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For decades we’ve heard about so-called “gun buy-back” programs sponsored by churches, civic groups and various other misinformed do-gooder organizations.

The very name – “buy-back” – implies that guns belong not to individuals, but to the government, or at least to the people who don’t like guns. The programs have the stated intention of “getting guns off the street,” which seems to give them a pass from further scrutiny, even as they offer a tangible good such as a grocery store coupon or gift card in return for a gun, “no questions asked,” much like any other fencing operation.

Finally someone has forced the question: Are these programs legal?

Attorney and author of the “New Jersey Gun Law Guide,” Evan Nappen, has not only asked the question, he has offered a $5,000 bounty for anyone who can prove an affirmative answer.

Nappen is specifically asking about the legality of a church-sponsored program in the state of New Jersey. As an expert on New Jersey gun laws, Nappen says he cannot find any provision in the state’s statutes which permit churches and civic groups, or the people surrendering (selling) the guns, to by-pass the maze of New Jersey state laws requiring permits, background checks and paperwork whenever a gun is transported or transferred.

Mr. Nappen also questions the “no questions asked” policy and the immediate destruction of the guns, which might be stolen property, or could be evidence in serious crimes. Details of Nappen’s challenge can be seen on his web site, EvanNappen.com.

I don’t expect that there is much chance that Evan is going to be out $5k any time soon. He knows New Jersey law, and it is pretty clear that there are very specific requirements which are not being met in these “buy-back” programs.

For instance, anyone wishing to surrender an illegally possessed firearm must first state their intention to do so in writing to their chief of police or the head of the state police. This must include their identity.

Also, while New Jersey does offer some immunity from prosecution to a person who turns in a gun in this manner, it is limited to the crime of illegally possessing the gun only, not to any other crimes that might involve the gun.

And it is a direct violation of New Jersey law for anyone other than a licensed dealer to purchase a firearm unless they have a special permit from the state. There is no provision for exceptions, exemptions or special dispensations, and again, there is a requirement that paperwork be filled out that includes the name and identifying information of both the purchaser and the seller. Anonymous transactions are not legal in New Jersey.

On top of all of that, there is the issue of transporting the guns to the buy-back location. New Jersey has draconian laws regarding the transport of firearms, and there is no exception for someone going to a “buy-back.”

So what’s the point of all of this? Of course, part of Nappen’s objective is to generate some publicity to sell more copies of his book, but I can tell you that the profit margin on these books is slim, and the number of books he might sell thanks to a little extra publicity wouldn’t come close to erasing the damage of having to pay out that $5,000 bounty – not to mention the damage to his reputation.

I believe the main reason for issuing the challenge is to highlight illegality and impropriety being committed in the name of “a good cause” and being illegally condoned by the authorities and supported by the media. The fact is that in New Jersey, like most other states, there simply is no provision for suspending onerous gun control laws for the sake of anti-gun, propaganda events.

In most cases these “buy-backs” are legally questionable even when they are conducted by municipalities or police departments. But when they are conducted by private entities, there is no cover of law to be found – for the organization sponsoring the event, the people working the event or the people bringing guns to the event to turn in. Just because law enforcement is involved and chooses to turn a blind eye to the infractions does not make them legal.

Naturally, the authorities need to use discretion and common sense when they enforce laws. We’ve all seen stories of a kid’s lemonade stand shut down due to licensing or zoning issues, or when the Salvation Army is gigged for not paying minimum wage when they give a homeless person a few dollars for helping around the thrift store.

But wholesale disregard for laws that shouldn’t exist by the very people who demanded that they be passed in the first place goes beyond the realm of sense.

The New Jersey gun laws clearly infringe on the fundamental rights of citizens and are routinely used to ruin the lives of people who have no malicious intent or criminal agenda. These are bad laws passed with good intentions, but which do no good and do cause great harm. They should be repealed, but until they are, they should not be ignored when it comes to the people who helped pass them.

Hollywood celebrities call for disarming the masses while they are protected by their armed bodyguards and their special dispensation carry permits. Legislators pass special exemptions and amnesty periods when they find one of their own snared in stupid gun laws. And well-meaning, peace-marching church folk call for stricter gun laws and then expect to be able to openly disregard those laws in the name of “getting guns off the street.” It’s hypocritical, it’s wrong, and they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

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