From its founding in 2010, NJ2AS enjoyed a pretty good relationship with Senator Jeff Van Drew. We were disappointed with the lack of action on any improvements to NJ’s perilous gun laws, but he had promised us that as long as Senator Sweeney was Senate President they would not pass any anti-gun bills, and up to that point, he had kept his word.
We were looking for some basic fixes. We wanted the permit delays to stop. We wanted the illegal additional requirements to stop. We wanted a definition of “reasonable deviation” that would protect innocent people in possession of their firearms for lawful purposes. We wanted .22 rimfire firearms to be excluded from the “assault weapon” ban definition and from magazine capacity restrictions. We discussed the need for “Brian’s Law” – a law that would prevent people like Brian Aitken from being prosecuted for mere firearms possession without criminal intent. No one in that type of situation should be dragged through the justice system at great personal and financial cost, but at a minimum, at least remove the minimum sentencing requirements. We weren’t asking for anything crazy. Van Drew was on board, or so he said.
We were making progress, or so we were made to believe. When we spoke with Van Drew and Sweeney about sponsoring some bills for these fixes, there was always an excuse. After many months of discussions, nothing materialized. Then Sandy Hook happened in December of 2012.
After Sandy Hook, there was talk going around that Sweeney was working on a gun bill. NJ2AS was understandably concerned that this bill would make things worse in NJ – it was already intolerable with innocent people being sent to prison and permits taking months, sometimes over a year. We pressed Sweeney for answers publicly. Then we got the call. Jeff Van Drew called us and asked for a meeting at his district office. We went. At that meeting, Jeff told us that he was asking on behalf of Sweeney that we please back off. He told us that Sweeney’s bill was going to address the things that we were concerned about and that it was going to be a big improvement for gun owners. He pointed to the fact that Sweeney was sponsoring the bill himself, and that is how seriously he was taking it. He asked that we back off so that he could complete the bill which would benefit honest gun owners. He did say that there would be a couple of things in there to satisfy the anti-gun advocates, but that we would have an opportunity to review the bill and suggest changes. “You will have a seat at the table…” is what he said.
When the bill was posted, it was a disaster. That’s the only way to put it. There was not one fix for the issues that we were most concerned with, and the permitting system was being made even worse. It even included a driver’s license “gun owner” endorsement requirement. It was an insult.
Our “seat at the table” was a joke. At one point, we were given the language of the bill on Friday afternoon, and Sweeney had scheduled the committee hearing on Monday. He wasn’t even making an effort to listen to us. Van Drew had lied. He had no intention of helping us at all.
We told them for months (now it has been years), that eventually, there would be a person who would die waiting for their permit. Tragically, one day, it actually happened. On June 3rd, 2015, after waiting for 43 days for a permit that would never come, Carole Bowne was stabbed to death in her own driveway. Jeff Van Drew killed Carole Bowne with his apathy and inaction. It didn’t have to happen. Carol Bowne lost her life, but she is not the only innocent person to suffer under NJ’s overreaching gun laws. Shaneen Allen got arrested – so did Stephon Lemont Josey for mere firearms possession with no criminal intent. Both had previously passed a background check. Gorden Van Gilder, a gun collector, incredibly, was arrested for possessing an antique flint lock pistol and faced a mandatory five years in prison. If not for NJ2AS making the case known to the public, those charges would not have been dropped. Michael A. Golden of New Mexico and James Michael Thaddeus Pederson of North Carolina, two decorated veterans, were ensnared and had to be pardoned by then Governor Christie. Nathan Clark, 39, an I.T. consultant was charged with unlawful weapons possession after being pulled over for speeding in New Jersey in November 2015. Police found he was carrying his pistol, for which he had a concealed carry permit in his home state of Kentucky. These are just some of the ones that we know of, and there are certainly many that we don’t know of that were never pardoned and are languishing in prison today… their lives ruined, their families devastated. Is it so tough to understand that there is little difference between a family being devastated by a criminal with a gun and a family being devastated by a poorly conceived statute?
For nearly a decade, we have been asking Jeff Van Drew to fix these problems. It’s not a difficult concept: innocent people don’t belong in prison. Jeff Van Drew failed. No gun owner or New Jerseyan in his or her right mind would or should ever vote for him, let alone send Jeff Van Drew to Congress. Jeff Van Drew should be fired, not promoted.