Elected officials, activists call for gun reforms in wake of fatal Jersey City shootings

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Several local, state, and federal officials representing Hudson County joined a number of anti-violence activist organizations for a rally at the Jersey City Hall Annex this evening to call for stricter gun laws in the wake of Tuesday’s hate crimes.

By Mike Montemarano/Hudson County View

After a mass shooting which investigators are classifying as a domestic terrorism incident and bias crime against both the Jewish and law enforcement communities, anti-violence organizations congregated with a number of demands aimed at addressing both hate crimes and the broader gun violence epidemic.

Tuesday’s acts of violence took the lives of Jersey City Police Det. Joseph Seals, Moshe Deutsch, Leah Mindel Ferencz, and Douglas Miguel Rodriguez. A fifth victim was injured, but was able to flee the scene and make it out alive.

The leading members of organizations Students Demand Action, Moms Demand Action, Hudson Partnership CMO, Operation Ceasefire and Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition led most of the speeches.

Jai Patel, who launched a local chapter of Students Demand Action after witnessing a shooting at the Newport Centre Mall, laid down some facts about gun violence as it impacts New Jersey.

“In an average year, more than ten thousand hate crimes involve a firearm: that’s more than 28 a day. Out of four of those reported crimes were motivated by religious bias and anti-Semitism. We demand to live in a country where it is safe to be who we are, believe what we want, and love who we want,” he said.

“We’re fortunate to live in a state where lawmakers care deeply about the 500 people who are shot and killed in New Jersey each year.”

Patel was one of many who spoke at the event to argue that strong the state’s tight gun regulations, such as background checks on criminal history, can be skirted by prospective violent criminals by crossing state lines to buy a gun with very little prerequisite.

In Ohio, where two of the guns linked with the mass shooting were traced back to, neither permits nor background checks are required to purchase a gun. Restrictions there add little to those at the federal level.

“It has been months since we passed HR8, a bipartisan background check act. But how many more people need to die in order for the Senate to listen to more than 90 percent of Americans who support background checks on gun sales. New Jersey doing its part is not enough. We need lawmakers in Congress to act. From 2013 to 2017, 60 percent of guns used in crimes in our state came from nearby states with no background checks required, and those states put New Jersey at a greater risk,” Patel continued.

HR8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, would require a background checks process at the federal level to prevent individuals prohibited from gun possession from purchasing firearms. It has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Senate.

“Our hearts are broken and so are our gun laws. As we mourn, we have to make a commitment that [the victims] lives will not have been in vein,” added U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

“It is time, as our gun laws are broken, to get them right. It is time for a universal background check to exist in our nation.”

Bill Castner, Gov. Phil Murphy’s (D) senior adviser on firearms, said that pressure must be continued statewide.

“It’s because of the ostriches in Washington who are failing to protect our community. We have among the strongest gun violence prevention laws in New Jersey, but we are not an oasis,” Castner stated.

“The only reason the tide has turned and the needle has shifted is because of the people standing here with me. It’s still so painful to be here over something so unnecessary.”

Additionally, U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8) said that in supporting legislation such as HR8, he hopes to continue wearing an ‘F’ grade from the NRA as a badge of honor.

“As a product of Hudson County, I can’t remember such a sad episode. As the Mayor [Steven Fulop] said, if happened here it can happen anywhere else. Our laws in New Jersey don’t do any good with guns coming from outside of New Jersey. I’m proud to say that for the 13 years I’ve been in Congress, my rating is an F,” he stated.

“I cannot understand how we can’t have background checks, or any of the loopholes in place. You know how the shooter at a naval base in Penascola got a gun? There was a loophole in the law. I will be proud to carry that F with me every time I go to vote to bring some sort of control over this issue we have with guns.”

Eytan Stern Weber, a member of Moms Demand Action, said that the shooters “picked the wrong people” to attempt to intimidate.

“One thing i can say for certain is that if these shooters wanted to intimidate or impress, they picked the wrong people. And that’s not just because Jews are strong, but because throughout American history, Jews have been fighting injustice,” he exclaimed

.”We were there with the suffragettes at Seneca Falls, and arm in arm with Dr. King marching on Selma. Because injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. When we face injustice, we are stronger because you people show up and share the burden.”

Pamela Johnson, the Executive Director of Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement, spoke at length about the collective trauma surrounding not just mass shootings, but gun violence as a whole, as well as the wrong ways in which it is addressed.

She called on the press to stop undereporting gun violence on Jersey City’s south side, and neighborhoods plagued by gun violence at similar levels.

Furthermore, she expressed fear that the press treats areas where gun violence is common as banal news topics, and that doing so helps enable inaction.

“We face an enormous amount of continuous loss, continuous pain, and the undeniable feeling of emptiness. We meet with stakeholders, and we hold people accountable. We actively work in our own communities to make it better,” Johnson began.

“What I hope will change is that through tragedy we find ways to form a connection and understand each other as people. What I hope will change is that we create a dialogue that tells a story of how much more alike we are than different. What I hope will change is that when the cameras disappear you reappear to fight for a safer Jersey City for all people in Jersey City.”

Following the rally at the City Hall Annex, many of the same participants reconvened at the site of the shooting, JC Kosher Supermarket, for a second vigil.