Published on:

New Jersey’s Gun Control Laws, The Second Amendment, and Shaneen Allen…

As a veteran New Jersey criminal defense attorney, I have frequently represented clients charged with gun crimes in the Garden State. In New Jersey, the laws designed to regulate the sale, purchase, and ownership of guns are so complicated and restrictive, that even otherwise law-abiding citizens can accidentally break the law. Twenty-seven year old, Philadelphia single mother of two, Shaneen Allen found this out the hard way when she was pulled over on the Atlantic City Expressway In October of 2013…

Allen, who has a permit to carry a firearm in Pennsylvania was pulled over for an unsafe lane change, a minor traffic violation. During the stop she voluntarily informed the officer that she was a Pennsylvania resident, that she had a permit to carry a firearm, and that she also had a handgun in the car. This would have been perfectly legal in Pennsylvania. New Jersey, however, has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. New Jersey is called a “may issue” state for purposes of applying for carry permits, which means unless a person can demonstrate an, “immediate and justifiable need”, the issuance of a carry permit will be denied.  Self defense has not yet qualified as a justifiable reason for issuance, even where a person has been the victim of robbery, and continues to be exposed to that potential danger, which was challenged in Drake v. Jerejian.  Out of state carry permits are not honored in New Jersey, and the guidelines for the transportation of firearms is complicated, and highly technical. New Jersey requires essentially, that a firearm be unloaded, and locked in a box and kept in the trunk of the car during transport. The law also requires that the firearms being transported, are being taken immediately to or from, hunting grounds, a target range, or a gunsmith. Additionally, the law is further qualified by requiring that, during transport, “the course of travel, shall include only such deviations as is reasonably necessary under the circumstances.” A vague and ambiguous restriction which has gotten more than one person into trouble.  Learn more about transporting a firearm into/through the state of New Jersey here. Which brings us back to Shaneen Allen…

Allen, who had never broken the law in her life, who was legally licensed to carry a firearm in Pennsylvania, was now seriously afoul of New Jersey’s gun laws. She was arrested and charged with felony offenses, which carry 10 year statutory maximum state prison sentences, and a three year mandatory minimum. Allen, who was employed as a phlebotomist and was raising her two minor children, spent 46 days in jail and was fired from her job. To make matters worse, the very District Attorney, Jim McClain (Atlantic County, New Jersey) who gave Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice a slap on the wrist for knocking out his wife, is showing no such mercy to Shaneen Allen, and would require her to plead guilty to at least the three year mandatory pursuant to the offered plea deal. Allen is scheduled for trial in October of 2014.

She should have known the law, some have said, it was her responsibility as a gun owner. Perhaps that is true in the strictest sense, but one has to wonder about the gun laws themselves. My opinion as a criminal defense attorney is that laws should have a purpose, and here there seems to be no purpose in prosecuting this case so severely. Putting aside the fact that the New Jersey permitting laws are Unconstitutional, and violate a citizens Second Amendment rights to “keep and bear arms” (think: if you need to demonstrate a “need” to exercise a right, is it really a right?) what does implementing the law in this fashion accomplish? There is zero evidence that Shaneen Allen was using her gun in any criminal fashion, and she was honest and upfront with the police officer about the presence of her weapon. It hardly seems that properly licensed, law abiding citizens from Pennsylvania traveling through New jersey are endangering residents in the Garden state. The harsh prosecution of this case sends several messages; It confirms that being honest with police can get you into trouble (which is why I always advise my clients to remain silent, and to volunteer nothing!). And it sends the message that the controlling governmental forces in New Jersey… prosecutors… politicians… don’t care about the intent or behavior of otherwise law abiding citizens, they simply hate guns, even if they are serving a lawful purpose, and are willing to ruin lives to make that point.

Additional Resources:

Prosecution of Shaneen Allen Moves Forward, The Washington Post, August 7, 2014