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This Woman’s Arrest Proves Gun Laws Make No Sense

ThinkProgress and DailyKos risk provoking cognitive dissonance in their readers.

By 7.30.14

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Never figured I’d say this, but congratulations are due to ThinkProgress, the lefty news site that usually reads like a less drunk version of the stuff you find on Media Matters’s page, as well as to the Daily Kos, which is the more drunk version.

On Monday, those two sites broke the Left’s blackout on the story of Shaneen Allen, a mother of two boys and a licensed handgun owner with no criminal record who is facing three to ten years in a New Jersey prison for crossing state lines with her otherwise legal handgun.

Last October, Allen was pulled over in Atlantic County, New Jersey, by police for one of those violations indistinguishable from a pretext: the ol’ unsafe lane change. Allen told the officer that she had a concealed carry license from Pennsylvania, and that she had her handgun — a .380 Bersa Thunder — in the car.

“One of my family members, he thought it was appropriate for me to get one because I’m a single mother and I have two children and I work two jobs and I work late and getting up at that time of night I got robbed twice last year and he felt the need for me to get my license to protect me and my kids,” Allen told an interviewer.

She was arrested, spent forty days in jail, and is now facing a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison, thanks to New Jersey’s harsh gun laws that leave judges little discretion, coupled with a county prosecutor who has discretion but refuses to exercise it.

In the last week, Allen's case has been gaining attention. Radley Balko, the Washington Post’s house libertarian, reported on it, and National Review denounced her prosecutor in an editorial. Balko went further with a tweet Monday morning, calling out all the liberal publications that usually care about mandatory minimum sentences and disparate impacts of all sorts: “Number of mentions of ‘Shaneen Allen’ at Salon, Alternet, MSNBC, the Nation, Kos, ThinkProgress, Media Matters, Slate, and Gawker: Zero.”

By that afternoon, the count was up to two. The rest, so far, have shown no interest in provoking cognitive dissonance in their readers. Balko’s piece lays out indisputable evidence that federal gun laws have a vastly disproportionate impact on black Americans, even more than drug laws do. So “when gun control advocates say we need to crack down on gun offenders, or when they propose that we create new gun crimes, they aren’t suggesting we crack down on people who use guns to rob banks or to commit murders. We already go after those people.” Rather, gun laws specifically target people who haven’t committed any other crime. 

Needless to say, not everyone on the Left grasps the contradiction. As the author of the Daily Kos piece puts it, “There is no reason you can't support reasonable gun control laws, registration, closing the gun show loopholes, etc. etc., and also see that this case is crazy, pointless, and the prosecution of this woman does nothing for public safety.”

As Clive James once wrote of Sartre’s blithe attitude toward the Gulag, this “powerful ability to deny the import of a fact even after he had acknowledged it was hard to distinguish from duplicity.”

The reason you can’t support gun control penalties after acknowledging the injustice they produce is summed up well by Anthony Gregory of the Independent Institute:

This is how gun laws actually work — those caught violating them go to prison. For the mere act of owning an illegal weapon — not necessarily for using it, not for threatening anyone with it, not for being irresponsible with it — people who have harmed no one are locked up in prison for years at a time. As with the rest of the criminal justice system, particularly the war on drugs, these laws disproportionately harm the poor and minorities. That is the inescapable reality of gun control.

Shaneen Allen is not an exception. She’s an example, and there are more, both in Atlantic County and the rest of New Jersey.

There’s Michael E. Smith, 30, of Blakeslee, Pennsylvania, who had a license for his .45 caliber Glock in Pennsylvania, but was arrested in October 2011 when he brought it to Atlantic City in a lockbox. That was his only crime, but he’ll be in New Jersey’s custody until a December 20, 2015 parole date at the earliest. He may have a shot at doing some of that time in a halfway house, according to state prison records.

There’s Rasshon Bennett, a 22-year-old from Philadelphia, who’s serving four-to-eight-year sentence for bringing a handgun to Atlantic City.

The prosecutor in Atlantic County, Jim McClain, has the discretion to allow nonviolent first-time offenders into diversionary programs, but he’s repeatedly declined to do that. (Well, except for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice; McClain let Rice into a diversionary program after his infamous elevator KO.)

McClain is simply anti-gun. He leads wasteful gun buyback programs, and he’s made his intentions plain to reporters.

“I believe the biggest threat to the people of Atlantic County is gun violence and certainly gun violence is related to the drug trade,” he said in one interview. “There are too many avenues to choke off in terms of supply of guns. We have an idea where the dope comes from, but the guns come from all over.”

So McClain sends out press releases bragging about busts that elsewhere would be getting detective sergeants reassigned. Take James W. Harden, arrested for possession of a single shotgun, and selling another weapon without a permit. From his Facebook page, he appears to be just another Craigslist hustler, yet he’s the subject of five-month investigation culminating in a transaction that we in Texas would call a garage sale.

These folks are getting the five-year sentences that others get for running people over, killing them, and then fleeing the scene. There’s simply no way to justifying treating the mere potential for violence more harshly than actual violence. Yet this is the nature of gun laws. The flip side — always worth mentioning — is that they do nothing to reduce violence. An exhaustive National Academy of Sciences review of 253 journal articles, ninety-nine books, and forty-three government publications failed to find a single gun control measure that had reduced violent crime, suicide, or gun accidents.

Finally, there’s the case of Brian D. Aitken, who was sentenced to seven years in prison over handguns found in his trunk during his move from Colorado to New Jersey to be close to his son. Governor Chris Christie commuted that sentence after four months, but the felony on his record has weighed heavily in his custody dispute.

After the Aitken case, the New Jersey legislature voted earlier this year to reform state law on weapons transportation, which allowed people to deviate from their planned route only when it was “reasonably necessary” to do so. Only the lesson the legislature drew was they needed to be even stricter, so now, if Christie signs the bill, you’ll only be able to adjust your route if you are “collecting and discharging certain passengers, purchasing fuel, using a restroom, [or] contending with an emergency situation.”

Because missing your exit on the Turnpike should clearly be a felony. 

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About the Author

Jon Cassidy is the Texas bureau chief for Watchdog.org.