Interview by Uriah Young
QFTD: Tell us about yourself. Who is Nicola Bocour?
Nicola: I am a person who believes in the saying, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ I am an activist who tries to take this quote and bring it to reality. Everyday, I see myself as a person who is absorbing life experiences. While developing positive habits along my path, I’m working on establishing my ultimate role. Even though my parents were artists, I became a lawyer, but I haven’t strayed far from my roots. I have always been a part of the tri-state area.
QFTD: I bet being a lawyer is helpful in your current role with the organization you lead. As the Project Director of Ceasefire NJ, you’ve been working hard to combat gun violence. What motivated you to join the cause of gun violence prevention?
Nicola: I became more aware of the gun issue when a shooting took place up the street from where I lived. A mass shooting occurred at a post office not too far from my house in North Jersey, and the reality hit close to home for me. As a young person, I couldn’t understand it. So, after that tragedy, my parents got involved with Ceasefire NJ and would bring me along to meetings. A few years later, when I was a high school student, I started a gun safety legislation organization in my school. We went to Washington DC to lobby for safer gun laws and learned so much. My motivation started early because I just really wanted to make a difference.
QFTD: You seemed very passionate, even at a young age.
Nicola: I was and still am. Looking back, any one of my family members could have been in the post office that day. I could have been there. Activism was something I devoted myself to because of importance of such a critical issue.
QFTD: What kinds of work does Ceasefire NJ do to help prevent gun violence?
Nicola: We primarily advocate for gun safety legislation. We try and make sure that guns don’t get into the hands of the wrong people. We support regulations for safe gun ownership. Ceasefire NJ is okay with firearms for hunting and safety purposes, but certain weapons have no business in the hands of average citizens.
QFTD: Weapons such as…
Nicola: Any military designed weapons should not make it to the public’s hands.
QFTD: Recently, it seems that the issue of mental health has found its way into the gun violence discussion. What are your thoughts on the merging of issues?
Nicola: I think the issue of mental health should continue to be discussed when it comes to mentally ill persons gaining access to guns. By no means do I think this population of people should be locked away or anything like that, but we should continue to learn more about how they get quality treatment to prevent mass shootings. Ironically, despite the bombardment of media coverage lately, a low percentage of violent gun crimes happen at the hands of the mentally ill. It is important though to be aware of how mentally ill persons get exposure to guns. I trust the experts in the health field to guide policies pertaining to such data.
QFTD: And what are your thoughts on a database to prevent mentally ill persons from accessing guns?
Nicola: It is significant to keep track of mentally ill people in a database to prevent them from accessing guns. We helped pass a law here in New Jersey that requires us to contribute state records to the national database of mentally ill persons.
QFTD: What are some current legislative issues that Ceasefire NJ is working on to help reduce gun related violence?
Nicola: There are a few we have in the forefront of our agenda. One has to do with banning the sale of .50 caliber sniper rifles. These are the rifles with the power to take down planes or cause severe damage from over a mile away. We have the support of law enforcement, editorial boards, and former NJ Governor, Christie Whitman. The other legislative issue we are trying to tackle is a bill that would require gun safety training. It’s amazing how citizens are required to take classes on how to operate vehicles but not on how to fire a weapon that can kill people.
QFTD: How close are the two bills to being passed?
Nicola: Governor Christie is stalling on both bills. Actually, he vetoed them, despite the bills being part of his original plan. He never met with us and has not given a straight-forward answer for the veto. The possibility of him losing the gun lobby, in the event he runs for a national election, is causing him to drag his feet. It is hard to believe that after November’s mall shooting in North Jersey, Governor Christy didn’t even have a comment about the incident until 11 am the next day.
QFTD: Our Second Amendment protects our right to bear arms. Of course, that law was written and enacted over 200 years ago. Yet, 200 years ago there was no such thing as an AK-47 or a Glock, which both inflict massive damage at blinding speeds. Do you think there's a chance that law could be more appropriately modified to combat the epidemic of mass shootings? Please, elaborate.
Nicola: All three branches of government agree that there can be reasonable regulation when it comes to the Second Amendment. Yet, there are fringe groups that think that any change in the law is a violation to their Second Amendment rights. I could not disagree more. We cannot allow them to skew the conversation so far in one direction. Ceasefire NJ supports policies that are far enough in the middle to stay reasonable. Wouldn’t we be doing the country a disservice if we all don’t support simple background checks? Like you said, the law was written 200 years ago, and times have changed. There’s a great video on Youtube you have to see that depicts how far we’ve come and how gun laws need to be modified.
QFTD: Clearly, there are two sides to the issue of gun ownership and what should be done to regulate the sale of guns to citizens. Some people feel the need for more gun laws, while there are those that believe there are enough laws as it is. What is your message to people on both sides of the issue?
Nicola: That is a great question. To those people who support gun regulation: we have to stop saying to other like-minded people in small places that gun issues are ‘common sense.’ We should all start acting. Get involved. Let our voices be heard. Why? Because the other side is so vocal; that’s why. We know we outnumber gun supporters, but we have to contact our congressmen and demand that they support common sense gun laws. Now, to people who are against more gun laws: if you are a gun owner who has no issue with background checks and you like owning guns, keep educating yourself. Be careful of the spin out there of misinformation though. For the extremists, here is what I have to say: simply, be more responsible. Your Second Amendment protects your gun rights, but please keep guns out of your kids’ hands. Clean your guns and take precautions as you transport your guns. It’s fine to debate, be we should listen to both sides, openly.