this] is a conversation I would like to have with Second Amendment people and hear their take. I am not a gun owner, so I don’t profess to be an expert in all matters having to do with gun ownership, but with regard to training, I would like to hear what Second Amendment advocates have to say.
Red flag laws have created a big stir on a national level and also in New Jersey. As well as so-called universal background checks on the national level. In a 2019 TAPinto Barnegat/Waretown opinion piece co-authored by Cittarelli on several subjects he said the following:
Three things Congress should seriously consider are universal background checks, reasonable red flag laws and closing the gun show loophole. Regarding each, Congress needs to demonstrate it can act.
New Jersey’s guns laws are among the strictest in the nation (so strict that many law-abiding citizens understandably consider them an infringement upon 2nd Amendment rights). Our state’s background checks are appropriately rigorous and our red flag laws, especially specific to domestic violence, make sense. As for gun shows, New Jersey has closed the loophole significantly, though some would argue not completely.
One area worthy of possible improvement is the firearm permit that allows gun purchases. In New Jersey, once obtained, the permit is good indefinitely. Having to renew the permit every three to five years, including all the prerequisite background checks, is a reasonable and, considering the mental health crisis, necessary reform.
I discussed some of what he had to say in that piece. Jack was direct on the topics and he had the following to say about the issue:
The greatest fear with red flag laws is that we eliminate people’s right to due process. So, we’re confiscating private property and we’re denying them due process and I do think some of our red flag laws have gone too far in regards to that.
On red flag laws, I specifically cited two famous cases in New Jersey where the red flag process has already been abused. One of which is currently fighting for getting a class action suit assembled within the 3rd Circuit court after having the suit denied. I challenged Jack on what his view is on this topic:
I think what we need to do if there are going to be red flag laws, and I don’t think we necessarily need anymore in New Jersey, in fact we may already have too many, but when we do have red flag laws, there needs to be a severe penalty for those who are calling local police and the case is found to be unwarranted or frivolous, there aught to be a penalty for those ill-intentioned people.
I further asked if he were an executive that does not have the support of the legislature if he would act to see that such penalties would happen:
I don’ know what executive powers the governor would have in this particular area but again, if the current laws are going too far in denying people their Constitutional right to due process, yes I would.
We discussed universal background checks at length, an item he wrote about in the cited opinion piece mentioned earlier. One of the things I brought up was that so-called universal background checks aim to create a registry of all firearms and their owners. I also talked about how the NICS system in place already verifies the eligibility of a person’s legal status when it comes to firearms. Jack had the following to say:
I think universal background checks is really all about making sure that someone who’s got a record in another state can’t go into another state and obtain a firearm. It’s not about any type registration, which will be overreach by those that oppose the Second Amendment and an invasion of privacy.
I interjected to inform Ciattarelli that “Under the current system of NICS it pretty much moots almost all the permits that are issued by all the states just to buy guns…when we say ‘universal background checks’ we already have the NICS system.” I asked him if he felt the NICS system was not “good enough”.
Well we’ve seen examples of people with criminal records able to obtain firearms or dangerous persons were able to obtain firearms through a very legal process. Whatever system we have, there seems to be room for improvement, it’s not about registration.
I did say that this is a matter of enforcing the laws we already have on the books because it’s already illegal to purchase a pistol or handgun across state lines without the use of an FFL.
One of the points Jack had brought up in his opinion piece was the matter of having to renew our firearm-related documents in New Jersey every three to five years. I asked him about his position on this:
I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea for someone to have their firearm permit renewed every five, seven, or ten years. At the same time, if the NICS system is in place and its not fulfilling its intended purpose, we need to look to how to improve it.
I brought up Illinois and how they do a NICS check on every gun owner daily in order to test the eligibility for firearm ownership as an example of using the system we already have in place. Renewal turns into a “poll tax” where we’re having to pay fees in order to exercise a Constitutional right. Jack had this to say about my assertion:
I agree with you that if we do go down that road, where we’re asking people to renew their gun permit every five, seven, or ten years, it should be discounted or there should be no fee at all after the first time.
I returned to the subject on carry again. I brought up some statements that were made in a 2017 NJ.com piece: Where every candidate for N.J. governor stands on guns. In the piece, Ciattarelli’s spokesman made several statements concerning firearms, from the article:
Rick Rosenberg, a spokesman for Ciattarelli’s campaign says that he’d seek to pass a law that “disallows municipalities imposing restrictions that exceed state laws” and then also seek to “restore a reasonable set of regulations” on the transport of firearms.
The state Assemblyman from Somerset County sees firearm ownership as a great equalizer between the sexes, and wants to expand concealed carry for all law-abiding citizens, “especially for women who are victims of domestic violence,” who would be “given priority permitting,” according to Rosenberg.
