TRENTON, NJ — Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced July 25 the creation of a Statewide Affirmative Firearms Enforcement 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 signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on July 5, 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 Gov. Murphy and the Legislature, New Jersey is once again a national leader when it comes to combating 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 firearm safety laws have helped the state maintain one of the lowest firearm mortality rates in the country, according to the Attorney General’s Office. 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 in July, nine people were injured when a gunman in a stolen vehicle opened fire on a street in Newark.
“Gun violence is a threat to public safety. We must take appropriate action to keep our communities safe and ensure those responsible for senseless acts of gun violence see consequences for their actions,” said Assemblyman John Mckeon, who represents parts of Essex and Morris counties. “This includes ensuring members of the gun industry are held accountable for their role in knowingly or recklessly fueling an increase in gun violence and its influence through the sale and marketing of gun-related products. The new Statewide Affirmative Firearms Enforcement Office is authorized through legislation I sponsored to bring lawsuits against members of the gun industry. This will play a critical role in keeping New Jersey residents safe from the threat of gun violence. I am proud that New Jersey continues to lead the nation in combating gun violence with commonsense gun safety measures. Nothing is more important than keeping our residents safe.”
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 residents safe 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. Platkin 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 are therefore extremely difficult for law enforcement to trace.
To prevent ghost guns from being used in New Jersey, Platkin maintains a partnership with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, through which the two states and federal agents 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. 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 efforts to use the state’s Consumer Fraud Act to stop out-of-state gun dealers from selling illegal firearm products into New Jersey over the internet.