Gordon Van Gilder

Gordon Van Gilder

Regular readers recall, I’m sure, the plight of young, single mother of two, Shaneen Allen. Briefly visiting New Jersey from her neighboring home state of Pennsylvania, she was stopped for an alleged minor traffic violation and, trying to be a good citizen, told the officer about her legally possessed–in Pennsylvania–handgun. She was immediately arrested and faced a felony. Allen, who obtained a concealed carry license after being robbed twice within a year, was thrust into a legal wringer until Attorney Evan Nappen–with the help of the media and outlets like this scruffy little blog–shamed the prosecutor into allowing her to participate in a pre-trial diversion program. As long as she completes it, and there is no doubt of that, all charges will be dropped and she’ll have no record.

For those interested, my articles relating to the case are:

Shaneen Allen: Discretion and Distaste (At The Truth About Guns) 

Hollow Points: Bane of Know-Nothing Politicians

Shaneen Allen At Bearing Arms 

Shaneen Allen: A Real Race Card 

Shaneen Allen: Resolution? 

All people of good will and particularly those concerned with liberty should be relieved and delighted that Allen was finally able to receive justice, which raises a fundamental question: what is justice?

Webster defines it thus:


During my police days, my working definition was:

Justice: when you get into a traffic accident and the other guy gets the ticket.

It was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who, working on an obscenity case, famously said he couldn’t define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it. Similarly, we may not be able to define justice, but we know injustice when we see it. Such is the case of Gordan Van Gilder who has the great misfortune to live in New Jersey. From Legal Insurrection: 

When a 72-year-old retired school teacher faces a 10 year felony sentence (a likely life sentence) for possession of an unloaded 18th century flintlock pistol, one knows immediately that we can only be talking about a handful of states in which such a travesty can happen.  In this case, not surprisingly, it’s the ‘Garden State’ of New Jersey. (h/t Sebastian over at the Shall Not Be Questioned blog.)

Gordon Van Gilder, who taught in the New Jersey school system for 34 years, is a collector of 18th century memorabilia.  He acquired a genuine antique flintlock pistol from that era, and had it unloaded and wrapped in a cloth in his glove compartment when he was pulled over for an alleged minor traffic violation.

Van Gilder consented to a requested search of his vehicle, and when asked by the officer if there was anything in the car the officer should be worried about, Van Gilder informed him about the flintlock in the glove box.  Although not arrested that day, the next morning several patrol cars woke him at his home and placed him under arrest.

New Jersey’s draconian gun laws explicitly include antique firearms such as this 300-year-old pistol.  Indeed, possession of a slingshot is a felony under New Jersey law.

Flintlock Pistol

Flintlock Pistol

A 300-year old pistol. There is no specific information, but it is highly unlikely that the pistol could have been fired. In the photo of a flintlock pistol, notice the flint clamped in the lock. Absent a properly shaped and fresh flint, and gunpowder in the pan–which surely could not have been present–the weapon was inert–obviously a relic.

Other news reports suggest that an undersheriff was not inclined to arrest Van Gilder. No rational police officer should be, however, apparently the local Sheriff demanded he be arrested, and four deputies arrived at Van Gilder’s door the next morning, handcuffed him, and took him to jail.

This is the height of insanity and abuse of power. Police officers have substantial discretion, and that discretion exists for cases just like this. While I have no doubt that New Jersey’s notoriously anti-liberty and anti-gun politicians fully intended that people like Van Gilder be arrested for daring to exercise their Second Amendment rights–even if they have to return to Revolutionary War era technology to do it–rational, if cowardly, legislators often write laws fully expecting, even hoping, that police officers will use common sense and never enforce them. In that way, politicians can have it every way, placating rabid statists, while also assuring the honest they never meant their insane and unconstitutional laws to apply to them.

Van Gilder is represented by Evan Nappen, a well-known attorney specializing in gun law cases, and thus is as well-represented as could be hoped for this case.  It was Nappen who successfully represented Philadelphia nurse Shaneen Allen when she was charged with unlawful possession of her PA-licensed handgun in New Jersey. The mother of two small children was ultimately permitted to enter pre-trial intervention rather than be subject to trial and New Jersey’s mandatory minimum sentence of 3 1/2 to 5 years imprisonment.  That outcome, however, took direct intervention by the state Attorney General, likely at the prodding of the presidential-aspirant Governor Chris Christie.

[skip] Van Gilder will be fortunate indeed if Nappen can win him a similar arrangement. Even a plea agreement that avoids jail time but convicts Van Gilder of a felony would likely jeopardize the teacher’s pension he spent 34 years earning.

As Van Gilder states in the video above–‘Avoid New Jersey. Don’t come here.’  And as Nappen notes, twice as many families are currently leaving New Jersey as are arriving in the state. New Jersey’s population loss relative to other states is also evident in its loss of a House seat following the 2010 census.  Other northeastern extremist gun control states have similarly lost House seats in recent years, with New York losing two seats and Massachusetts losing one seat.

Amazingly, the prosecutor involved in this case told Nappen that they couldn’t resolve the case because they were conducting ballistics tests on the flintlock! This is, of course, lunacy. Flintlock pistols did not have rifled barrels, nor did they have brass cartridge cases. Even if the police had a fired lead ball from the pistol with which to compare, it would reveal nothing at all, including the caliber. This is plainly either a delaying tactic, the prosecutor and police have no idea of firearm technology, or both.

The lesson is clear: while the majority of uniformed police officers support the Second Amendment and have no trouble with law abiding citizens owning and carrying firearms, there are some officers, prosecutor, and jurisdictions–sometimes entire states–where there is no such appreciation for liberty and where honest citizens can expect to be treated far more harshly than criminals for violations of gun laws.

The old axiom “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” applies here. In New Jersey, California, Illinois, New York, Connecticut, and other places, the law-abiding gun owner can expect to be treated as a pariah and a felon, and the ignorance is on the part of New Jersey authorities.

By all means, take the link to the Legal Insurrection report where an NRA embedded video about the case resides. It’s worth your time, but be sure to take your blood pressure meds before viewing–you’re not going to be a happy camper thereafter.

I’ll continue to report on this case as it develops.