Mention guns and you’ll trigger passionate discussions.
The recent case of a Cumberland County gun collector who found himself charged after cops discovered him with an antique weapon has focused the spotlight on the need for revisions in our own state laws governing firearms.
The story all unfolded on Nov. 19. Gordan Van Gilder, 72, of Port Elizabeth, was returning home after picking up his nearly 300-year-old flintlock pistol from a Vineland pawn shop.
The vehicle he was a passenger in was stopped by Millville police and the gun was found. There is much more to the saga of the stop including questions about why Van Gilder and his driver were in part of the city that is a known drug area, but our focus is on the antiquated state laws governing weapon possession.
During the motor vehicle stop, Van Gilder was up-front with police, according to authorities, and told them about the antique weapon in the glove compartment. The weapon was inside an envelope and was not loaded, reports said.
Despite the age of the gun and the circumstances that apparently showed there was no ill intent on Van Gilder’s part, Van Gilder was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon.
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae used her “prosecutorial discretion” and wisely dismissed the gun charges against Van Gilder.
Webb-McRae also rightfully noted any type of gun in a vehicle can cause trouble “… the public should be forewarned about the prescriptions against possessing a firearm (even an antique) in a vehicle.”
Some are describing the incident with the antique firearm as an example of overreaction by police, but the point must be made here — and made in the strongest terms — the officers involved were following the law.
It appears the officers had good reason to stop the vehicle Van Gilder was a passenger in and they had no choice but to charge him.
There’s plenty that has been debated and will be debated about this case. That’s guaranteed.
One important result of this incident is how it has highlighted another New Jersey state law in need of change. That’s a good thing.
Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R-Monmouth) plans to introduce a bill that would align the state’s law with a federal statute that exempts firearms manufactured before 1898 from weapons laws. That would put New Jersey law in line with current federal statutes.
It’s a move that makes sense.
In the wrong hands, weapons are deadly. But our Constitution guarantees us the right to bear arms and that’s something that can’t change.
What must change are our antiquated gun laws in New Jersey so they make sense.
Note: A-4250 was introduced on Feb. 24 and is also sponsored by Assemblymen Dancer and Fiocchi.