Some of New York’s most strident gun control advocates have rushed to the defense of an unwitting traveler who was arrested at an airport for a technical violation of a draconian gun law. Has a new era of sanity arrived in the Big Apple? Not really. This defendant happens to be an NYPD officer who is alleged to have violated India’s strict firearm regulations.
On March 10th, NYPD Officer Manny Encarnacion was arrested when officials at the airport in New Delhi discovered three rounds of ammunition in his baggage. New York City’s NBC affiliate reports that Encarnacion had been to the shooting range before his trip and put three rounds into a jacket pocket. Encarnacion later packed that jacket, forgetting that it contained the ammunition. Since his arrest, he has not been allowed to leave India and faces charges that could land him seven years in prison.
Encarnacion’s detainment has turned into somewhat of an international incident between officials in New York and India. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed support for the officer and suggested that the Indian government may have had an ulterior reason for the arrest. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he states, “This excessive act by the Indian government is clearly politically motivated,” and alleges that the incident is retaliation for the December 2013 arrest of an Indian official in New York. The New York Daily News reports that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has also lent his support to the stranded officer, remarking, “I would hope that India, a country that we have a good relationship with, would not stoop to the petty level of making a political pawn of this decorated NYPD cop and veteran.”
These three staunch gun control proponents apparently don’t have a highly-developed sense of irony or of their own breathtaking hypocrisy. New York City has been engaged in a longstanding effort to persecute travelers that mistakenly violate the City’s unusually harsh firearm laws or commit the “offense” of believing an out-of-state permit will be recognized in New York. These visitors often face a felony charge that mandates a minimum three and a half year sentence if convicted. The persecution of these peaceful and otherwise law-abiding persons who, like Encarnacion, pose no threat to public safety, is entirely politically motivated.
Year after year, dozens of travelers unfamiliar with New York’s byzantine gun laws have been arrested at New York’s Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, even when complying with a federal law designed to protect those lawfully transporting unloaded firearms. The City is aware of the federal law, but treats it as an “affirmative defense” to be raised before a court. In other words, the attitude of the mayor and police department for those who stand on their rights under the federal law is to arrest them for technical violations of local regulations and then let the accused, “Tell it to the judge.” Even if the case is later dismissed, as it often is, the traveler is still subjected to an embarrassing, inconvenient, intimidating, and expensive ordeal.
A June 9, 2013 New York Times article cites a number of incidents where overzealous enforcement at New York’s airports has ensnared travelers, ranging from the case of a military wife and mother to that of a professional football player. Martin D. Kane, a defense attorney who has handled these types of cases described for the Times the treatment a mistaken traveler can expect, stating, “They’re locked up the same as anybody else on any other felony charge… . People’s lives are really, really disrupted, as you can imagine.”
An Associated Press article from March tells a similar story, placing the number of travelers charged at the New York airports in 2013 at 25. Illustrating the significant difference in flexibility exhibited by New York officials in Encarnacion’s case versus that of the average traveler, Queens Executive District Attorney Robert J. Masters told the AP, “There is, frankly, an element of irresponsibility… . They’ve travelled. They realize that licenses are different around the country… . They still have this fear, even though this is the safest big city in America, and they think, I’m going to bring the gun with me just in case.”
New York City visitors unfamiliar with local laws don’t fare any better outside the City’s airports. A January 27, 2012 South Bend Tribune article chronicles the story of former Marine Ryan Jerome, who was arrested in 2011 while in line at the Empire State Building after he attempted to check his pistol with a security guard. Jerome had erroneously thought that his Indiana carry permit was valid in New York. The Marine spent 48 hours in jail following the arrest. After several months of legal wrangling, Jerome plead to a misdemeanor and was sentenced with a $1000 fine and community service. Another notable case is that of Meredith Graves, a nurse and Tennessee tourist who was arrested following an attempt to check a pistol with security at the 9/11 Memorial.
While the newly found ability of de Blasio, et al., to recognize an honest mistake when they see one strikes us in this case as typically self-serving, we can agree with them on this much. India’s detainment of Encarnacion, whether motivated by politics or a severe intolerance for the NYPD officer’s undoubtedly honest mistake, is an injustice. The charges should be dismissed, and he should be swiftly returned to the U.S.
Yet this incident should serve as a lesson to New York officials about how even harmless, well-intentioned travelers can inadvertently run afoul of an unfamiliar jurisdiction’s gun laws, especially when those laws are unaccustomedly broad. The lesson is even more important when the violation results in no harm, and the law is enforced despite extenuating circumstances or legal protections to the contrary. In the future, de Blasio and his prosecution-happy cohorts should ensure the understanding and consideration they have shown to Encarnacion is also extended to other law-abiding travelers who find themselves in similar predicaments when visiting New York City itself.
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