EO City Council calls for stricter gun control laws

EAST ORANGE, NJ — In the wake a shooting spree in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub on Sunday, June 12; a sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Rep. John Lewis, on Wednesday, June 22, to protest the failure of Congress to pass new gun control legislation; and the shooting death in East Orange of a 4-year-old by a 5-year-old on Saturday, June 25, the national debate about gun control was the focus at the East Orange City Council’s regular meeting Monday, June 27.

“I move that we send a letter to (U.S.) Rep. Lewis in support of the sit-in they held on the floor of U.S. Congress last week,” said 2nd Ward Councilwoman Jacquelyn Johnson on Monday, June 27. “We have to do something, in light of what’s going on in our communities. We have to do something to get these guns off the streets.”

City Council Chairman and 3rd Ward Councilman Ted Green agreed with Johnson, saying the shooting death of a 4-year-old boy at a Norman Street residence was certainly a wakeup call for community leaders everywhere and lends a sense of urgency regarding gun control policy reform.

“Guns seem to be more prevalent than ever in our society and our communities, so it is more urgent than ever that we get these guns off the street and out of people’s hands,” said Green on Monday, June 27. “In light of what just happened on Norman Street, I think we have to become more vocal and active and do like Councilwoman Johnson said by supporting Rep. Lewis and our other lawmakers that staged the sit-in last week. East Orange was the first city to lead the charge in banning realistic-looking toy guns from our schools, by asking our local merchants not to sell them to school age children in the city.”

On Saturday, June 25, Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray and East Orange Public Safety Director Sheilah Coley announced that authorities were investigating the recent shooting incident that killed the child. The names of the alleged victim and his shooter have been withheld due to their ages.

“Shortly before 11 a.m., East Orange police officers were dispatched to a residence in the 100 block of Norman Street in East Orange,” said Murray on Saturday, June 25. “Arriving officers discovered that a 4-year-old male had been shot. The child was rushed to University Hospital in Newark.”

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Thomas S. Fennelly of the Prosecutor’s Homicide Unit said, “Unfortunately, the victim was pronounced dead at 4:26 p.m.”

“The investigation is being conducted by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Major Crimes Task Force, which includes detectives from the East Orange Police Department,” said Fennelly on Saturday, June 25. “At this point, the shooting appears to be accidental. As a result of the investigation, the victim’s mother, Itiyanah Spruill, age 22, of East Orange, has been charged with endangering the welfare of a child and a weapons violation.”

Fennelly said Spruill was arrested Saturday, June 25, by detectives from the Prosecutor’s Office. Her bail was set at $310,000 by the Superior Court Judge Bridget Stecher.

“Spruill will be held in the Essex County Correctional Facility pending arraignment,” said Fennelly. “The investigation is continuing at this time. No further information is available.”

In a press release Monday, June 27, Fennelly said Spruill was due to be arraigned on charges of endangering the welfare of a child and a weapons violation Tuesday June 28, before Judge Ronald Wigler.

Second Ward Councilman Romal Bullock agreed with Green that more needs to be done to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who might misuse them. He also said many of the local issues, such as the Norman Street shooting and homicide, stem from an ongoing failure to properly regulate the sale of handguns at the federal level.

“One thing I do appreciate is New Jersey has pretty strong gun laws, but the weapons that we see getting used on our streets locally often turn out to have been purchased legally in other states, then brought here and resold illegally,” said Bullock on Monday, June 27. “The federal level really is the approach that needs to be taken. There are several laws on the books that woman on Norman Street violated that led to that death.”

Bullock said he was brought to tears by what Lewis and other mostly Democratic U.S. Congress members did at the sit-in last week, adding that the spectacle of elected officials resorting to public protest tactics from the civil rights era affected him.

“At the end of the day, we have to support the federal effort at gun control,” said Bullock. It’s a misunderstanding of the founding fathers’ intent, when it comes to the right to bear arms.”

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Alicia Holman, who chairs the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, has definite opinions about gun control and public safety.

“Of course I’m in favor of gun control legislation; I think it’s important and we really need to have it,” said Holman on Tuesday, June 28. “Right now, too many kids are capable of getting their hands on guns. … We need to have stricter gun control and there should be stricter and harsher penalties for those who break the law. It’s quite obvious that gun manufacturers and gun sellers are not getting the required documents as well. I think we need to hold them accountable.”

Holman said new and better gun control laws, in addition to the existing local laws regarding realistic-looking toy guns that Green sponsored, are the only way to bring the epidemic of gun violence in America to an end.

“Two innocent little children, probably thinking they’re playing with a water gun, and one kills the other — that‘s ludicrous,” Holman said. “We just need to tighten up the security on it. I don’t understand why the Republican legislators and National Rifle Association are opposed to it. I think it‘s just crucial to our society to have it.”