In October of 2013, a Pennsylvania resident named Shaneen Allen drove into New Jersey’s Atlantic County and was pulled over by police for an “unsafe lane change.” When the detaining officer arrived at her car window, Allen informed him that she was carrying a concealed firearm, and presented her Pennsylvania carry license as proof of eligibility. Unbeknownst to her at the time, however, was that New Jersey is among the 20 states that do not recognize Pennsylvania’s permit. In consequence, she was arrested. If convicted of the charges that the state has elected to bring, she will be locked in prison for up to a decade.
A single mother of two young children, Allen works more than one job and as a result leaves her home at odd times of the day. After two robberies made her aware of her vulnerability, she became convinced that she should be prepared to defend herself and her family, and resolved to do something about it. Which is to say that Allen bought her firearm, and obtained her concealed-carry permit, not to commit crimes but to prevent them. This has failed to move the prosecutor, Jim McClain, an overzealous man who has routinely declined to use the considerable latitude with which he has been entrusted by the state.
Under New Jersey’s rules, McClain could have declined to press any charges against Allen, recognizing that she was guilty of little more than an innocent mistake. He could have treated it as merely a misdemeanor and sent her to municipal court. He could have permitted her to enroll in one of the diversionary programs that New Jersey has established for peaceful first-time offenders, thereby sparing her both the prison time that will take her away from her children and the felony conviction that will almost certainly destroy her career in medical work. Instead, he has sought punishment to the fullest extent of the law: in this instance, a three-year mandatory minimum jail sentence for illegal possession of a firearm, and an extra year or more for possession of illegal ammunition. This is a travesty of justice.
The travesty can be reversed. First, McClain could drop the charges and let Allen off with a warning. If he refuses, his superiors could step in. Governor Chris Christie has a mixed record on the question of the right to bear arms, but he has at times demonstrated a commonsense streak. As he famously did for Brian Aitken — another peaceful American who fell afoul of New Jersey’s draconian rules — we hope the governor will grant Allen clemency as early in the process as is legally possible.
More generally, we would like to see the question of concealed-carry reciprocity cleared up at the national level. Allen may have been incorrect in assuming that concealed-carry permits issued by one state are, like driver’s licenses, valid in every other. But this was not an unreasonable assumption for her to make. The Second Amendment to the Constitution has been held to protect an individual right, and that right has been incorporated to the states. Under the Full Faith and Credit clause, Congress has the power to “prescribe the manner in which such Acts, Records, and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof,” and thus to mandate that all state-issued permits are valid nationwide. To prevent further miscarriages of justice, it should use it.
In the meantime, we urge friends of the Second Amendment — and of prosecutorial prudence — to contribute to Allen’s legal-defense fund, which can be found here.