In a state that’s become a poster child for “Yes, gun control does harm innocent people,” another honest, otherwise law-abiding gun owner has become ensnared in the tentacles of the Garden State’s restrictive gun-ban schemes.
Before you shrug it off and say New Jersey’s gun laws don’t affect you because you live in another state, read on.
Brian Fletcher, a 41-year-old father of two from Butner, N.C., now faces the loss of his business, the loss of his right to vote or own a gun, and up to 10 years in prison—all for traveling to New Jersey to assist with storm-related utility repairs, and for being honest with law-enforcement officers he met while there on the job.
Fletcher recently talked to Ginny Simone of NRA News, and his story is harrowing—if depressingly familiar.Just by going 400 miles across an invisible state line, it was like going into another country where my rights didn’t seem to exist.
Fletcher is co-owner of Regional Contracting Services, a Durham, N.C., business that specializes in servicing, repairing and upgrading cellular telephone towers. When the lights go out, Brian’s the guy who straps on a tool belt, cinches himself into a fall-arrest harness, and climbs up 400-foot-tall cell phone towers to get your smartphone’s bars back. Little did he know he’d end up behind bars for doing so.
On June 23, a record-setting front of ferocious thunderstorms spawned macrobursts that toppled trees, tore down power lines, flipped a car and blacked out cell phone service from Delmarva to the Delaware Valley. Shortly before midnight that night, Fletcher was awakened by a call for help from a telecom company.
“When we get that phone call, we have an hour to get mobilized and on the road,” Brian told NRA News’ Simone. “I have to make all the phone calls to get our guys up and out the door, pack all my stuff, get my affairs in order, meet our crews at the office, call in to our contractors to let them know our ETA—and go.”
Fletcher is a Right-to-Carry permit holder in his home state of North Carolina. Many of his assignments over the years have taken him to sketchy neighborhoods in the middle of the night during desperate times—in fact, he started his storm work during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where his fellow workers were robbed and where he felt vulnerable due to being unarmed. What’s more, he and his co-workers often work around the clock and catch catnaps in their trucks—so understandably, he took his self-defense firearm with him.
“I didn’t know I was going to New Jersey when I first got the phone call,” Fletcher said. Once he did know his destination, he said, “I didn’t do any research on New Jersey law. I didn’t have time.”
Fletcher had been working in the area all week without incident, restoring power to cell phone towers from western Philadelphia to central New Jersey, when another line of powerful thunderstorms bore down on the area on June 28. That’s when he got a call telling him to pull over and await instructions for their next job.
“I got that phone call probably 11:30, 12 o’clock at night and I’m thinking, it’s gonna be a long night,” Fletcher said. “We hadn’t slept much so I found a place to pull over.” He chose what he thought was a bank parking lot because, he said, “I thought, here I will be safe. There’s probably cameras outside watching me, and hopefully police patrol these banks, and they’ll protect me.”
Sure enough, Fletcher and his brother were sitting in their truck when police pulled up to investigate. Fletcher got out of his truck and explained what was going on, how they were setting generators in cell phone towers to get their service up and running. “We talked for a minute or so, and then he says, ‘Before I leave, can I see some ID?’”
“I said, ‘Yes, sir, it’s in my truck,’” Fletcher said. “We both walk over to the truck, and before I get to the door, I inform him, ‘Sir, just to let you know, I have a gun in the door.’”
As Fletcher explained, “In North Carolina, that’s what we do” to abide by the law, N.C. Gen. Statute § 14-415.12A. “We just immediately let the officer know if we have a gun in the truck. As long as it’s not concealed, you’re fine. I ask, ‘Is this going to be a problem?’ and they say, ‘Yeah, it’s going to be a problem.’ And they let me know I’m under arrest.”"I ask, ‘Is this going to be a problem?’ and they say, ‘Yeah, it’s going to be a problem.’ And they let me know I’m under arrest.”
Although he said the police were polite and apologetic, Fletcher was handcuffed, charged with the felony of having a gun in his vehicle, and hauled off to jail—where he spent the night.
“I had no idea that I was breaking any laws,” Fletcher said. “I thought I was actively following the law by letting him know that I had a gun in the door. So it was a total culture shock for me.”
The next day, Fletcher was freed on $25,000 bond—but his life has been turned upside-down.
“I just remember being in jail overnight and thinking I’m looking at five years in prison minimum, and just picturing my daughter seeing her now at 13 and thinking five years from now she’ll be 18,” Fletcher said. “I won’t be able to vote. I won’t be able to own a firearm to protect them anymore. And job-wise, me going to jail for five years will definitely put our company under.”
And as Fletcher explained, none of it seems to make any sense. “You can take your driver’s license across state lines and you’re fine. I don’t know why you wouldn’t be able to take your legal firearm across state lines to protect yourself,” he said.
“I feel like I’m being punished for being a North Carolinian. This is what we do every day here. Guys who drive around for work—it’s not uncommon for a guy to own and have a gun in his vehicle. I knew cities had their own separate rules. I knew in New York City you’re not allowed to carry. But I honestly had no idea that in the whole state of New Jersey you’re not allowed to have a gun in your vehicle.”
For now, Fletcher remains free on bail, and he’s hoping that since he has no criminal record, he’ll qualify for the state’s pre-trial intervention program, which would let him avoid a felony conviction and all that goes with it.
Nonetheless, the entire episode has been a harrowing learning experience for him.
“I never thought this would happen in our country,” he said. “Just by going 400 miles across an invisible state line, it was like going into another country where my rights didn’t seem to exist.”