In the wake of mass shootings, legislators across the country have been introducing bills to address the tragic and needless loss of life-some good, others not so much.

In New Jersey, a set of sister bills (S2239 and A3693) have been introduced that would prohibit possession of a firearm by any person convicted of “any crime or offense constituting animal cruelty enumerated under chapter 22 of Title 4 of the Revised Statutes [the Statute].”

While there are certainly some offenders that should be considered dangerous felons, proposed amendments like these that impact all found liable under the Statute sweep too broadly.

For example, some shelter managers and staff have been accused of animal cruelty for violations of the Department of Health’s shelter regulations.  Arguably, a violation of such a regulation falls outside the cruelty statute, but it is common practice in the State to issue summons citing the animal cruelty statute for alleged violations of other statutes.

Historically, the New Jersey Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals issued citations to horse owners after stopping them when traveling on State roads without a Coggins test report, which is a violation of the State agriculture laws, and has nothing to do with animal cruelty.  Fortunately, the enforcement authority of the NJSPCA has since been rescinded.

The individuals accused of animal cruelty described above often pleaded guilty to a single count of animal cruelty, which to date, has few negative long lasting consequences.  Notably these are not the type of individuals who intentionally harmed animals and do not pose a risk that would warrant a lifelong ban on gun ownership.  So these proposed gun bans, like animal cruelty registries that are similarly overly broad should not be applied to all animal cruelty offenders.

This is yet another reason why the outdated, antiquated Statute, N.J.S.A. §§4:22.1 – 4:22-56, first enacted in 1868, rife with undefined terms and provisions, should be revamped.  As described in the State Commission of Investigation’s Report (SCI-2000) about the NJSPCA, published in 2000.  “Some statutory provisions are archaic and nonsensical.  Some of the provisions that were enacted over 100 years ago have not been implemented for most, if any of the 20th Century.”  SCI-2000, at p. 11.

At the same time, we need a much greater understanding about people who knowingly and intentionally harm, torture and/or kill animals and those who exhibit hoarding behavior.  The former, include some who go on to inflict violent acts against other people.  These offenders are dangerous.  The latter-hoarders-often believe they are helping the animals who, never the less, suffer under their care.  Much more research is needed to study “hoarding” to help identify the initial signs of this disorder and hopefully intercede before animals are harmed.

The FBI’s new data collecting and tracking program that now includes some acts of animal cruelty will help quantify, for the first time, how many acts of animal cruelty have been committed.

On January 1, the Bureau’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) began collecting detailed data from participating law enforcement agencies on acts of animal cruelty, including gross neglect, torture, organized abuse, and sexual abuse. Before this year, crimes that involved animals were lumped into an “All Other Offenses” category in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s annual Crime in the United States report, a survey of crime data provided by about 18,000 city, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies.  Tracking Animal Cruelty FBI Collecting Data on Crimes.

Clearly, more has to be done to protect animals and humans.