In the past few years, New Jersey’s draconian gun laws have led to a number of outrageous legal abuses, including the cases of Brian D. Aitken and Shaneen Allen. Gross injustice in the Aitken and Allen matters was thwarted only by extraordinary intervention from the state’s executive branch. Hopefully, a new case involving the arrest of a 72-year-old man over a 250-year-old artifact will finally convince the state legislature to act.
Back in November, Gordon Van Gilder, who had retired after 34 years of teaching, was traveling in Cumberland County, N.J., when the vehicle he was in was subjected to a traffic stop. Van Gilder, a collector of historical objects, was traveling at the time with an unloaded and wrapped 1760s flintlock pistol in the glove compartment of his vehicle. The pensioner and a traveling companion were pressured into allowing the officer to conduct a search of the vehicle, at which point Van Gilder told the officer about the antique firearm. Eventually, Van Gilder was allowed to continue on his way.
The next day, however, several law enforcement officers came to Van Gilder’s home and arrested him. Van Gilder was charged with unlawful possession of a handgun. New Jersey law targets “[a]ny person who knowingly has in his possession any handgun, including any antique handgun, without first having obtained a permit to carry the same.” The charge holds a minimum sentence of 3.5 years with maximum sentence of 10.
An NRA News interview conducted with Van Gilder and his attorney, Evan Nappen, recounts the former teacher’s harrowing experience. Van Gilder warned viewers, “Beware of New Jersey. Don’t come here, don’t live here.” His treatment, he added, was “an insult to decent people.”
In subsequent comments made to Fox News, Nappen elaborated on the lunacy of New Jersey’s persecutory approach to guns. “I called the prosecutor to see what we could do on this, and the prosecutor told me that they were waiting for ballistics,” Nappen said. “And I’m thinking, What? Ballistics on a flintlock?” Nappen also noted that if prosecutors pursue the case against Van Gilder, the retired teacher could be forced to hope for a pardon from the governor, a route similar to the commutation of the sentence Brian Aitken received in 2010.
If there is any silver lining to this unfortunate episode, it’s that Van Gilder’s case has brought attention to yet another obvious problem with New Jersey law, which at least one lawmaker is intent on changing. State Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Monmouth) plans to introduce a bill to align New Jersey law with the federal Gun Control Act, which exempts from regulation firearms made prior to 1898. Casagrande’s legislation is an encouraging step forward for beleaguered Garden State gun owners who deserve a wholesale change of the state’s gun control regime.
In addition to shedding light on New Jersey’s bizarre and unjust laws, Van Gilder’s encounter with law enforcement, during which he (or another person in the vehicle) consented to a search and offered up the fact that he was transporting the antique gun, also provides another important reminder. Individuals can stand on their Fourth Amendment rights to avoid unwarranted and invasive searches and on their Fifth Amendment rights to avoid unwittingly incriminating themselves by trying to be helpful and cooperative. As with the case of Shaneen Allen, well-meaning and otherwise law-abiding citizens can be ensnared by unjust laws when providing more information and access to law enforcement officials than their rights require.
In a sane world, decent, harmless people, police officers, and the criminal code would all be on the same side. Then you have New Jersey, where nothing is sane when it comes to gun control policy.