by Frank Miniter - Tuesday, May 2, 2017
This feature appears in the May ‘17 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.
Opponents of Right-to-Carry reciprocity warn of the mayhem they claim would result. But the truth is that what’s going on in New Jersey now is far more disturbing.
People who only read The New York Times and watch CNN should have no trouble forming an opinion on gun control. They could even feel morally superior in the process. They would be completely insulated from the stories of people—actual, law-abiding citizens who probably have American flags hanging from their porches and who proudly stand for the national anthem—who are being handcuffed and charged with felonies simply because they crossed a state line with a gun they legally own.
It should be easy for people in such a bubble, given their one-sided naiveté, to happily support politicians and editorial boards who claim that concealed-carry reciprocity legislation would do harm, even though none of them have been able to substantiate the likelihood of that harm.
Such a loyal partisan would then find it easy to believe in the doublethink U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., encourages.
Booker has said that, in his experience when he was the mayor of Newark, N.J.—a city with chronic gang-related murder problems—citizens who legally own guns rarely commit crimes with their firearms. He even explained that gun traces of firearms confiscated at crime scenes in Newark taught him that fact. But then he also said it would be “insane” to pass a federal law allowing people to cross state lines with their legally owned handguns. And he said this even though the proposed law he was referring to would allow a citizen to do this only if the person was legally eligible to carry a concealed firearm in another state.
For those who haven’t read George Orwell lately, “doublethink” is a noun defined as “the acceptance of or mental capacity to accept contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time, especially as a result of political indoctrination.” With politicians like Booker, we need to emphasize the political indoctrination part of this definition. Although Booker concedes that Americans who legally utilize their firearm freedoms statistically aren’t committing crimes, he still thinks these same people should be treated like gang members and drug dealers if they mistakenly bring a handgun into a place like New Jersey, Chicago or California.
Still, perhaps it is a little unfair to specifically call out Booker. After all, at least Booker admits that people who legally carry concealed handguns rarely commit crimes. That said, most of the politicians who are opposed to your right to bear arms won’t go on the record by uttering these statistically proven facts.
While pushing their false narrative, these politicians blithely ignore the many cases in which people who have otherwise clean records too often face hard years behind bars—and the very real possibility of losing their firearm freedoms, their voting rights, their jobs and more—for simply having a legally owned handgun in their car when they, say, cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge going to New Jersey.
Symbolically this should at least make a politician from New Jersey pause, since it was George Washington who crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey with armed Americans to win the freedom now being taken away by that state.
Outrage Upon Outrage Some of the examples of how otherwise law-abiding everyday citizens are being treated by New Jersey are so outrageous they wouldn’t work in fiction, as no one would believe their stories could possibly be real.
Consider Brian Fletcher’s legal saga. Although Booker concedes that Americans who legally utilize their firearm freedoms statistically aren’t committing crimes, he still thinks these same people should be treated like gang members and drug dealers if they mistakenly bring a handgun into a place like New Jersey, Chicago or California.
Fletcher is a resident of North Carolina. He is a co-owner of a company that upgrades and repairs cell towers. He was a first responder after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans. His trucks often race to the aftermaths of natural disasters to help people get their lives back. The only other time he says he’d been to New Jersey, before being arrested for bringing his gun with him, was to do similar work after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012.
After storms knocked out power for 500,000 people in 2015, Fletcher got a call and dropped everything at 11:30 p.m. That night he and his team drove to New Jersey to do storm-related emergency utility repairs.
A few days later, he was resting in his truck in a lighted parking lot when a police officer in Hamilton, N.J., stopped to check on him. Fletcher soon told the officer he had a gun and a permit from North Carolina for it, as this is his legal responsibility in North Carolina.
When he saw the officer’s reaction, Fletcher asked if the gun was a problem.
According to Fletcher, the officer said something like, “Yeah, it’s a big problem.”
Before Fletcher knew it, he was in handcuffs. After a night in jail, he posted $25,000 bail. He then resumed the work of getting New Jersey back online. He knew he was facing a felony gun possession charge, but he didn’t think any prosecutor would try to stick him with five to 10 years in prison for such a simple mistake.
Fletcher said he began carrying the gun for self-defense after a hold-up. He was working in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina at the time. Some of his fellow workers were robbed. Fletcher was unarmed during this ordeal, and it made him feel vulnerable. He is a guy who specializes in going into areas where law enforcement is likely overburdened and where people are desperate. As a husband and a father of two, he decided he needed a gun to protect himself.
