Oct. 1, 2013, was a bad day for Shaneen Allen – and for justice in New Jersey. As Ted Housel, the former prosecutor in Atlantic County, made clear: “She’s come underneath a very draconian law. Welcome to New Jersey.”
Allen, a Philadelphia medical assistant and mother of two young children, was arrested and charged with illegally carrying a firearm in New Jersey—a firearm she legally owned, had a concealed carry permit for in Pennsylvania and could legally carry in more than 30 other states.
Since then, an overzealous prosecutor has fought against putting Allen into a pretrial program designed for cases like hers, instead pushing for Allen to stand trial. If convicted, she would face a minimum of 42 months in prison.
And in August, a Superior Court judge denied two motions made by Allen’s attorney to keep her out of prison for what she has made clear from the start was an honest mistake. She will now stand trial on Oct. 6.
An Honest Mistake
After working a night shift as a medical assistant, Allen was driving on the Atlantic City Expressway in New Jersey early in the morning, headed to a surprise birthday party for her 3-year-old son. As she drove, she noticed flashing lights from a state trooper car behind her, so she pulled over.
“The first officer told me that he was pulling me over for failure to maintain my lane, then he asked me for my credentials, my license and registration and insurance,” Allen said. “As I went to reach into my purse, I politely let him know that I was licensed to carry and I had my firearm on me, because that’s what you are supposed to do. And I even gave him the receipt to show him. I only had my firearm a week.”
Allen had been robbed twice in recent months and decided to buy a firearm so she would be able to protect herself and her two children. She took a concealed carry course and got her carry permit so she could legally carry a firearm for self-defense.
But she did not realize that some states, like New Jersey—right across the river from her hometown—are no friends to firearm owners.
“At that time, he called for backup and asked me and my kids’ father to step out of the vehicle,” Allen said. “He cuffed me, and I asked him why he was cuffing me. He just told me to be quiet. He took us back to the station, put me into a cell, cuffed me and shackled me to a bench.”
Freedom Void in N.J.
Allen’s simple mistake came from not understanding that some states, including New Jersey, are filled with so many gun-hating politicians that the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms is barely recognized at all.
“Is New Jersey that superior to the rest of the United States that their license is so sacred and sacrosanct that they cannot recognize a single other license based on a Second Amendment constitutional right, issued by any other state?” asked Evan Nappen, Allen’s attorney.
That’s a very good question. And it’s a question easily answered by New Jersey Assemblyman Michael Carroll.
“New Jersey is basically a freedom hell if you believe in personal freedoms,” Carroll said.
“No good deed ever goes unpunished,” he added. “She did the right thing. She obeyed what she thought the law was, without realizing that New Jersey doesn’t respect freedom.”
In fact, Allen’s Pennsylvania carry permit actually allows her to lawfully carry a firearm in more than 30 other states. And her doing so as she drove down that New Jersey highway was not endangering any residents of that state.
If her arrest and detention sounds bad enough, things soon got worse for Allen and her family—much worse.
Allen spent 46 days in jail. Her attorney, Nappen, sought to get Allen into the state’s Pretrial Intervention Program (pti), designed for first-time offenders and tailor-made for those who make nonviolent mistakes, like Allen. In that program, offenders serve a period of probation. Afterward, the charges are dismissed, and the defendant serves no prison time and gets no criminal record.
In fact, New Jersey’s pti program has even kept some very violent offenders out of prison. A good example is nfl star Ray Rice, who beat his girlfriend to unconsciousness on an elevator—a crime that was caught on surveillance tape. For that crime, Rice was indicted for aggravated assault, a felony in New Jersey. Rice was later placed into the pti program and received no prison time.
However, prosecutor Jim McClain apparently has chosen to make an example of Allen. He denied her the opportunity to take part in pti, even though the program’s director indicated he would accept Allen into the program. The reason, as his assistant prosecutor made clear in court, was there was a “stronger public” need to prosecute Allen because she would serve as a deterrent to herself and others.
McClain pushed forward with felony charges, seeking to punish Allen to the fullest extent.
