Politics & Policy

The Ridiculous New York Gun Law that Turns Tourists into Terrorists

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Elizabeth Elderli is not your typical felon. The 31-year-old Houstonian is a wife, a stay-at-home mom, an honorably discharged Iraq War veteran (U.S. Marine Corps) — and now the latest tourist to run afoul of New York State’s unforgiving gun laws.

Elderli is the legal owner of a 9-mm and a .380-caliber handgun, both of which she was carrying, loaded, as she queued in the security line at the September 11 Memorial in lower Manhattan last Saturday. Noticing a sign prohibiting firearms, she announced her two weapons to security personnel. She was arrested by the NYPD, and the next day arraigned for felony possession of a weapon. She now faces three-and-a-half to 15 years in prison.

The reason? Gun license reciprocity. Concealed-carry permits issued by the state of Texas are recognized in the overwhelming majority of other states — but not in New York, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. As soon as Elderli crossed the border into New York, she was in violation of Empire State penal law.

Elderli’s attorney, Amy Bellantoni — the Bellantoni Law Firm handles a number of Second Amendment–related cases — says her client’s action never needed to proceed even this far. “There was absolutely no criminal intent whatsoever,” she says. Elderli simply misunderstood New York’s reciprocity laws. “It was within the police officer’s discretion to arrest her. It was within the district attorney’s discretion to charge her.” Now, if the case goes to trial and Elderli is convicted, she’ll face a three-and-a-half year mandatory-minimum sentence.

“There’s a gap here,” says Bellantoni, “where good people, honest people, law-abiding citizens, are being made criminals. They are being given criminal histories. Irrespective of how this case is resolved, my client will always have a felony arrest on her criminal history.”

‘Good people, honest people, law-abiding citizens, are being made criminals. They are being given criminal histories.’

And it is the result of senseless gun laws. “The same federal background check required to obtain a firearm license in New York State is also required to obtain a firearm license in Texas,” Bellantoni observes, “so there’s really no rational basis for the states not to recognize firearm licenses from other states where the same federal background check was passed.” Reciprocal recognition from New York State would still allow it to regulate firearm licensing for its own residents, she notes; it would simply treat gun owners who visit from other states more sensibly.

Such an arrangement is, alas, unlikely. In January, the New York State legislature passed the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, toughening its already restrictive laws by expanding background checks, prohibiting magazines with more than ten rounds, and requiring the registration of all “assault weapons,” the definition of which the act broadened. New York City, where Elderli was arrested, imposes licensing requirements above and beyond the state’s.

#related#New York State has the right (within constitutional reason) to make its own gun laws, and the ever-widening grip of the federal government means conservatives may find it wise, as a matter of principle, to support that right — even when the results are onerous. But the motivations of at least some gun-rights opponents cannot be ignored. Discussing Elizabeth Elderli’s case with Fox News, Ladd Everitt, communications director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, sneered: “We should also contemplate how paranoid someone has to be to think they need two handguns to visit a place of peaceful reflection in the tenth-safest major city in the world.” Charges of paranoia seem to more accurately reflect Mr. Everitt’s motives than Elizabeth Elderli’s.

Elderli, for her part, is back home, released on her own recognizance, and scheduled to return to court in New York on August 28. Bellantoni is hopeful: “I have full faith in the district attorney’s office that it will take into consideration her intentions — the fact that she had no criminal intention whatsoever — her background, her service to this country.”

But prosecutorial wisdom is a thin reed, and more than a few accidental lawbreakers are not fortunate enough to receive it. A much better remedy would be to revise the inane law that treats Texan tourists as terrorists.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.

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