Friday, December 26, 2014

Philly mom faces jailtime due to New Jersey's strict gun laws

Shaneen Allen, 27, was pulled over in Atlantic County on traffic charges, but ended up arrested on weapons charges that could send her to prison for three years.<br /><br />
Shaneen Allen, 27, was pulled over in Atlantic County on traffic charges, but ended up arrested on weapons charges that could send her to prison for three years. Courtesy: Evan Nappen

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- When Shaneen Allen was pulled over in New Jersey last year, the Philadelphia woman assumed it would be a routine traffic stop.

But instead of getting a traffic ticket, the single mother of two young children was arrested on weapons charges that could send her to prison for three years.

The charges came after Allen told the officer she had a handgun in her vehicle and has a concealed carry permit issued by Pennsylvania. But that license carries no legal weight in New Jersey, which has some of the nation's strictest gun control laws.

Allen's case and others like it have highlighted the legal problems often faced by out-of-state residents who bring weapons to New Jersey, unaware of the rules that govern how guns can be brought into and transported throughout the state.

New Jersey requires that guns be carried unloaded and contained in a closed and fastened case, gun box or securely tied package or locked in the trunk. The state also imposes strict limits on how and where weapons can be transported, and it doesn't recognize carry permits issued by other states.

Critics say these strict laws unfairly punish law-abiding citizens who are legally licensed in their home states and have no nefarious intentions. They have called on the state to support proposed federal legislation that would mandate concealed carry license reciprocity among states.

Gun control groups and other advocates say gun owners should realize that different states may have different rules for possessing weapons.

Among those backing a federal reciprocity measure is Evan Nappen, an Eatontown-based lawyer who represents Allen and has handled numerous cases like hers. He says Allen, a 27-year-old phlebotomist, didn't know it was illegal to have her .380 Bersa Thunder handgun with her at the time she was pulled over in Atlantic County in October.

"She voluntarily gave him her driver's license and gun license, as she was trained to do," Nappen said. "She was open and honest with the officer from the beginning."

Nappen told Fox News the gun charge wasn't proper at all. “She made an honest mistake," he said.

Allen was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and armor penetrating bullets. She initially was accepted into a pretrial program for nonviolent offenders that could have led to lesser penalties or having the charge expunged, but Nappen said the Atlantic County Prosecutor's office opposed that.

"There's no way a hard-working woman like this should be considered a felon," Nappen said. He also represented Brian Aitken, a New Jersey man who was sentenced to seven years in prison after being found with guns he had purchased legally in Colorado. The case drew nationwide attention, and Aitken's sentence was eventually commuted by Gov. Chris Christie.

Speaking about Allen's case, the prosecutor's office would only confirm that a pretrial conference is scheduled for early August.

Gun control advocates and others applaud the state's laws, saying public safety should be a main governmental priority.

"Quite frankly, ignorance is no excuse for not knowing the law," said Nicola Bocour, project and legislative director for Ceasefire NJ, a group devoted to reducing gun violence. "Anyone who wants to go to New Jersey should know our laws, and the information is readily available."

It doesn't appear that the state will be easing gun restrictions soon.

Christie has said he supports the current laws. He also opposes federal legislation that would mandate concealed carry license reciprocity among states, saying individual states should be allowed to make their own decisions.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

BRUCE SHIPKOWSKI Associated Press
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