The story of Brian Aitken, a man who moved from Colorado to New Jersey in 2009 to be closer to his son, should be a wakeup call any conservative or liberty minded person who is thinking of moving to New Jersey. Aitken was found with legally purchased, locked and unloaded handguns in the trunk of his car. As a result, he was arrested, imprisoned and denied access to his son. He was sentenced to seven years. That's the minimum sentence for armed robbery of a bank!

Brian Aitken

Brian Aitken

According to Aitken, he was convicted under the Graves Act. Alissa D. Hascup writes, "The 'Graves Act,' N.J.S.A. 43-6(c), requires the imposition of a minimum term of imprisonment and parole ineligibility for certain firearm-related offenses.  Until 2008, the 'Graves Act' only applied when a person was convicted of possessing or using a firearm while in the course of committing certain crimes, or possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a)."

Now, however, additional offenses have been added to the Graves Act and an increased minimum sentence, but that was four months ago. Enter Governor Chris Christie.

Christie signed S2804 into law. Among the provisions of the legislation was this little section on handguns:

Handguns.  (1) Any person who knowingly has in his possession any handgun, including any antique handgun, without first having obtained a permit to carry the same as provided in N.J.S.2C:58-4, is guilty of a crime of the [third] second degree. [if] (2) If the handgun is in the nature of an air gun, spring gun or pistol or other weapon of a similar nature in which the propelling force is a spring, elastic band, carbon dioxide, compressed or other gas or vapor, air or compressed air, or is ignited by compressed air, and ejecting a bullet or missile smaller than three-eighths of an inch in diameter, with sufficient force to injure a person [.  Otherwise] it is a crime of the [second] third degree.

Under this law, the minimum sentence goes from 36 months to 42 months. Aitken got seven years!

So he is carrying legally purchased firearms, that are in his trunk and unloaded. Obviously he has no intention of using them to do anyone any harm or commit a crime, and yet because of overreaching, tyrannical laws, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. For goodness sakes, if someone has a paintball gun or airsoft gun they can be guilty of a crime!

Thankfully, Aitken had his sentence commuted by Governor Christie after four months (though Christie signed S2804 into law two months ago), but a lot of good that has done as it has left his life in shambles. He is labeled a felon. Do you know what all that implies? He can't own guns legally. He is barred from voting. He is barred from traveling internationally because his passport is revoked. Finally, in the most devastating blow, because of the firearms charges faced over legally purchased guns, he is also barred from seeing his son.

As a side note, anyone still think Chris Christie is a conservative? If so, then I'm afraid you are hopeless.

Aitken tells his story at Vice.com. He writes:

Three years ago this month, thanks mostly to poorly written laws and a vindictive judge, I turned 27 while incarcerated in Mid-State Correctional Facility in Fort Dix, New Jersey.

I got sentenced to seven years in prison for legally owning guns. I had purchased them in Colorado and brought them with me to New Jersey, home to some of the harshest gun laws in the country, where I moved to be closer to my young son. I complied with all of the regulations, but one day the police searched my car and charged me with unlawful possession of a weapon—even though my handguns were locked, unloaded, and in my trunk. The court said it was on me to prove that I wasn't breaking any laws, which obviously was very difficult. When Reason magazine covered my case, it wrote, "Even the jurors who convicted him seem to have been looking for a reason to acquit him. But the judge gave them little choice."

Thanks to my status as a convicted felon, I was no longer free to travel to other countries.

It's also impossible for me to pass a background check. That means no apartments for me. 


S2804 was a bill that amended the Graves Act, the law I was convicted of breaking. It changes the mandatory minimum sentence for offenders from 36 months to 42 months—an extra six months in prison for gun owners who haven't been convicted of any crime other than owning a gun, which isn't even technically illegal. (You need a piece of paper in order to buy a gun and another piece of paper to carry one around on your person, but it's technically legal to own one.) Without a concealed carry permit, which is extraordinarily difficult to get, many innocent gun owners wind up being labeled as criminals. Even retired cops have a hard time meeting the "justifiable need" standard the state requires for anyone looking to get a concealed carry license. In 2011, a pet store owner who was kidnapped and feared being attacked again by the same men was denied a permit to carry a handgun.

This bill also changed possession of a handgun to a first-degree felony under certain conditions. If I owned guns in New Jersey right now I'd risk getting sentenced to ten to 20 prison, which is a hell of a lot of time to get for a "crime" that doesn't involve hurting or threatening anyone.

Of course, the judge in the case would not allow jury members to consider exemptions which would have shown that Aitken broke no laws. ABC News reported this same exemption for a residential move in December 2010. 

Mr. Aitken is currently "petitioning the Supreme Court of the United States to hear his case and overturn his status as a felon so he can once again see his son."

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