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The Newest and Most Dangerous Red Flag Law

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By Brent Johnson | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

A significant new gun control law will take effect in New Jersey on Sunday, allowing you to ask a judge to bar a family member or loved one who is deemed to be mentally unstable and a threat from buying or possessing a gun.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. What does the law actually do?

The law (A1217) is officially called the “Extreme Risk Protective Order Act of 2018."

It allows family members or those who live in the same household to submit an application to state Superior Court showing why a judge should issue an “extreme risk protective order" to keep guns away from someone “who poses a danger of causing bodily injury” to themselves or others by purchasing or possessing a gun or ammunition.

It also allows law enforcement to petition the court.

People who are neither family or a law enforcement officer can ask a law enforcement agency to file a petition.

The judge can then issue the order if they find the person “poses a significant risk of personal injury to himself or others by possessing a firearm.” That will bar the person from owning, buying, possessing, or receiving any firearms during the period the order is in effect.

The law also allows the judge to issue a warrant to seize a person’s firearms if they’ve been issued an order.

“It’s really based around a mental health concern,” state Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, D-Camden — a main sponsor of the law — told NJ Advance Media.

“In a lot of cases, you’ll hear that a family member will say their child was struggling with depression or suicidal tendencies,” Greenwald aid. “They can now ask a judge to intercede and remove the gun until that individual can be tested and be determined to be safe to themselves and others.”

2. Can a neighbor or someone who is not family or a friend also seek such an order?

If you’re not a family member or don’t live in the same household, you can ask a law enforcement agency to file a petition on your behalf. But Greenwald said the law is designed primarily for family members and loved ones who are concerned.

“They would be considered closer to the situation,” the lawmaker said.

3. How can the person get their guns back? 

A person has 45 days to file an appeal once an order is granted. They can also seek to have the order terminated at any time after the order goes into effect.

If a law enforcement agency has “probable cause” to believe that a person continues to pose “a significant risk" after one year, the agency may request another order. A judge may also issue another order.

4. How did this become law? 

This was one of several gun control measures New Jersey’s Democratic-controlled Legislature passed after Democrat Phil Murphysucceeding Republican Chris Christie as governor in January 2018. Murphy vowed on the campaign trail to make the state’s already strict gun laws even tougher.

The bill passed the state Senate by a vote of 32-5 in the Senate and 56-11 in the Assembly in June 2018. Some Republicans joined Democrats in the vote.

Murphy signed the measure into law just days later — one of six gun laws he approved that day.

“We are going to be a leader in the fight for common-sense gun safety,” the governor said at the time. “New Jersey will lead.”

This particular law wasn’t slated to take effect until Sept. 1 — this Sunday — so the state’s courts could prepare.

Alexandra Altman, a spokeswoman for Murphy, said the governor “proudly” signed this law to "ensure that individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others do not have access to a gun.”

5. What do opponents say? 

Gun-rights advocates say this is another example of New Jersey instituting harsh gun laws.

Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, said the law “allows confiscation of legally owned property without advance due process, based on false claims of third parties, and‎ with no penalty for making false allegations against someone.”

“It is a tyrant’s dream, and a citizen’s nightmare,” Bach added.

He also said it’s “ripe for abuse."

6. So how tough are New Jersey’s gun laws?

They are the second toughest in the nation, after only California, according to rankings by the Gifford Law Center

Meanwhile, the Garden State ranks 45th among the 50 states in the number of per capita gun deaths per year, according the center. Only Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and Massachusetts have fewer.

Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01.