New Jersey: Experiment in Gun Control ?>

New Jersey: Experiment in Gun Control

New Jersey’s commitment to firearms safety is unrivaled anywhere in the nation;

 NJ Statutes 2C:58-2.2 

The Kentucky Long Rifle freed us from the oppression of King George III.  This lesson was not lost on the authors of the Bill of Rights, who put freedom of speech first and the right to beat arms second.  Since 1787, we’ve struggled to balance “well regulated” with the right to hunt, target shoot, and defend ourselves.  It’s worth it to put an economist’s hat on and see what the numbers tell us about the costs of America’s exceptional attitude toward guns.

New Jersey, Hawaii, and California have engaged in experiments to control guns in a way not in concert with most of the other states.  The impetus, at least publically stated, was safety.  How has that worked out?

Since the Orlando shooting, two media outlets sent writers to buy AR-15s.  Huffington Post writer Andy Campbell bought an AR-15 in Orlando, where a state of emergency had been declared after the shooting.  It took him 39 minutes. (part of the Philadelphia Enquirer) sent Helen Urbiñas to buy one.  She reported that it took 7 minutes.  Across the river in New Jersey, for a first time rifle buyer the process would have taken no less than thirty days.  And your local police chief needs to sign off.

Before we get into the details, a discussion of firearms safety needs to start with a definition of terms.

Assault rifle, assault weapon, assault firearm,and Personal Defensive Weapon are defined by law in several states and used variously and carelessly everywhere else.  AR-15, originally a specific weapon and trademark is now used as a catchall for a semiautomatic rifle with characteristics that vary according to who is using the term.

Police in this discussion (and by FBI definition) includes members of the law enforcement community (LEO) who are armed as part of their daily duties and while performing those duties.  In other contexts and arguments, they may include unarmed civilian employees and even canines.

In New Jersey LEOs include police, park rangers, and animal control officers.  In New Jersey, police does not include fully sworn officers of other states who are granted the right to carry concealed weapons though any state under the provision of the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004.  Under New Jersey law, such a person is considered an ordinary citizen.

We use the term criminal here to describe a person who commits a felony crime (other than a weapons violation) using a weapon.  We make the distinction between crimes of passion, assault, and murder where the gun is central, and crimes of burglary, robbery, terrorism, and for example, drug distribution where the use of a firearm was in a supporting role, i.e. secondary to another felony.  That is not to say that one homicide is less heinous than the other, but the motivations are likely different.

Citizen, in this analysis, is a person who is either law-abiding or who uses a gun to kill or injure another either aggressively, or in self-defense, but without the intent to commit any other crime in the process.  This includes murder in any degree, as long it is not accompanied by any intent of execution of burglary, robbery, terrorism, drug dealing, or similar crime.

In New Jersey, a citizen is severely limited in where he or she may possess a gun, either loaded (at home at his place of business, while hunting, or at a range) or unloaded in a locked case (on a direct route to a hunting spot, range, or new residence).

The state legislature justifies its lawmaking on two bases.  First, the state constitution offers no protection to citizens’ gun rights.  Second, the legislature describes its motivation as safety.

Nothing remarkable about New Jersey’s regulatory scheme

New Jersey’s regulatory scheme is unremarkable when compared to laws around the world.  The possession and use of a firearm in many countries is highly regulated.  What is peculiar is New Jersey’s stance among the various states, all of which are subject to the Second Amendment of the Unites States Constitution.  There are two general trends nationwide.  The first is prohibition of weapons considered more lethal, including machine guns and foreign manufactured assault weapons.  The second is relaxation in most states of concealed carry laws for the remaining weapons.  Eight states require no permit for concealed carry.  Twenty six require no demonstration of ability for concealed carry.

Safety is not further defined in the New Jersey statute.  We can propose a more specific definition then examine it to see if the state’s regulatory scheme is effective.  Based on the criminal statues of New Jersey, we can assume the intent of the legislature to define safety was to preserve life of police officers and children first, citizens second, and criminals third.  Harsh penalties for killing a police officer and use of a weapon in furtherance of a crime speak to an interest to dissuade criminals from carrying guns.  If criminals do not carry weapons, according to this reasoning, the chances of injury or death to any party during the commission of a crime are lessened.  Restriction on time and place of a citizen’s possession of a weapon should lessen the likelihood of a fatal crime of passion or suicide.  Restriction on use of force by police should reduce the likelihood of death or injury to the alleged perpetrator of a crime before his is tried and found a criminal.

Definition of Circumstances

  Citizen Criminal Police
Self Suicide, accident Suicide,
“Death by Cop”
Police Suicide
Citizen Homicide, accident Homicide Accidental bystander death
Criminal Justifiable homicide “gangland slaying” Justifiable homicide
Police [Criminal by definition] Justifiable homicide Blue-on-Blue


The table above and its definitions allow us to categorize firearms-related incidents.  For our analysis, we will discuss only fatalities, for which the data are better.  Injuries are no less important, but the data describing them is incomplete.  We will eventually discuss crimes prevented by brandishing a firearm, but without discharge, injury, or death.  This data is anecdotal and unreliable.

Suicide is often indistinguishable from accidental, self-inflicted firearm fatality.  After such an event it is impossible to determine motivation.  Indeed, in some cases, intentional suicide is classified as accidental for various reasons.  From the CDC WONDER database for 2012, categories X72, X73, and X74, there were 20,666 fatalities as a result of intentional self-harm from handguns, long guns, and firearms of undetermined type.  Categories W32, 33, and 34 Accidental discharge of firearms was 548.  In New Jersey the 2012 total of X72, X73, and X74 was 160.  In NJ, categories W32, 33, and 34  Accidental discharge of firearms , was too few to report due to confidentiality constraints, (likely less than five).  The New Jersey population was 8,864,590.

