Thursday, October 2, 2008

Weapons charges dropped, federal "traveler's defense" law cited

A press release issued by the attorneys representing a man charged with felony firearms offenses while traveling through New York City appears to cite the protections for interstate travelers embodied in the 1986 Firearms Owners' Protection Act (FOPA):
New York criminal defense law firm Tilem & Campbell ( announced today that all charges were dismissed against a client charged with possessing a loaded firearm in Bronx County, New York. The firm relied on the largely unknown federal travelers' defense which grants a defense to state gun charges for those traveling interstate with their firearms. The client was originally charged with a class "C" violent felony and was facing a mandatory minimum sentence of three and a half years in state prison and up to fifteen years in state prison if convicted; he was needless to say ecstatic with the outcome.

The Federal Travelers' Defense permits a citizen who is not barred from possessing guns to legally transport one or more guns from one state where he legally possesses that gun to another state where he may lawfully possess that gun, without regard to the gun laws in every state he passes through on the trip. The defense is only available if the gun is unloaded, and if neither the gun nor ammunition is accessible from the passenger compartment of the vehicle.

In 2006, New York State amended its gun laws, increasing the penalties for possessing a loaded firearm outside a person's home or place of business to a minimum sentence of three and one-half years and a maximum sentence of fifteen years.

Read the press release here. Another reminder to those traveling cross-country with firearms to avoid jurisdictions unfriendly to gun owners, when possible. And when such avoidance is not possible, to transit the unfriendly jurisdiction unobtrusively, i.e., fastidiously obeying speed limits and traffic regulations, not stopping to "sightsee" (thereby potentially negating the FOPA travelers protections), etc.

Even through charges against the citizen were ultimately dismissed, the citizen had to go through being arrested, and the stress of facing felony charges and a mandatory minimum three and a half year prison sentence if convicted. If convicted, he would have additionally been penalized with the loss of firearms and other rights due to his status as a convicted felon. In the end, he's probably "only" facing a hefty lawyer's bill. He's a free man, but a lot poorer.

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