NEW JERSEY — Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin Monday announced the creation of a Statewide Affirmative Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Office – a first-in-the-nation office with the specific mandate of bringing civil enforcement actions against firearm companies to hold them accountable for violations of the law that harm the health and safety of New Jersey residents.
An essential component of SAFE’s civil enforcement toolbox will be the recently enacted firearms public nuisance legislation (P.L.2022, c.56) signed by Governor Murphy on July 5, 2022, which authorizes the Attorney General to bring lawsuits against gun industry members that knowingly or recklessly contribute to a public nuisance in New Jersey through unlawful or unreasonable conduct, or that fail to maintain reasonable controls, relating to their sale, manufacturing, distribution, importing, or marketing of gun-related products.
“Make no mistake – thanks to Governor Murphy and the Legislature, New Jersey is once again a national leader when it comes to combatting gun violence,” Platkin said. “At a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is undermining states’ efforts to protect their residents from the carnage of gun violence, New Jersey’s Statewide Affirmative Firearms Enforcement Office will use the new public nuisance legislation to hold the gun industry accountable. With the establishment of this office we are sending a clear message to every participant in the firearms industry: if you violate our laws, you will pay.”
New Jersey’s commonsense firearm safety laws have helped the State maintain one of the lowest firearm mortality rates in the country. Nonetheless, New Jersey suffers hundreds of gun-related deaths each year and has not escaped the tragedy of mass shootings. In 2019, two shooters targeted a kosher market in Hudson County in an attack that claimed the lives of six people, including a Jersey City police officer. Last year, three people were killed and 11 others wounded when a shooter opened fire on a crowd gathered for a birthday party at a home in Fairfield Township. And earlier this month, nine people were injured when a gunman in a stolen vehicle opened fire on a street in Newark.
SAFE’s work will accord with the Department’s long history of working closely with law enforcement partners at all levels of government to keep our residents safe, including through smart and evidence-based police work that leads to the arrest and prosecution of individuals, gangs, and gun traffickers who violate New Jersey’s gun laws, and who bring danger and chaos to our communities. Under the leadership of Acting Attorney General Platkin, New Jersey has made it a top priority to apprehend anyone possessing and selling illegal “ghost guns,” which are firearms not imprinted with a serial number registered with a federally licensed manufacturer, and therefore extremely difficult for law enforcement to trace.
One of the tactics being used by Acting Attorney General Platkin to prevent ghost guns from appearing in New Jersey communities is through a strategic law enforcement partnership with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Acting Attorney General Platkin has directed the Division of Criminal Justice in collaboration with the New Jersey State Police, PA and federal authorities, to focus their collective resources on apprehending individuals illegally bringing ghost gun kits across state lines into New Jersey. These cooperative investigations have led to the arrest and prosecution of 19 individuals this year. As a result of these and other ongoing efforts to protect our residents from gun violence, New Jersey law enforcement agencies have criminally seized 2,398 firearms, including 170 illegal ghost guns, so far this year.
SAFE’s work will be distinct from but supplement the Department’s ongoing – and successful – efforts to use the state’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) to stop out-of-state gun dealers from selling illegal firearm products into New Jersey over the internet. In March 2022, Acting Attorney General Platkin announced that the State had obtained a $175,000 judgment against Florida gun vendor 22Mods4All for violating the CFA by advertising and selling illegal large-capacity magazines (LCMs) to New Jersey consumers online. The judgment also permanently barred 22Mods4All from future online sales of LCMs here. A second gun vendor named in that suit – Florida-based Elite Aluminum – agreed to pay a $150,000 civil penalty and stop selling LCMs in New Jersey.
But the public nuisance lawsuits will provide even more robust enforcement tools, by allowing the Department to hold firearms manufacturers and retail dealers accountable for endangering the safety and health of New Jersey residents through the sale, manufacture, distribution, or marketing of lethal, but nonetheless legal, firearms.
The creation of SAFE to enforce the new firearms public nuisance legislation advances the work Governor Murphy is doing to combat the epidemic of gun violence. Among other steps, New Jersey has established a “red flag” law for gun violence protective orders; criminalized firearms trafficking; strengthened background checks; reduced the maximum capacity of ammunition magazines; banned ghost guns; established the Rutgers Gun Violence Research Center to identify evidenced-based solutions to the gun violence crisis; and established a partnership with a coalition of states (New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut) to share crime gun data between law enforcement agencies.