“In our state, you can beat the stuffing out of somebody,” said Assemblyman Carroll. “But if you don’t use a gun, you’ve got a better chance at getting in [pti]. They’re very reluctant to do anything with pti that has to do with a firearm.”
Attorney Nappen is quick to point out the travesty of McClain’s decision, given the existence of the pretrial program.
“The pti program is set up exactly for Shaneen Allen—for someone who makes an honest mistake, who has a victimless crime charge,” he said. “It is the reason for this program.”
As for Allen, she is caught up in a tragic nightmare and can’t understand why McClain wants to send her to prison—and away from her children—for several years over a mistake.
“There are criminals out here every day,” Allen said. “And they’re cutting deals to people that are molesting kids and that are shooting people, and they’re free. Where is the second chance for me?”
More Bad News
Allen and Nappen went to court in late July with two motions. First, Nappen moved that the judge drop the charges with no further action. The second motion was for the court to put Allen into the pti program, which the judge also had the authority to do.
Tragically for Allen and for freedom, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Michael Donio denied both motions, instead binding Allen over for trial on Oct. 6.
“The judge told me that me telling the truth [about having the gun]—it doesn’t matter in this case—it got me in trouble. And I didn’t understand how that can be. What’s more right than telling the truth?”
Nappen agreed, pointing out that in Pennsylvania—the state where Allen is licensed to carry—it is a requirement to tell law enforcement officers you are carrying if stopped.
“Yet here, the exact opposite message is being sent,” he said. “Here it says, more than ever, ‘Don’t tell the police, keep your mouth shut, or you’re going to end up doing hard time in state prison.’
“What I call folks like Shaneen are ‘law-abiding criminals,’ because the law has turned her into a criminal even though she’s a law-abiding citizen.”
If found guilty by a jury, Allen faces a mandatory minimum of 3½ years in state prison, all for not knowing her carry permit wasn’t valid in New Jersey.
“They don’t care that I’m a single mom,” she said. “I’m a medical assistant and a phlebotomist. And I also do homecare. I initially went to buy my firearm because I was robbed twice last year. It was something I had to do to help protect me and my kids. I’m not a criminal.
“I still can’t believe it,” she continued. “Now I have to worry about spending 3½ years in state prison without my kids. Where is the justice in that?”
The Case for Reciprocity
Shaneen Allen’s case is a textbook example of why national Right-to-Carry reciprocity should be a top priority for u.s. Senators and Congressmen who truly believe in the Second Amendment. Why should anybody’s Second Amendment-protected right to bear arms be stifled just because they cross state lines?
“It has been a nightmare!” Nappen said. “She got fired from her job, even though you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.
“Our rights have been lost incrementally, and we need to get them back. This is why national carry reciprocity is the solution.”
In fact, national Right-to-Carry reciprocity has been introduced in Congress each of the past few years, and has passed easily in the u.s. House of Representatives. However, gun-ban
senators have managed to shut it down each time, and even if passed it would likely be vetoed by President Barack Obama.
“Now, normally, again, I’m not a big fan of federal intrusion in state affairs,” said n.j. Assemblyman Carroll. “New Jersey is hopeless, unless a substantial number of my colleagues are mugged by a sudden bout of common sense, and that has not proven to be the case during my 19 years down there.
“I think the only way that we’re ever going to see reasonable protection of basic freedoms is for the Feds to step in.”
And for those in states who don’t respect freedom—or who, like Allen, travel to or through those states—national reciprocity is likely the only way a real right to keep and bear arms can exist.
“Shaneen is the best example I know of why we need national reciprocity,” Nappen said. “We can’t afford to have more people like Shaneen Allen being ruined and, of course, becoming a felon.”
Allen’s case, along with the failure to pass national reciprocity so far, are shining examples of why Americans who cherish their freedom must get out to vote and elect pro-gun members of the u.s. House and Senate this November. And they are why we must work diligently to elect a president in 2016 that will respect the right of law-abiding American citizens to keep and bear arms.