Gun Laws & Legislation

David Codrea: Garden State Gun Criminal

Guns and Gear Contributor
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By David Codrea, GUNS Magazine

New Jersey is going full bore to prosecute a lawbreaker arrested for possessing a handgun loaded with hollowpoint ammunition in violation of state law. Evidently this person is so dangerous that entry into a diversionary program is off the table, and instead, a mandatory minimum 3-year prison sentence will be imposed if a felony conviction is obtained, something that seems probable at this writing.

How that will benefit the people of New Jersey is unclear. Rather than being a criminal intent on victimizing others, 27-year-old Shaneen Allen of Philadelphia is a working single-mother of two young children and a Pennsylvania concealed carry permit holder, someone who had just recently obtained her gun and her permit after being robbed twice.

She was pulled over in neighboring New Jersey on a minor traffic violation.

“Allen then told the officer that she had the .380 Bersa Thunder handgun, as well as a concealed carry permit for Pennsylvania, unaware that her permit was not transferable to The Garden State,” Fox News reported.

Even though her home state does not mandate a duty to inform if lawfully carrying concealed, Allen felt she had nothing to hide, and was trying to establish herself as a good person by being cooperative with law enforcement. Readers who may feel a similar impulse would benefit from finding a video on the internet titled “Don’t Talk to the Police,” a lecture by Regent Law School Professor James Duane, who cites all the reasons why doing so won’t help but can and will be used against you.

Informing on herself was one mistake Allen made, but not the main reason many gun owners have faulted her.

“That’s tough and New Jersey sucks, but it’s her responsibility to know and abide by state laws,” was a common online comment criticism.

Forget The Constitution?

Perhaps it’s a fair one, but then again, perhaps those making it are focusing on gun-grabber technicalities while ignoring a larger offense: The Constitution, “the supreme Law of the Land,” defines powers of government established, among its basic purposes, “to secure the Blessings of Liberty.” Before it was ratified, states fearing abuses insisted on a Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment’s clear off-limits rule that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

OK, but that was in response to federal abuses of power. What about New Jersey?

We’ve seen confirmation in the Heller and McDonald Supreme Court decisions that the Second Amendment is an individual right, and that states may not ignore it any more than they have power to cancel the First Amendment. We can also consult William Rawle, a lawyer, a Pennsylvanian, and a favorite of George Washington, whose A View of the Constitution of the United States of America was a standard text in the early to mid-19th Century for those studying law at prestigious colleges.

Restraint On Both

“No clause in the Constitution could by any rule of construction be conceived to give the Congress a power to disarm the people,” Rawle wrote. “Such a flagitious attempt could only be made under a general pretense by a state legislature. But if in any pursuit of an inordinate power either should attempt it, this amendment may be appealed to as a restraint on both.”

Not that appeals to founding intent are likely to be persuasive on ambitious Garden State prosecutors. Nor, evidently, will appeals to basic humanity and decency work on judges where mandatory sentences are involved.

As a recent gun owner, Allen’s apparent assumption her concealed carry permit, like her Pennsylvania driver’s license, would be honored everywhere, may seem hopelessly naïve to those who would rather put the blame on her than on draconian edicts that deny supposedly unalienable rights. But the fear of gun owners running afoul of regional restrictions is exactly the reason behind state preemption of firearms laws, so that good citizens don’t get caught up in a patchwork quilt of conflicting regulations whenever they cross an arbitrary boundary line.

Just 100 Feet

This seems like a good time to share a personal experience from a few months back, when I was invited by the Connecticut Citizens Defense League to give the keynote speech at their annual gun rights rally at the Statehouse in Hartford. On the drive there from Ohio, I crossed the Neversink River, marking the Pennsylvania/New York border, and noticed it was time to fill the tank. Taking the first exit, I proceeded to the nearest gas station, a mere few hundred feet down the road, and was stopped when I tried to use the pump.

“This is New Jersey, you can’t do that here,” an attendant who ran up to my car informed me. I had no idea, both about a stupid law that says people suddenly become dangerously incompetent and in need of trained professional gas-pumping assistance because an invisible line has been crossed, or that I had even crossed such a line. If there’s a “Welcome to New Jersey” sign between the off ramp and the CITGO, I sure missed it.

That means I could have been unwittingly in violation of New Jersey gun laws as well. And I’m hardly a novice like Allen.

I would not count on federal interstate transportation of firearms laws saving me either, recalling a traveler who found himself in a nightmare legal situation after a flight delay at Newark Airport. He committed the unforgiveable sin of taking his checked bag with declared firearms to his hotel for an overnight stay while awaiting the next flight. And for those just driving though, New Jersey makes the experience as restrictive as they can get away with.

Republican Governor Chris Christie, never a friend of gun owners but someone who has made occasional moderate concessions, has been silent on Allen’s case to date. While there are limits on what power he actually has before a trial and conviction, aside from using the bully pulpit of his office to decry injustice and demand legislative changes, there is the possibility he could commute any sentence. He did that in the earlier case of Brian Aitken, convicted for having guns that were legally purchased in Colorado in his car trunk when he moved to New Jersey.

Unfortunately, a commuted sentence is not the same thing as a pardon, and like Aitken, Allen could become a prohibited person, forever barred by law from owing a gun for protection of herself and her family. All for crossing a line, making a mistake and trying to be honest with a police officer.

If there’s any silver lining, it’s that Allen’s attorney is Evan Nappen, an authority on New Jersey gun laws, and the same lawyer who ably represented Aitken. Meanwhile, Republican Assemblyman Ronald Dancer has introduced “Shaneen’s Law,” a bill giving judges discretion to avoid mandatory sentences. Also coming to her assistance is the statewide grassroots group, the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, which is conducting a public education campaign to spread awareness of her plight utilizing billboards, the media and the internet, and a Shaneen Allen Legal Defense Fund has been established.

This young woman cannot be what the public had in mind when politicians falsely promised “gun control” would reduce violent crime. Separating this mother from her children and declaring her a “gun criminal” is in the interests of no one but the subversive and the depraved.

You’ll notice none of them have come forward to object to Shaneen’s plight.

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