He would also veto any legislation that restricts access to firearms, streamline the permitting process for those seeking “reciprocity” for bordering states to ensure legal gun owners on both sides of the Garden State’s border don’t needlessly face prosecution.
When it comes to firearms carry, Jack reiterated the importance of at minimum increasing access to permits for those in dangerous professions, as well as having a fast track system for those in actual urgent need. We discussed the case of Carol Bowne as an example. Jack’s statements in full:
Right now it’s next to impossible to obtain, as we know, a conceal and carry license. And I think that’s because there is too much emphasis placed on the justifiable need as we currently know it. So that is why, so if even if someone does not have an imminent threat, I do believe there are dangerous professions, and the example I cited was realtor that should be allowed to conceal and carry…I also believe with regard to concealed carry John, that there aught to be a gun application process with a fast track status. Where applicants that do face imminent danger, anyone putting an application in for a gun permit, and if they want to conceal and carry, and have identified an eminent danger, they aught to be on fast track.
Also drawing from Rosenberg’s 2017 statements, I asked him “Would you be willing to get into reciprocity agreements?”
I don’t think that zero reciprocity is the right policy, so that certainly is a discussion that needs to take place. The Shaneen Allen case is a perfect example as to why.
Ciattarelli volunteered his concerns in other areas of New Jersey gun law while we were discussing the NJ.com piece and this is some of what he had to say:
What concerns me is the lack of uniformity or standardization of the gun permit application process across the state. It seems as you go from one town to the next, the process can be very very different. I believe it should be uniform. I also believe it’s got be taken care of within a reasonable amount of time, we can’t have people waiting months for their gun permit application to get approved. I know the state police have a lot to do with that, so I don’t want to put it all on our local PDs but I do think we need a standardized uniform process that includes a time period to not exceed x weeks.
I informed Jack that there already is in the law the 30 day time period an issuing authority has to issue a firearm permit that often goes ignored. There currently is no teeth to the statute, in the light of failed legal challenges, which leaves the permitting authority the ability to ignore the law. I asked him from his perspective, would he look into this as a civil rights violation? Succinctly he said:
A prolonged wait is a violation to people’s rights. The Second Amendment is the Second Amendment. People have a right to own firearms and to delay that right is a violation.
I followed up by asking him directly “Would you work with your AG if people would come to you as this is a civil rights violation to challenge these departments and or the actual statute?” And he reiterated his stance, following up with a “yes”:
I do believe a prolonged wait is a violation of people’s civil rights, yes.
On general firearm laws, Jack wanted to add that:
I also believe that we should grandfather in any firearm that was legally purchased but is later deemed illegal in subsequent legislation…[on AR-15’s and semi-automatics that are banned] If its strictly over cosmetic purposes then that’s something we defiantly need to revisit.
In closing our conversation, I asked Jack if he had anything he wanted to add to get his message across that we had not covered. Ciattarelli gave the following response:
New Jersey’s gun laws are among the strictest in the nation, so strict that many law abiding citizens understandably consider an infringement upon Second Amendment rights. Consistent with these rights, we need to prohibit criminals, terrorists, and others who are a danger to society from obtaining guns. While supporting wholeheartedly, and defending wholeheartedly the Constitutional right of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms…When I’m sitting in that governor’s seat John, we will be sitting there and be talking about these matters. Again, being a CPA and business owner, I know about tax policy, fiscal policy…it’s my job to do the best job I can to get caught up in all these other areas, but you never know everything and if it’s outside your [my] expertise I look forward to those conversations.
It was a pleasure to talk to Ciattarelli, Jack, on these important Second Amendment issues. Jack has a history in New Jersey government and looking through his voting record, things look pretty good. Some of the hot button issues we discussed, sure he has an opinion on, but one of the most compelling things Jack has expressed more than once is his willingness to talk to the Second Amendment community on the issues. Being willing to say that he’s not an expert on gun-related topics but wants to hear from those who are is a very encouraging thing. He went on the record to say “I am not a gun owner.” The NRA recently rated Jack as a B on gun-related topics. To me, his candor and openness to communicate about the facts make him a formidable opponent to those that are running against him in the primary election.
John Petrolino is a US Merchant Marine Officer, writer, author of Decoding Firearms: An Easy to Read Guide on General Gun Safety & Use and NRA certified pistol, rifle, and shotgun instructor living under and working to change New Jersey’s draconian and unconstitutional gun laws. You can find him on the web at www.johnpetrolino.com on twitter at @johnpetrolino and on instagram @jpetrolinoiii .