NJ Residents for Action Against Gun Violence were joined by vocal gun advocates outside Congress Leonard Lance's Westfield office this week.
The grassroots group, organized by Westfield resident Karen Egert following the shooting massacre at the Newtown, Conn.'s Sandy Hook elementary school, demonstrated to show their support for "common sense gun laws." Their mission includes the following:
- A federal ban on the sale and manufacturing of military-style assault weapons
- A federal ban on the sale and manufacturing of high-capacity ammunition magazines (with a limit of 10 rounds per magazine)
- To get elected officials to fully support The Fix Gun Checks Act (H.R. 137), which would require instant criminal background checks for every gun sale and close the “private sale loophole.”
But gun proponent Greg Ziolkowski Sr. of Metuchen, who was joined by a large crowd of gun owners and advocates, said "it's not about guns, it's about liberty."
"This is about protecting and defending the individual rights that have been handed down to us that we want to hand down to future generations," he said.
Kim Molinelli of Colonia stood beside Ziolkowski with her preschooler Joe, attending his first protest, in his stroller. "I'm in favor of the least amount of federal government involvement possible," she said.
NJ Residents for Action president Karen Egert, who organized the demonstration which began at 1 p.m., said she anticipated opposition as the groups stood side by side. "This is what democracy looks like," she said.
As polarizing as the issue of gun control is, there was even division among those who came out in support of NJ Residents for Action. Gabe Kardos of Mountainside was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1977. Since then Kardos said he has been hospitalized 22 times to adjust his medication and find the right “chemical cocktail.”
“I don’t feel guns should be available to those who are not qualified to own them,” he said. “I should not be able to walk into a gun show and buy a gun. I should be kicked out. It’s only fair, just, and practical to prevent people like me from obtaining weapons. If my medication isn’t working and I start thinking everyone is an alien, I shouldn’t be able to get my hands on an AK-47.”
But Tom Crownover of Plainfield does not believe the problem with gun violence has anything to do with mental health. Rather, Crownover said he supports U.S. Representative Adam Schiff’s (D-California) call to limit legal immunity for gun manufacturers and gun distributors.
Crownover explained that in 2005, at the urging of the gun industry, Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed into law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which limits civil liability suits brought against gun manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.
“Without tort liability, there’s no incentive to make guns safer,” Crownover said. “Congress enables makers and sellers of guns.”
Union County Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski, who stood alongside NJ Residents for Action, said Union County will soon be announcing a gun buyback day.
“I think the majority of people are on the right side of this issue,” she said.