WANTAGE — The township's governing body has unanimously approved a resolution declaring the committee's support for the Second Amendment, making it the eighth municipality in the county to do so along with the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and five other county freeholder boards in New Jersey.


Committeeman Bill Gaechter, commenting on the resolution's passage last Thursday, said he viewed it as consistent with the oath he and his fellow committee members all took to uphold the Constitution — a view heartily shared by Assemblyman Parker Space, R-24th Dist., who lives in Wantage and is spearheading a statewide movement to have similar resolutions enacted throughout New Jersey.


Space, a conservative Republican, commended the governing body for its action last week and said the resolution was a message that gun-owning citizens of New Jersey are "tired of being taken for granted" at a time when "we're giving convicted felons voting rights (and) giving illegal immigrants driver's licenses."


A majority of the roughly 30 people in attendance at last week's Township Committee meeting applauded Space's remarks, with several expressing concern about so-called "Red Flag laws" that allow authorities in some cases to seize a person's guns if there is a well-founded reason to believe that individual may pose an imminent danger to himself or herself or to others.


Space, speaking for many in the room, suggested the laws were wide open to abuse. "If you're (not) guilty, you have to prove yourself innocent and that's not the way the Constitution was supposed to be set up," he said.


Several of those in attendance disagreed, however.


Among them was Lynne Negele, a township resident, who asked: "If somebody came into this committee meeting who didn't particularly like what was going on and they said 'I have a permit to carry a gun and I'll see you in the parking lot when you leave this meeting,' are you going to feel safe?"


Although the resolution passed last week in Wantage does not specifically mention Red Flag laws, it does say that "Wantage opposes any Legislation with provisions that could be interpreted as infringing the rights of law-abiding citizens of Wantage guaranteed by the Second Amendment."


Township residents Kathleen Gorman, a former freeholder candidate, and Karen Merritt suggested the resolution was needlessly divisive and said officials should be more worried about bread-and-butter issues affecting residents including rising property taxes, the ongoing opioid epidemic and the flight of millennials from the county as well as the need for economic development and better internet service.


"(There's) a drug problem that everyone says they're so worried about, but what is anyone actually doing about it? Are they proud of Route 23's nickname as the heroin highway and the fact that it runs right through Wantage?" Gorman asked. "How about healthcare and the fact that we have one hospital in Newton that some residents live more than 25 miles away from? How about bringing good-paying jobs to Sussex County and not just waiting for tourism to get us through?"


But Ria Jairam, also a township resident, said the Second Amendment "protects a lot of vulnerable people, it protects women, it protects people who are not physically strong, it protects the elderly, it protects veterans" and that, if anything, the Second Amendment should be strengthened.


At one point, when it was suggested by another person that Negele was opposed to the Second Amendment, Negele vehemently disagreed, saying she has guns in her own home and supports the Second Amendment but that the resolution was "meaningless" and "a waste of paper" — a comment to which Gaechter took exception.


"It's not a waste of paper," Gaechter said. "We pass resolutions all the time on all kinds of things, and symbolism can be a powerful political tool especially when there is solidarity among the many municipal and county governments in New Jersey that are passing similar resolutions."


Space said that to date, approximately 35 municipalities throughout the state have done so along with freeholder boards in five other counties beyond Sussex County that include Cape May, Monmouth, Ocean, Salem and Warren counties.


Some of the other municipalities locally that have done so include Branchville, Franklin, Hampton, Hopatcong, Montague, Stillwater, Sussex Borough and West Milford. However, in Mount Olive, the all-Republican governing body there recently declined to pass a similar resolution as a majority of its members felt it wasn’t municipal leaders’ place to do so.


Township Committeeman Ron Bassani, however, said "it's our responsibility as Wantage committeemen to pass this resolution on behalf of citizens who duly feel they're being infringed upon."


Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Stillwater also recently passed a resolution supporting the Second Amendment. The vote was 3-1.