A couple of years ago, we talked about Brian Aitken, the man who was convicted of violating New Jersey gun laws because he had guns in his car while he was moving. He was released from prison by Christie and his convictions were eventually thrown out (in part because the judge gave poor instructions to the jury; proper instructions might have resulted in acquittal).
Then it was Shaneen Allen, who faced felony charges for having a registered gun in her car while driving through New Jersey. After enormous public pressure, the prosecutor relented and let her go into a diversion program for first-time offenders.
These things keep happening because New Jersey’s gun laws are insanely complicated and ignore any idea of mens rea:
Carrying a firearm in a locked container in checked luggage in an airport terminal to declare it to the airline constitutes unlawful possession and is not protected under the law.
This decision was a direct result of a 2005 incident where Gregg C. Revell, a Utah Resident with a valid Utah Concealed Firearm Permit was traveling through Newark Airport en route to Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Because of a missed flight, he was given his luggage, which included a properly checked firearm, and was forced to spend the night in a hotel in New Jersey. When he returned to the airport the following day to check his handgun for the last portion of the trip, he was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm.
Revell lost his lawsuit after The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held in Gregg C. Revell v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey,  held that “Section 926A does not apply to Revell because his firearm and ammunition were readily accessible to him during his stay in New Jersey.”
This opinion will apply to NJ airports. If you miss a flight or for any other reason your flight is interrupted and the airline tries to return you luggage that includes a checked firearm, you cannot take possession of the firearm if you are taking a later flight.
Well, meet the latest victim:
Gordon Van Gilder is a retired New Jersey school teacher and collector of 18th century memorabilia. That innocuous hobby could land the 72-year-old behind bars for the rest of his life.
Van Gilder owns an unloaded antique 225-year-old flintlock pistol, the possession of which carries a potential 10-year prison sentence and mandatory minimum sentence of three to five-and-a-half years with no chance for parole.
When a Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy pulled over Van Gilder last November for a minor traffic violation, Van Gilder—after consenting to a search—volunteered the information that the unloaded pistol was in his glove box. The next morning, according to Van Gilder’s account in a video posted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), four officers showed up at his home with a warrant for his arrest.
New Jersey’s strict gun laws explicitly include antique firearms, despite the fact that federal laws exempt them from most gun control regulations.
The local cops are doing ballistics tests on the flintlock just in case Van Gilder used it to commit the world’s slowest robbery or something.
Most federal gun laws exempt weapons made before 1898. The reason is that antique firearms are usually the province of collectors and historians. When was the last time you heard of someone holding up a liquor store with a musket?
There’s no question that Van Gilder broke the law. But there’s little question in my mind that the law is an ass. A Republican state legislator has introduced a bill to exempt antique weapons from New Jersey’s gun laws, but that won’t stop this prosecution. Even if he pleads out, a conviction could jeopardize his pension. I don’t know the ins and outs of New Jersey law, but if Van Gilder is eligible for the diversion program, he should absolutely get it.
This is an inevitable consequence of overly broad gun control laws. They are passed in the wake of some awful act of violence and wind up snaring law-abiding people who pose no danger whatsoever. And any opposition is written off as the result of NRA mischief.