March 14, 2014

Amid the fearful talk of home invaders, Nazis and school shooters that has become routine in New Jersey’s gun control debates this past year, one voice stood out at an Assembly hearing Thursday: that of a 9-year-old competitive shooter.

“I am an example to others that kids and guns don’t always lead to bad things happening,” Shyanne Roberts told the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.

Shyanne Roberts holds her Crickett single-shot 22, her first gun, which she received as a gift for her sixth birthday. Shyanne Roberts holds her Crickett single-shot 22, her first gun, which she received as a gift for her sixth birthday.

Shyanne Roberts and her father, Dan Roberts, during Thursday's hearing.
“I am not a gangbanger or domestic terrorist,” Shyanne testified, speaking to the eight-member committee from a prepared text. It was unclear if she wrote the speech herself.

Shyanne, a fourth-grader whose feet barely reached the floor as she sat in front of the committee, was joined by her father. She began her testimony by apologizing if she sounded nervous, telling the legislators it was her first time speaking at a committee hearing.

The chamber was quiet as she spoke – without the usual background chatter of attendees and lawmakers – and the largely pro-gun crowd gave her a standing ovation when she finished.

Shyanne and her father, who live in Gloucester County, came to Trenton to speak against a bill that would limit the magazine capacity of firearms to 10 rounds, down from the current 15-round maximum. They and other opponents of the measure said legislation should target criminals without affecting legal gun owners. Similar arguments were made against several other gun-control bills the Legislature passed last year, most of which were ultimately vetoed by Governor Christie.

The bill passed the committee along party lines, 5-3, after more than three hours of testimony.

Shyanne, who has won several national sponsorships, has placed highly in several shooting competitions, including a second-place finish at the New Jersey State Ruger Rimfire Challenge. Her father said she entertains hopes of someday competing in the Olympics.

She is awaiting a custom AR-15 rifle, worth $3,000, from a sponsor, she said, which could become illegal if the magazine limit becomes law.

Shyanne’s appearance drew a sharp contrast with the child victims often cited by supporters of stricter firearm restrictions.

New Jersey’s debate over gun control picked up last year after 20 children and six adults were killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in late 2012 by a man who had earlier fatally shot his mother in the home they shared. The gunman killed himself at the school.

Parents of Sandy Hook victims have taken two trips to Trenton to push for tighter gun laws, and smaller magazine limits, in particular.

Shyanne’s speech also diverged from the arguments made by several other opponents of the bill. But as the Assembly committee’s hearing on Thursday wore on, the discussion increasingly turned from competitive shooting to fears about totalitarianism and home invasion.

“If you tried to tell the Marine Corps how many rounds they can carry in their magazines,” said Tony DeSantis, a veteran of the Marines, “you’d be speaking Japanese and German right now.”

The 10-round limit has been one of the most contentious proposals since new gun control measures began moving through the Legislature in January 2013, weeks after the shooting at Sandy Hook.

The Assembly approved a 10-round restriction in February 2013.

But the restriction would make gun owners less safe, the bill’s opponents argued, because they, too, would have fewer bullets at their disposal.

“Let’s not kid ourselves about this bill: It’s based on the fantasy that we could somehow wave a magic wand and be safer by removing a tool,” said Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs. “No one will be any safer under this feel-good legislation because madmen will ignore it or find another tool.”

Gun owners also argued that they shouldn’t have to face new restrictions because of the actions of criminals. Shyanne, the 9-year-old competitive shooter, made the point using her 4-year-old brother.

“I do not understand why the state wants to punish people like me … who have done nothing wrong because of the people who have,” she said. “I do not get in trouble or get punished at home because of something my little brother did.”

At a town hall event in Mount Laurel on Thursday, Governor Christie declined to take a position on the magazine limit.

“If they pass a bill like that and it comes to my desk, I have 45 days to read the fine print and talk to experts,” he said in response to a question.

“Here’s my view on this: It is a very emotional issue on both sides. Gun control and the Second Amendment are enormously emotional, combustible issues,” the Republican governor said. “My job as governor is to be the adult in the room.”

Christie vetoed many of the bills aimed at reducing gun violence that passed the Legislature last year, including the Democrats’ centerpiece legislation that would have overhauled the background check process for prospective gun buyers. He also rejected a ban on .50-caliber weapons – a measure that he had proposed only months earlier, but which he said went beyond the ban that he had called for.



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