After a heated debate led by a rabbi and two Christian clergy, the West Orange Town Council voted four to one on Jan. 28 to consider the safety features of the handguns purchased for its police department.
Rabbi Elliott Tepperman, religious leader of Bnai Keshet in Montclair, led proponents of a measure that calls on the town government and police to “research the marketplace” to determine whether the weapons they buy are manufactured with devices to prevent them from being misused.
Among such features are “smart gun” technology, which reads a person’s palm print so that a gun can be fired only by its owner, and “micro-stamping,” which marks bullets as they are fired.
The resolution does not require the purchase of new firearms, but authorizes the police force to research manufacturers and eventually develop new standards for future firearms purchases.
Linking gun safety and municipal purchasing power is a goal of NJ Together Against Gun Violence, an interfaith coalition of which Tepperman is a member.
Tepperman was joined at the council meeting by Judith Tomlinson, associate minister at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair, and the Rev. Joseph Harmon, rector of the Christ Episcopal Church in East Orange. All three are West Orange residents.
Tepperman told the council the resolution he supported “is so simple. It does not restrict the guns that law-abiding citizens can buy. It does not restrict the guns that police can buy….”
What it does, he said, is “make it possible for our town to join the many other towns which have had impact on the way guns are distributed in ways that will save lives.”
Part of the idea behind the resolution — which Tepperman and other clergy members are lobbying for at town council meetings in the Greater MetroWest area — is to persuade gun makers to build such technology into the weapons they manufacture.
Tepperman said the West Orange Town Council is the first to pass a resolution in its favor. Other cities, including Montclair, Mahwah, Jersey City, and Paterson, “have shown interest in taking similar measures,” he told NJ Jewish News following the meeting.
He said passing the resolution is “perhaps the beginning of a campaign that asks towns and counties to use the power they have to move on an issue that is right now deadlocked on a national level.”
Capt. John Buoye, the supervising firearms instructor in the West Orange Police Department, spoke in support of the resolution.
“We have a responsibility to look at anything that involves gun safety when we procure firearms,” he told NJJN after the meeting. “Not only do we want to enhance the safety of our citizens, but we also want to make sure our officers are safe.”
Like many other moves involving firearms, the resolution had strong opposition.
Mark Meyerowitz, a perennial Republican candidate for local office and organizer of a group called Republican Friends of Israel, told the council the resolution would likely lead to police using “inferior weapons and politically correct weapons that would do nothing to enhance crime protection in West Orange.”
“I am really bothered by this because this is not the right time for the Town Council to consider experimenting with firearms for the West Orange police,” he said. “I can’t see how this in any way is going to enhance the fight against crime.”
Council member Joe Krakoviak cast the only vote against the measure. “This was not the right time to consider this resolution,” he told NJJN in a Jan. 30 e-mail. “I don’t believe this investigation is something that we should divert our scarce police resources for. I believe our sole focus in West Orange on this issue should be arming our police with the most effective firearms and ammunition we can, for their safety and the safety of residents and visitors, within the confines of our budget.”
Although he was the only rabbi at the meeting, Tepperman said, “We have lots of rabbis on board. The Talmud teaches if you save one life you save the world. The Torah says every human is created in a divine image.