Badge of Life, a group focused on police psychological health describes 126 police suicides in 2012, of which 91% were by gun.  NJ101.5 reported 19 New Jersey police suicides in 2015.

Assault (homicide by gun).  From the CDC WONDER database for 2012, categories X93, X94, and X95, there were 11,622 fatalities as a result of handguns, long guns, and firearms of undetermined type. The corresponding number for New Jersey was 276.

Killings of LEOs by gun in 2012 while in the performance of their duties was 120 nationwide and none in New Jersey (Officer Down website).  The FBI reports only 44 nationwide.  Of those, 35 did not use or attempt to use their own weapon.  In 2012 no officer killed in the line of duty had body armor penetrated (if he was wearing it).  In Orlando, one officer was saved from a head shot by a Kevlar helmet.

Killings by LEOs for 2012 was gathered from list of killings by law enforcement officers in the United States, on Wikipedia.  The nationwide total was 602.  The New Jersey total was 5.  The FBI reported more specifically 410 justifiable killings by law enforcement and 310 by civilians. (Federal Bureau of Investigation).

Killings of LEOs by LEOs in the line of duty for 2012 nationally was 2. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2012).  In New Jersey 0.  By FBI standard definition, the 2012 population of LEOs was 520,047.  New Jersey 28,948.

Killings of criminal by criminal in 2012 nationwide was 872 gangland killings and juvenile gang killings (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2012).  I was unable to extract the New Jersey-only numbers.

National Death by Firearm Crude Statistics 2012

National Crude Citizen Criminal Police
Self 21,088   126
Citizen 11,622    
Criminal 310 872 410
Police [Criminal by definition] 44 2
Total 33,020 914 538




New Jersey Death by Firearm Crude Statistics 2012

NJ Crude Citizen Criminal Police
Self 141   19
Citizen 271    
Criminal Not available Not available 5
Police [Criminal by definition] 0 0
Total 412   24


National Death by Firearm Rates per 100,000 2012

National Rate Citizen Police
Self 6.75 24.23
Citizen 3.72 Not calculated


New Jersey Death by Firearm Rates per 100,000 2012

NJ Rate Citizen Police
Self 1.59 65.74
Citizen 3.06 Not calculated


It is clear that New Jersey enjoys a rate of suicide by gun a quarter of the rest of the United States.  What is not so clear is whether New Jersey’s lower rate of homicide by gun is statistically significant.

For reasons interesting to me but boring to everyone else, the 2012 homicide statistics for New Jersey are not compelling.  Over the sixteen year period 1999-2014, the chances of dying in New Jersey from assault by firearm is only 71% of that in the nation as a whole.  In short, New Jersey has a substantially reduced death rate by gun in both suicide and homicide.  These data are insufficient to demonstrate cause and effect – that these number are the result of legislation and regulation.  For more detailed statistical work in this area, Google John Lott.  It is quite impossible to predict that an increase in regulation would further improve these statistics.  But let us assume that regulation was the cause of New Jersey’s performance.  Was it worthwhile to give up the benefits of crime prevention, self-defense, and prevention of tyranny?

The libertarian think tank Cato Institute points out how difficult it is to describe these benefits in numeric terms.  Most of the evidence is anecdotal.  As a result, interest groups on either side of the bun debate proffer their own numbers, with absolutely no agreement on anything.

The Brady Campaign (anti-gun) admits that gun related homicides are decreasing, but points to higher injury rates.  The NRA (pro-gun) makes its argument without numbers.  “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Many Americans support the Second Amendment on the basis that an armed citizenry will be able to resist a tyrannical government.  Indeed, quotes from the founding fathers support this position.  George Mason said, “To disarm the people…[i]s the most effectual way to enslave them.”  Jefferson was mindful of the risks when he said, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”

What irritates many though is the doubletalk on the issue.  At the very beginning of this work was a description of the hollow point bullet, substantially prohibited for New Jersey citizens, and prohibited on battlefields the world over.  The back cover of the NJ PBA magazine appears an advertisement for a particularly lethal brand of hollow point ammunition.

When a situation unfolds, so does the Ranger® T Series handgun ammunition.  With an unbeatable combination of expansion and penetration enhanced by engineered segments in the patented SXT® design, the T Series can be relied on to deliver consistent stopping power in real world situations.  Backed by a comprehensive testing and training program, Winchester T Series is ammunition that always performs at its best—even when things are at their worst.


If you need an explanation of Ranger T, here is a YouTube video.

The New Jersey Legislature defines in law what it believes an Assault Firearm.  When it appropriates money to the NJ State Police, the same gun is called a Personal Defensive Weapon.

Conspiracy theorists see the police wearing bulletproof vests, getting AR-15s, and conclude that the government is arming itself against a citizen insurrection.  These folks might want to consider the differences between 1776 and 2016.  If the government chooses to control the population, there are easier ways to do it than face 300 million firearms.  Shut down the water supplies to major cities.  Stop government entitlement payments to individuals.  Occupy the bridges across the Mississippi River.

Much of this debate is the result of a failure to establish the basis of discussion before arguing the details.  Is our goal to protect children, the cops, or the population at large?  Is the risk of tyranny sufficient to outweigh the other social costs?  That is a question only the people can answer.

George Washington summed it best in my opinion when he said, “A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined…”

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