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Convicted for Transporting Guns While Moving, N.J. Gun Owner Seeks Justice

Friday, December 3, 2010

In a case that has drawn national attention, a New Jersey gun owner has been sentenced to seven years in prison for having two unloaded, cased handguns in his car trunk while moving to a new home.

In January 2009, Brian Aitken had recently returned to New Jersey after living in Colorado, and was in the middle of moving from one residence in New Jersey to another, when a concerned family member called police in response to a comment he’d made about his personal life.  A search of Aitken’s car by the police revealed two handguns.  The handguns—legally purchased in Colorado—were unloaded and contained in a locked box inside a duffel bag. (Aitken was being careful during his move; in fact, he’d contacted the New Jersey State Police to learn about the state’s requirements.)

Despite his care, Aitken was arrested and prosecuted under New Jersey gun laws, which are highly restrictive and even more highly confusing.  In New Jersey, it is generally illegal to possess a handgun without a “permit to carry,” but there are many exceptions to the requirement, such as possession in the home.  One of the exceptions allows transportation of an unloaded and cased firearm “between one place of business or residence and another when moving.” 

Unfortunately for Aitken—who refused to accept a plea bargain because he believed he had done nothing wrong—the judge in the case refused to instruct the jury about the exceptions, despite repeated requests from Aitken’s attorney and even from the jury itself.  Lacking that information, the jury convicted Aitken and he received a harsh prison sentence.

Aitken’s attorney, Evan Nappen, called the case a “perfect storm of injustice.”  (The NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund supported Aitken’s defense at trial.)  At press time, Aitken is serving his sentence while his appeal is pending.  He is also seeking a pardon or commuted sentence from Gov. Chris Christie.  In a letter to the governor supporting Aiken’s clemency request, pro-gun Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll rightly noted that even if Aitken had committed “wholly technical violations [of] wholly problematic laws,” “not every violation of the law warrants an indictment, let alone incarceration.” 

We can only hope this case will wake up more New Jersey lawmakers to the impact of their posturing on honest citizens.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.