For all intents and purposes, it’s a crime just to have or possess a gun in the state of New Jersey—unless you’re in your own home—and with new rules just announced by the New Jersey judiciary, people charged with gun-related crimes now will go to jail immediately, denied bail, and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty is but a fairytale. This would apply even to residents of other states, simply traveling through New Jersey with guns they lawfully carry in their home states. This exact situation occurred when a Philadelphia mother of two was jailed after a routine stop for a minor traffic violation, during which she told the officer she was carrying a handgun, which she had a valid permit to carry—15 miles away, in her home state of Pennsylvania. The officer arrested her on the spot, and at arraignment the judge denied her bail, and told her she was going to serve a minimum of three years in NJ state prison.
New Jersey’s draconian and crazy gun laws gives the judge no discretion — none. You will get three years [prison sentence] with no chance of parole if you’re convicted. So in the effort of promoting gun control in New Jersey, they’ve created a situation where very sympathetic people get harmed and turned into the victim by gun laws.
The woman had no criminal record, and had only owned the gun for a week, having just completed the requisite safety course and certifications to have a license to carry a concealed weapon. A few months before that, the woman had just been robbed—for the second time. But she had a great lawyer, Evan Nappen, who literally wrote the book on NJ gun laws. And she ended up getting “lucky,” because the press was all over the case, and everyone including Anderson Cooper was calling for her release. Shortly thereafter, the county prosecutor recommended PTI for the woman, and to save face, NJ’s acting attorney general issued this memo to all county prosecutors, stating that in most cases involving out-of-stater inadvertently violating NJ’s über strict gun laws, “imprisonment is neither necessary nor appropriate to serve the interests of justice and protect public safety.” Eventually Governor Christie pardoned the woman, but in the three years since the tragic events that kept her jailed indefinitely in Atlantic County, there have been no meaningful efforts to fix, change, or relax the statutory scheme considered to be among the strictest in the country, requiring that even lawfully owned and registered firearms can only be transported if unloaded and locked in the vehicle’s trunk.
If the right case could make it to the U.S. Supreme Court, there’s a good chance NJ’s draconian gun laws would be struck down on Second Amendment grounds. But until that happens, the law stands. The biggest problem with the law in NJ is that it doesn’t distinguish having a firearm you lawfully purchased—after undergoing the state-mandated background and fingerprint I.D. checks—from getting caught with a gun that was stolen, or acquired by any unlawful means. And by the way, something else NJ’s laws don’t distinguish: firearms from BB guns, air rifles, and other shooting apparatus that don’t meet the legal definition of firearm. In NJ the prison term for possession of a BB gun is virtually the same as if you had an AK-47.
In light of the recent changes to NJ’s bail system, this poses a big problem for anyone caught in its unforgiving web. Why? Because under the detention guidelines for the new bail system, defendants charged with gun possession would be ineligible for release pending trial. And because NJ’s criminal statutes make it a crime to possess a gun in almost every place except your own home (regardless of whether it was lawfully purchased) any ordinary, well-meaning individual could be charged with a gun-related offense for doing something that’s 100% lawful just about anywhere except New Jersey, and if you are deprived bail, you could be jailed from the time you are arrested until your conviction (which is almost automatic, since the prosecution doesn’t have to prove criminal intent, or even that you knew what you were accused of doing is a crime), and spend at least the next three years in NJ state prison.