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Cumberland County mass shooting reignites gun control debate

Cumberland County mass shooting reignites gun control debate

Mass Shooting

Gov. Phil Murphy holds a news conference Monday on the mass shooting that killed three people and injured 11 others May 22 at a house party in Fairfield Township. At right is Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy led a news conference on the mass shooting that killed a man, a woman, and injured 12 others at a house party Saturday night in Fairfield Township at Cumberland County Prosecutors Office Monday May 24, 2021. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City

Former Atlantic City police Officer Bill McKnight said things have gotten out of control.

After nearly a year of home confinement for most of the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cities around the country have started 2021 with gun violence occurring at a record pace. That nationwide increase was felt locally with a May 22 mass shooting in Fairfield Township that killed three and injured 11 at a house party.

The shooting has prompted Gov. Phil Murphy to call for federal action to combat gun violence. As is often the case with the issue of gun control, Murphy’s comments have been both applauded and criticized by multiple organizations in the state.

To date, Philadelphia has seen a 43% increase in homicides from 2020, with 83% of them coming from gunfire. Chicago has seen a 34% jump in shootings, and Los Angeles has seen a 73% spike in the first four months of the year.

According to, the Cumberland County incident was one of 231 mass shootings in the country this year, leaving millions to again question why this has become a regular occurrence.

“One of the dangers we have, in the law enforcement field, too, is we become so desensitized to this,” said McKnight, now a criminal justice professor at Stockton University. “It just doesn’t even make the media as much. We’re not even aware of it.”

Bridgeton, the city just 3½ miles from Fairfield, has had at least six reported shootings in 2021, based on Press archives. Over the same period last year, the city had four.

The Giffords Law Center ranks New Jersey second in the country in terms of gun law strength.

Despite this, the state also ranks third in gun deaths per 100,000 residents.

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Still, Murphy called for more action during a Monday news conference at the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office.

“This is a nation awash in guns, and we’re not an island,” Murphy said. “And we’re not immune, as was proved two nights ago. There are still too many people with easy access to guns who should never have access to a gun.”

During his COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, the governor was asked a question by a member of the media regarding Black people having easier access to guns in New Jersey. Murphy denied any racial bias and doubled down on his comments from Monday.

“We fundamentally believe that fewer guns in our state means a safer state,” Murphy said. “It has nothing to do with the color of your skin, who you are as an individual, what ethnicity. ... Fewer guns is a safer state.”

Predictably, the response to these comments was divisive, with some feeling Murphy wants to punish legal gun owners for the actions of illegal owners.

“While Gov. Murphy and Congress surround themselves with armed guards and walls, they simultaneously empower criminals by making everyone in N.J. defenseless,” a representative from the New Jersey Second Amendment Society said in a Tuesday email.

The representative did not respond to a question regarding potential solutions to decrease the frequency of shootings, though they went on to say, “At Gov. Murphy’s morning press conference it was stated one of the arrested alleged gunman was illegally possessing a firearm and charged with several felonies. 2C:39-4 and 2C:39-7 already prohibits all gun possessions by criminals and those with criminal intent. There are dozens of other State and Federal gun laws they also violated. It is appalling and disingenuous that Gov. Murphy and Congress believe another law would have prevented this disgusting act.”

The Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of the gun reform advocacy group Coalition for Peace Action, agrees with the governor that the state and country should have tighter gun laws.

Moore also showed his support for “several of the bills (Murphy) mentioned, like microstamping bullets so ones that are used in crimes can be traced to the purchaser,” he said, “and closing major loopholes on obtaining a gun, like the ability to get them at gun shows and online without a background check.”

To McKnight, the answer is more complex than stricter laws. Though he believes they could be a step in the right direction, the retired officer thinks work should also be done to address the root issues, ranging from gang violence to mental illness.

“The police, unfortunately, are called at the end result when the fire’s burning,” McKnight said. “But what started the fire? And that’s what we need to do the research on and get the data and address those (issues).”

Contact Ahmad Austin:


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