Source: Burlington County Times -
New Jersey Assemblyman Ronald Dancer has introduced legislation intended to give state judges more discretion when sentencing out-of-state residents found in violation of New Jersey’s strict laws against carrying or transporting guns.
Dancer, R-12th of Plumsted, authored the bill earlier this month in response to the case of Shaneen Allen, a Philadelphia woman who was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and hollow-point bullets last year after she told New Jersey State Police troopers she was carrying a handgun during a traffic stop in Atlantic County.
Allen was issued a concealed-carry permit in Pennsylvania but the license is not recognized by New Jersey, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation.
Furthermore, New Jersey law mandates that she receive a minimum of 3½ years in prison if she is convicted of the charges.
Dancer’s bill, named “Shaneen’s Law,” seeks to address the latter issue by permitting judges to consider mitigating circumstances in sentencing weapons possession violations involving residents of another state who have legal gun permits in their home state and no known criminal history or criminal intent.
The bill would allow judges to impose either the mandatory sentence or have the defendant enter a pretrial intervention program provided the defendant has no prior criminal record, no association with a criminal street gang and is in compliance with the handgun laws of their home state.
“Each case of an illegal gun possession charge should be judged on the particular facts surrounding that case,” Dancer said this week. “The courts should be able to consider if an out-of-state resident has a valid legal permit where they live. States have their own firearm laws and a person visiting New Jersey may not be totally familiar with every aspect of New Jersey’s law.”
Dancer cites the case of Brian Aitken as another example in which judges should be permitted to have more discretion. The former Mount Laurel resident was arrested in January 2009 after Mount Laurel officers found three handguns and 39 hollow-point bullets in the trunk of his car.
Aitken claimed he purchased the guns legally in Colorado and was in the process of moving back to New Jersey when he was arrested. Like with Allen, the case garnered national attention from gun rights groups and Gov. Chris Christie wound up commuting his seven-year prison sentence.
“Judges should be allowed to use their discretion if there was no criminal record or intent,” Dancer said.
Gun rights groups appear supportive. Earlier this month, the National Rifle Association created a Web video about Dancer’s bill and the Allen case (http://www.nranews.com/ginny/video/shaneen-s-law-restoring-justice-in-new-jersey).
Gun right groups also have lobbied for New Jersey to loosen the state’s narrow conceal-carry laws and to grant reciprocity for other states’ gun permits. In the NRA video, Dancer said he supports reciprocity.
Gun control groups are opposed to reciprocity, arguing that New Jersey’s strict gun laws promote greater public safety and responsible gun owners from other states should be required to obey them.
Still, one of New Jersey’s leading advocates said the group was interested in learning more about Dancer’s bill and possibly meeting with him to discuss it and other “common-sense” gun legislation.
“We’re amendable to things that help clarify (gun laws) or are common-sense pieces of legislation,” said Nicola Bocour, project and legislative director for Ceasefire NJ. “If this isn’t reciprocity for concealed-carry, we’d certainly be interested in learning more.”