Jeff Knox is a second-generation political activist and director of The Firearms Coalition. His writing can regularly be seen in Shotgun News and Front Sight magazines as well as here on WND.More ↓Less ↑
The closing days of 2011 brought a rash of collisions between otherwise upstanding citizens and New York’s infamous gun laws.
On Dec. 16 Mark Meckler, a prominent California Tea Party leader, was arrested at LaGuardia Airport as he attempted to check luggage containing his unloaded, cased, handgun in accordance with TSA, FAA and Delta Airline rules.
Then on Dec. 22, fourth-year medical student Meredith Graves was arrested at the 9/11 memorial when she asked a security guard where she could check her pistol in an attempt to comply with a “No Guns” sign. That case echoed a September case in which Indiana jeweler, Ryan Jerome, also tried to comply with a “No Guns” sign at the Empire State Building by asking a guard to secure his weapon.
These are just the latest examples in a long stream of incidents that serve to demonstrate how gun laws snare the law-abiding.
On Jan. 5, Maryland businessman Stephen Grant walked out of a Manhattan courthouse after plea bargaining a gun charge down to a misdemeanor. Mr. Grant had driven to New York City for the weekend and then remembered his licensed handgun in the glovebox. Rather than leave the gun in the car, he locked it in the room safe at the hotel – and then forgot to take it with him when he left. Silly, stupid mistakes, but not worth the 3.5 to 15 years prosecutors originally threatened.
Almost a year before, Jonathan Ryan, a Florida landscaper, faced similar charges when police found a gun in his glove box during a routine traffic stop. Ryan made the far riskier decision to go to trial and won when a jury refused to convict him.
Each case is unique, but virtually every case of otherwise law-abiding citizens running afoul of draconian gun laws – in New York or elsewhere – falls into one of the following broad categories: ignorance, forgetfulness, legally passing through or odds-playing (following the old adage that it’s better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6).
Both Meredith Graves and Ryan Jerome thought they were complying with the law when they attempted to surrender their weapons for safekeeping. They saw the signs and tried to obey.
Unfortunately they didn’t see any “No Guns” signs when they crossed into New York. Both should have educated themselves about the gun laws where they were traveling, but they didn’t and that ignorance could cost them dearly.
Had they ignored the signs (as real criminals do), they both would likely have completed their visits and returned home without incident. Instead, they tried to be law-abiding and now face mandatory minimum 3.5-year sentences on felony charges. I’m certainly not advocating ignoring a “No Guns” sign, especially if that sign has the force of law behind it, but the fact is, without metal detectors, perimeter security and so forth, a sign is just a sign.
Ignorance is a dangerous thing, and it is incumbent upon all gun owners to understand the laws that apply wherever they might choose to be armed. There are several web sites, such as USACarry.com, which feature interactive gun law maps. For more detailed information, I recommend GunLaws.com, where my friend Alan Korwin offers the most comprehensive collection of books about owning, carrying and using guns at home or away, anywhere in the country.
For many of us, a gun is like a spare tire or a flashlight in the car, or a knife or wallet on our person. It goes with us or our vehicle as a matter of routine. We believe it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
That well-worn .38 tucked into the map pocket or the special purse compartment is fine in Vermont or Arizona, but when you cross a state line, it can be a problem if it comes to the attention of the local police.
Maryland businessman Stephen Grant and landscaper Jonathan Ryan fall into this category. Mr. Grant took the more prudent way out by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge and paying a fine. It cost him a significant amount of money and grief – and it still might cost him his right to carry in his home state of Maryland – but it didn’t cost him years in prison and permanent loss of his gun rights as it could have.
Mr. Ryan gambled and stared down the potential felony conviction with its mandatory minimum sentence of 3.5 years. The jury that decided his fate apparently knew its rights and responsibilities and voted to acquit. The Fully Informed Jury Association has publicized the Ryan case, because it is a textbook example of what juries should do with bad laws.
I would never advise anyone to break the law, nor will I speculate on the mindset of any of the recent victims of the New York law. Nonetheless, when my father was directly threatened by a member of the Manson family, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, in the 1970s, he weighed those odds and started carrying illegally. Arizona had no permit providing for civilian concealed carry, but Dad figured that he faced a more significant threat from a proven killer and her cohorts than from a misdemeanor charge in a comparatively gun-friendly state. The full story appears in “Neal Knox – The Gun Rights War,” which is available from the WND Superstore.
When the charge of carrying illegally carries felony penalties, it raises the stakes considerably. We rarely hear about the odds-players unless an incident arises, as when subway “vigilante” Bernard Goetz shot a group of “teenagers” who demanded money from him. Of Goetz’s four “victims” (that’s what the New York media incorrectly called them), only one did not go on to be convicted of violent crimes including rape and armed robbery. That one “found Jesus,” admitted that the group intended to rob and beat Goetz and led a much different life after one of Goetz’s bullets severed his spinal cord and put him in a wheelchair.
California Tea Party activist Mark Meckler may fall into this category, but only if he meets specific conditions, otherwise he may face some serious trouble in a superheated political environment. Under the McClure-Volkmer Firearms Owners Protection Act, or FOPA, a gun owner can legally travel through a jurisdiction where the gun might be illegal, if the gun is lawfully possessed in the origin and in the destination. This provision applies to travelers on the highway, and also to air travelers flying into or out of airports in restrictive jurisdictions.
Back when my father was the NRA’s chief lobbyist, he insisted on this provision because law enforcement agencies in restrictive jurisdictions like New Jersey and East St. Louis, Ill., were routinely stopping and searching cars from “gun-friendly” states on interstate highways. They used things like NRA or pro-gun bumper stickers as probable cause for stops and searches, and they would then prosecute if they found a gun, even if it was locked in a case locked in the trunk and there was no ammo for it in the vehicle.
For Meckler, his local case was resolved with a plea to disorderly conduct and the loss of his weapon. But the full impact of a similar situation ultimately could be determined by where one is coming from and where one stops on the way. An overnight stop, or even a brief detour on the way to the airport, can be construed to negate the FOPA protections.
A decision to carry a gun for defense brings with it a raft of responsibilities. The defensive mindset that should accompany carrying – situational awareness and avoidance strategies, competence with the firearm and the moral implications of using deadly force – needs to extend to the legal and political environment as well. It must be understood that even a clearly justified defensive use of a firearm – which saves your life – can easily cost your home and life savings. Deadly force is serious business. No one should take the decision lightly, and threat recognition needs to include recognizing the threat posed by state power – particularly in states like New York.