By Berit Ollestad and Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty has pledged to review police gun purchases, to ensure the town is buying from manufacturers who are committed to gun safety technology and sales practices that keep guns from falling into the wrong hands.
He made the promise on Thursday in Montclair, at a gathering of clergy members and community organizers who contend that exerting economic pressure on the gun industry is the most sure-fire way to curb gun violence in the absence of tougher laws from Washington.
The Mayor was quick to acknowledge he is no expert on smart-gun technology.
“But what I do know is that we have to make our streets safer,” he told members of New Jersey Together at the Bnai Keshet Synagogue.
“So…putting pressure on manufacturers to do the right thing, I like the angle, I like the change of direction…. So yes, you have my commitment to look at our purchasing.”
New Jersey Together is a coalition of temples and churches from northern Jersey pressing for gun reforms in the wake of the December 2012 massacre of schoolchildren and teachers in Newtown, CT.
Mahwah Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, who lost his father to gun violence, helped get things moving.
The coalition has worked with the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, a branch of the national community organizing network founded in 1940 by Saul Alinsky in Chicago.
Coalition members argue that tax-funded military and police agencies buy 40 percent of weapons sold in America, so they should use their clout to demand that gun makers refrain from selling to shady dealers while developing safety features such as biometric trigger locks, and bullet-micro-stamping to aid law enforcement.
New Jersey Together is aiming for responses from 21 towns by March 2, 2014.
“The sense is that Congress is a brick wall, and nothing is happening because of the NRA,” said Alan Chorun of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown. “If Congress has shown it’s not willing to change the law, the way to affect the situation is to directly affect the gun manufacturers themselves, through the marketplace.”
Paterson Mayor Jeffery Jones told the group that he will have an answer by the deadline. He said his greatest concern is “backdoor” channels that supply guns to criminals.
A rash of drive-by shootings has his city on edge; more than 20 non-fatal shootings have been reported in December and January.
People wielding these weapons “have no sense of the devastation they bring about,” Mayor Jones said.
Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz urged the coalition to approach police associations for their input. “I appreciate grassroots efforts, but I think you’re missing out,” he said.
But the chief demurred when Alan Chorun asked if he would introduce a resolution at the International Chiefs of Police convention.
“I’m actually a very shy person,” Chief Demnitz responded, to laughter. He offered his cell phone number instead.
The Morristown officials were invited by Rector Janet Broderick of St. Peter’s.
Sitting among the audience of 150 were some 35 priests, rabbis and imams who have spent the week at St. Peter’s learning community organizing skills from the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation. (Disclosure: The editor of this publication audited the course at Drew University in 2010 at the invitation of St. Peter’s.)
Mayor Dougherty quipped that the Montclair gathering was among the “very few times…I have not known what I’m walking into.” But he noted his support for responsible gun laws, and acknowledged public frustrations with lawmakers.
“There is a lot of money behind guns, there is a lot of money behind people who claim to protect us with our Second Amendment rights. But they stretch it to limits that are beyond my understanding,” the Mayor said.
“Money talks. It does.”