By Jonathan Tamari and Allison Steele
Inquirer Staff Writers
Gov. Corzine called yesterday for tougher gun laws at the state and national levels, citing the recent discovery of 259 firearms at a man's Gloucester County home as a reason to bring back a federal ban on assault weapons. Corzine also called on the state Senate to give final legislative approval to a plan to limit New Jersey handgun buyers to one purchase every 30 days - putting public pressure on lawmakers to pass a bill that appears stalled.
"There is no reason why anyone needs more than one gun a month," Corzine said. "It is time for the Senate to take this bill up and pass it."
The Assembly has approved the measure.
Corzine made the calls for tougher laws before a roomful of gun-control advocates who had gathered as he signed a law increasing the penalties for illegally possessing machine guns or assault weapons in New Jersey.
He said a federal assault-weapons ban was needed to complement New Jersey's restrictions. A national ban "in theory" would have blocked Brian Hinkel from amassing such a large arsenal at his Franklin Township home, Corzine said.
Hinkel, whose 259 weapons were discovered in late January, faces numerous criminal charges, including five counts of possession of an assault rifle.
Bryan Miller, executive director of Ceasefire NJ, said that even though New Jersey bans assault weapons, they can be bought in other states and brought here illegally. A national ban would prevent buyers from obtaining assault weapons anywhere, he said.
"They're made to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible, and as such they have no use in a society," Miller said.
Hinkel, 59, came to widespread attention after police found a store of firearms at his home. It was discovered after state troopers arrived to question him about his ties to a suspect in a recent burglary. Police are still investigating how and where Hinkel, a former Vineland police officer with no criminal record, obtained all of the weapons.
Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said Corzine should focus on existing regulations, noting that anyone in New Jersey who possesses an assault weapon is already breaking the law.
"The reason gun control laws and especially laws like this don't work is that criminals by definition don't obey the law," Arulanandam said. "If Gov. Corzine was serious about combatting crime, he would put the focus on prosecuting criminals who violate existing gun laws."
A nationwide assault weapons ban expired in 2004.
Evan Nappen, an Eatontown, N.J., lawyer whose practice focuses on firearms law, said the definition of "assault weapon" is often based on technical factors that do not relate to how dangerous a gun is.
"This is just another show for the public that will have no effect on crime," he said.
Within the state, Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), one of the opponents of the one-handgun-per-month bill, said New Jersey has enough laws. Its gun problems stem from other states with more lax regulations, he said, noting that the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence recently ranked New Jersey's gun laws as the second toughest in the nation, behind only California.
Sweeney also argued that some law-abiding citizens buy several handguns at once so they don't have to go through repeated waiting periods.
Police have said the discovery at Hinkel's home might be the largest weapons find in a state police investigation. The guns included semiautomatic rifles, handguns, antique guns, and World War II-era firearms of various calibers.
Police have said it would take some time to complete the investigation and have not commented on how many of the weapons are suspected of being illegal.
Hinkel's attorney has denied that Hinkel threatened police officers.