Gun Shop Owner Wins Over Law Limiting Sales


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FRANK CASO has sold handguns and rifles from his Caso’s Gun-A-Rama store for 40 years.

But for about six months in 2006, Mr. Caso was barred by a city ordinance from selling each customer more than one handgun a month. Two weeks ago, he won a legal victory when a State Appellate Court panel affirmed a lower court ruling that tossed out the Jersey City ordinance. Mr. Caso’s legal victory, however, may be short lived.

A bill that would limit gun buyers to one handgun a month passed the State Assembly in June and is now awaiting a hearing in the State Senate.

“We really have to try to remedy this situation with guns on the streets in our urban areas,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham, whose district includes parts of Jersey City. “We know that the bill is not going to remedy the situation completely. A lot of people get guns from out of state, but we have to do something to show these people that we are serious about protecting our citizens.”

In Mr. Caso’s shop, ammunition boxes line a rear shelf, handguns lie in locked glass cases and hunting trophies like deer and pheasant hang on the walls. He said his customers are often hunters and target shooters and many come from other parts of the state, drawn by his reputation. Handguns are legal, he said, and properly screened buyers should be able to buy as many as they want.

“It’s like buying a new car,” he said. “If you kill someone with a car in an accident do we blame the car or the dealer? No.”

Jersey City passed its ordinance in June 2006. That December, Judge Maurice J. Gallipoli of State Superior Court struck it down, saying it “arbitrarily and capriciously burdens the rights of individuals who have absolutely nothing to do with crime and violence.” The State Appellate Court ruled that the city could not pass the law because state laws already regulated handgun sales. Bill Matsikoudis, the city attorney, said the city would appeal. He has argued that the state’s home rule laws allow municipalities to issue laws addressing public safety.

At issue are so-called “straw buyers” — properly licensed and permitted buyers who buy multiple handguns and may sell them illegally to street buyers, said Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy.

“This law would take a bite out of that, because it’s not going to be profitable anymore,” he said. “I don’t know of any legitimate gun owner who needs to go and buy more than one gun per month.”

Scott Bach, president of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, said that if a gun were recovered after a crime, it would be traced back. He said New Jersey already has some of the most stringent gun-licensing and permitting processes in the nation, giving law enforcement ample time and latitude to turn down suspicious buyers. He said there are many reasons someone might want more than one gun a month — for protection if a primary gun needs repair, or for variety.

“Can you imagine a golfer having only one club?” he said.

Bryan Miller, executive director of Ceasefire NJ, said 2007 data from the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives show that most guns used in the state’s crimes — 72 percent — originate from other states.

“But that remaining 28 percent are coming from New Jersey and that’s a significant number,” he said. “We can’t affect the laws in Pennsylvania or anywhere else but we can affect the laws here.”

Three other states have one-handgun-a-month laws. South Carolina, the first to pass such a law in 1975, repealed it in 2005 after lawmakers argued it was ineffective and unfair. California has such a law, as does Maryland.

A study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research looked at Maryland’s one-handgun-a-month law and another law banning cheap guns and found that gun homicides dropped about 10 percent after the two laws were put into effect.

“While I think these laws will have a beneficial effect, it’s probably going to take many months or years before you see a full effect,” said Daniel Webster, a researcher with Johns Hopkins.

Source: NYTimes

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