Fletcher was shocked when the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey charged him with second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun, a crime that can carry a prison term of five to 10 years.
Fletcher hired an attorney and went public with his plight. He would, after a lot of money and trouble, become yet another out-of-state resident charged with violating New Jersey’s laws that would thankfully be pardoned by Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Christie has pardoned several nonresidents who have faced charges for mistakenly carrying guns in New Jersey. These include a Marine recruiter from Massachusetts named Joshua Velez, whose unloaded 9 mm handgun was found in his locked glove compartment. Velez had been stopped for failing to use a turn signal.
Despite the moral gravity of these cases, many in the New Jersey media have attacked Christie for issuing these pardons. In just one example of many, the New Jersey newspaper The Record, owned by USA Today’s parent company, called the governor’s pardons a “controversial issue that has dogged him on the campaign trail.”
The climate in New Jersey is so out of touch with common sense that not even law-enforcement officers are safe from the state’s gun laws. Sgt. Ray Hughes, a corrections officer in Pennsylvania, was headed home from a concert and dinner in Atlantic City, N.J., with his wife when a drunken driver hit them.
They didn’t receive life-threatening injuries, but they were hurt. Hughes told a responding police officer he had a handgun under his seat. Officers then secured his Glock handgun while he was taken to the hospital. But then, a few days later, Hughes was charged with a felony—a more severe charge than the drunken driver faced.
Hughes, of Brookhaven, Pa., was quickly suspended from his job at a state prison. He thought that a federal law designed to protect law enforcement officials from these types of situations, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, made it legal for him to carry a handgun in New Jersey. He was wrong. That law didn’t protect Hughes because, as a Pennsylvania corrections officer, he doesn’t have powers of arrest.
Hughes does have a Pennsylvania carry permit, but as in other cases, this didn’t matter to New Jersey officials. In this case, however, not even New Jersey prosecutors could stomach taking a prison guard before a jury. The Gloucester County prosecutors dropped the charges.
This overzealous criminalization of gun ownership has even trapped people caught flying through New Jersey.
In 2005, a Utah resident named Gregg C. Revell, who was traveling with a valid Utah Concealed Firearm Permit, was traveling through Newark Airport on his way to Allentown, Pa. He missed a flight and the airline gave him his luggage—which included a properly checked firearm—as he waited for a later flight. He spent a night in a hotel in New Jersey, and when he returned to the airport to check his handgun for his flight, he was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm. Revell lost his case after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit held in Gregg C. Revell v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that the federal laws pertaining to travel didn’t protect him because his “firearm and ammunition were readily accessible to him during his stay in New Jersey.”
Given that the Second Amendment, per the McDonald v. Chicago (2010) ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, is a constitutional right that also restricts state and local governments from infringing on our right to keep and bear arms, there is clearly a need for a federal solution to protect Americans like Fletcher, Revell and Hughes.
Though state laws can vary widely, we all have the same civil rights protected in the U.S. Bill of Rights. We are supposed to be able to carry this constitutional freedom with us when we travel around the United States. But right now, it is not easy to carry this right with us. Driver’s licenses get full reciprocity, so shouldn’t licenses for the exercise of a constitutionally protected right get the same consideration? Though state laws can vary widely, we all have the same civil rights protected in the U.S. Bill of Rights.
It is worth ending with one last quote from Booker. He said, “Listen to me, the people dying in Chicago, the people dying in Newark are not being done with law-abiding gun owners. We do not need to go after the guns. A law-abiding, mentally stable American, that’s not America’s problem.”
No, our freedom is not a problem. An important step in getting this freedom back would be for Congress to pass, and for President Donald Trump to sign, a meaningful concealed-carry reciprocity measure this year.
Sidebar: New Jersey’s Handgun Permit System is Basically a Carry Ban
New Jersey is a “may-issue” state, meaning a local official can deny an applicant a handgun permit for failing to prove an extraordinary “need” to carry. (So much for the right to bear arms.)
Concealed-carry permits are rarely or never granted to the general public. Permit applicants must “specify in detail the urgent necessity for self-protection, as evidenced by specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life that cannot be avoided by means other than by issuance of a permit to carry a handgun.” The permit must also be approved by both the township’s police chief and a New Jersey judge. Finally, when applicants are turned down, they might not even be informed as to who denied the $200 application to carry. (So much for freedom in this part of our country.)Frank Miniter is the author of The New York Times bestseller The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide—Recovering the Lost Art of Manhood. He is also the author of This Will Make a Man of You and The Future of the Gun. He is a contributor to Forbes and writes for many publications. His website is FrankMiniter.com.
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