Carol Bowne is dead — murdered in cold blood on her own property by a violent criminal who would not be restrained by good intentions. But there is no smoking gun, because she lived and died in New Jersey.
Bowne was a 39-year-old hairdresser from Berlin Township who had become increasingly nervous about her ex-boyfriend. Convinced that he intended to do her physical harm, she took out a restraining order, had security cameras installed at her home, and purchased an alarm system. She also hoped to buy a firearm for her defense. On April 21 of this year, she began the glacial process of obtaining a New Jersey permit to purchase a gun.
Defending his tardiness, the local police chief explained that the application process usually takes more than two months, and that when Bowne died, his team was still waiting for her fingerprints to be processed. Perhaps so. But this should serve as no acceptable excuse. By state law, New Jersey is required to get back to permit petitioners within 30 days. It didn’t.
It almost never does. Instead, would-be gun owners report waiting for three, four, six, and even nine months for permission to exercise what the Second Amendment makes clear is an unalienable individual right. The rules do not apply to the government.
For the citizenry, by contrast, minor infractions are routinely transmuted into life-destroying sentences. Had there been no public outcries, New Jersey would at present be hosting in its prisons a black single mother of two who misunderstood the concealed-carry rules in Atlantic County; a septuagenarian retiree who bought a non-functional, 260-year-old pistol from an antiques dealer and was arrested for carrying without a license; and a security guard and aspiring police officer who inadvertently left his firearm in his glove box while driving with his girlfriend. For those who wish to enjoy their right to keep and bear arms, the Garden State represents a significant blot on the American escutcheon.
All Carol Bowne asked was that she be permitted to exercise her right to protect herself in her own home; instead, she ended up bleeding to death in her driveway.
That diminutive women such as Carol Bowne are regarded as collateral damage should not be surprising at all. That the free people of New Jersey tolerate their lot with such alacrity, however, should be. Since the passage of the Brady Bill in 1993, federal law has required that any purchaser involved in a commercial firearms transaction must subject himself to a background check. Contrary to the cynical insinuations of President Obama and his friends at Everytown for Gun Safety, there is in fact no jurisdiction in the United States in which a buyer can obtain a gun from a licensed dealer without being screened. Indeed, in the vast majority of states, obtaining a firearm is both a safe and a straightforward process: One goes into a store, one presents one or more forms of government-issued ID, one submits to an instant background check, and one walks out with a gun. The buyer gets what he wants; the government gets its peace of mind. The whole process takes no more than half an hour.
Alas, in order to discourage the citizenry from buying firearms, eleven states have added another — wholly redundant — layer to the sequence, demanding by law that would-be purchasers acquire a permit prior to entering the store. In those jurisdictions it is necessary for buyers to pay a fee and to submit a host of personal information before they receive the government’s seal of approval. Alarmingly, that seal can take up to eight months to be delivered. Thus do many at-risk Americans find themselves in a tricky position: They need a gun to defend themselves or their homes right now, and yet the only way they can legally purchase one is to submit to a long-term and wholly unpredictable bureaucratic process. If you’re in a hurry — as Carol Bowne was — this is a substantial problem. Arguably, abiding by the rules cost Bowne her life.There can be few clearer illustrations of the folly of draconian firearms regulations than this. The killer was a convicted felon who had previously been found guilty of weapons offenses and aggravated assault, and who is now on the run from federal authorities. The victim was a “bubbly, well-liked,” law-abiding woman who did not want to run afoul of the government even when she sensed that her life was in danger. If “government” is just another word for the things we do together, then, frankly, we failed — and damnably. All Carol Bowne asked was that she be permitted to exercise her right to protect herself in her own home; instead, she ended up bleeding to death in her driveway, as the paper-pushers and know-it-alls decided whether they would deign to indulge her request, and her killer sped away, without fear of retaliation or injury.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.