A man who had legally purchased guns in Colorado was arrested after New Jersey police found two handguns in the trunk of his car. The man, Brian Aitken, had relocated to New Jersey in order to be closer to his young son. He grew up in the state, and his family still lived there.
The charges came after Aitken’s mother had called 911, concerned about her son’s mental health due to his relationship with his ex-wife. Even though she hung up the phone immediately after calling, the police responded by showing up at her house and asked Aitken (who had just left the residence) to return. Aitken complied, the police searched his car, and he was hit with a 7-year sentence for felony possession of handguns, even though they were legally purchased, concealed in his car and unloaded. He did not, however, have a concealed-carry permit.
Aitken has launched an already-successful indiegogo campaign to spread the story of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his arrest to the rest of the country. His goal is to take his case to publish a book detailing the incidents surrounding his arrest and to ultimately take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn his status as a felon.
The harsh seven year sentence was commuted after only four months of incarceration. Still, Aitken is legally a felon, and therefore unable to own guns, vote, or travel to many destinations internationally. Aitken was pursuing an MBA at Manchester Business School in England, but was denied entrance to the country when he attempted to attend a workshop there.
New Jersey has some of the toughest anti-gun laws in the nation, and Aitken was convicted of breaking its strictest law — The Graves Act.
Aitken may be a good guy and his sentence may have been too harsh, but the man still did have weapons in the trunk of his car, and they were not legally allowed to be there under New Jersey law. It’s not as if he was stopped while transporting them from Colorado to New Jersey. He had been there for a while. Just because he’s rational about the situation and has framed it in an intelligent way that makes even the harshest gun critics feel at least somewhat sympathetic, he still broke the law. Still, his only crime was having the guns, not using them or handling them in an unsafe manner. Whether or not that should be the way things work is up for debate.
New Jersey law makes it notoriously difficult to obtain a concealed carry license, but the more common “purchaser’s permit” allows you to purchase a gun and keep it in your home, “while hunting or at a shooting range, while traveling to or from hunting grounds or a shooting range, and when traveling between residences,” according to Reason. Aitken’s claim that he was moving his belongings from his house to his mother’s house was refuted by former Burlington County Superior Court Judge James Morley.
If Aitken’s campaign is successful, the Graves Act should likely be revisited in order to determine whether rulings such as the one against Aitken are justifiable. Instead, the opposite has occurred. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has harshened the penalties associated with the Graves Act. “If I owned guns in New Jersey right now I’d risk getting sentenced to ten to twenty [years in] prison, which is a lot of time to get for a ‘crime’ that doesn’t involve hurting or threatening anyone,” Aitken wrote in a post on Vice.
Aitken now resides in Texas, a state more accepting of gun-owners. Still, it’s miles away from his family and his son, who he hasn’t seen in four years. He’s petitioning the Supreme Court in order to have his status as a felon overturned.