Civil Liberties

When A Missed Connection Leads to Jail Time


Eugene Volokh tells an infuriating tale of how circumstances beyond his control made one man a criminal. Gregg C. Revell got stuck in Newark because of a missed flight connection, with an unloaded gun legally checked in his luggage. Then:

He booked himself on the next flight, but the airline changed those plans. He was supposed to get on a bus, but his luggage didn't get on the bus with him. He found the luggage, but the bus had left, so he had to stay overnight at the hotel, with his luggage.

Aha! That's where the crime came in. The Firearms Owners' Protection Act protected Revell on the plane, and would have protected him on the bus. But the moment the luggage came into his hands or otherwise became "readily accessible" to him outside a car — here, when he got the luggage to go to the hotel, but it would have also happened if he had gotten the luggage to put it into the trunk of a rental car — he violated New Jersey law, which requires a permit to possess a handgun (and which bans the hollow-point ammunition that Revell also had in a separate locked container in his luggage). Revell was arrested when he checked in with the luggage at Newark Airport, and said (as he was supposed to) that he had an unloaded gun in a locked case in his luggage; he then spent four days in jail until he was released on bail. Eventually the New Jersey prosecutor dropped the charges against him, but Revell didn't get the gun and his other property back until almost three years later.

Revell sued, and lost; the Third Circuit concluded that once he took the luggage in hand in New Jersey, it became "readily accessible," and the FOPA immunity was lost.

The unfortunate decision in question.

[Hat tip: Dan Gifford]

NEXT: Obama's Neverending Afghan Adventure

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. So the intent of the State of New Jerksey it to encourage visitors to withhold from hotel staff information about firearm possession?

  2. Because the role of the police is not to use common sense, but to generate arrest statistics.
    Doubtless they take credit for stopping this gun from getting on a plane on some damn stats list.

  3. Oh wait, airport staff. I guess there was no way around this one, other than to stay away from NJ, which is good advice.

    1. It is without reservation that I say Newark is the single worst airport in the US. And the city is an absolute shithole.

      “Stay away from NJ”, just on the basis of the existence of Newark and its airport, is indeed good advice.

      1. In Jersey’s defense, Newark is not indicative of the whole state. South Jersey is quite rural; the Jersey shore has some great beaches and is not entirely populated with the cretins from Jersey Shore, and really, it’s the political corruption that really makes Jersey bad.

        1. Agreed, some of the rest of the state’s nice. But my time in Newark was so horrifying, so awful, that I stick with my admonition:

          “Stay away from NJ”

        2. Despite south Jersey’s pastoral appeal I think the best advice is to, “just say no” to New Jersey.

          1. I’ll second this.

            I lived in NJ for two years and i fucking hated it.

            Even South Jersey wasn’t anything special.

            And then there is the fact that a prime revenue source is pulling over speeders. I haven’t gotten a ticket in over a decade in Illinois, and in NJ I got three in a year. Once on the turnpike (for going 10 over while keeping up with traffic) and one on the Parkway driving home from Newark Liberty (The worst airport in the US) for doing 10 over at 1 AM with no one else around me — while the cop was hidden in the grass between bushes.

            And don’t even get me started on Jersey Shore. (Although Cape May was nice, places like Wildwood is infested with lowlifes)

            Just say no to NJ is absolutely the best advice one can get.

  4. Another reason to not visit New Jersey. Fail!

  5. Oh wait, airport staff.

    They’re de facto law enforcement, like ever more jobs are. And there’s your “intent of the State of New Jersey.” Or any modern state. Universal complicity.

  6. Should’ve Fedexed his gun and ammo to his ultimate location.

    1. You can’t. Guns have to be shipped via an FFL holder, so it costs extra and is much more of a pain in the ass.

      1. You can legally ship firearms c/o yourself at your destination. Just be sure you let whoever will be recieving the package know to not open it.…..additional

      2. FedEx and UPS will accept firearms from a non-FFL for shipping; USPS will only accept them from an FFL (at least for handguns; not sure about long guns).

        1. Hey, I didn’t know that. Thanks.

          1. No problem. I’ve been looking into this because I’m going to be visiting my family in Virginia (which recognizes my carry permit), but I have to go to DC for a few days first.

            1. Too bad you need it the most while in DC

    2. I ran across some “tips to save money while traveling” blurb on TV the other day and they recommended FedEx/UPS for ALL your baggage. They said it was usually cheaper than checking the bags and it was more reliable.

      How sad that air travel has come to this.

      1. Indeed. As somebody who likes to “travel heavy”, I usually choose to drive, even for the 1,000 mile trip from Minneapolis to Dallas. The savings in hassle more than makes up for the extra time spent, and the cost works out about the same.

      2. Bags are still free on Southwest, the only airline that actually runs as a business and not a government liability.

        1. Only the first 2 bags are rolled into the cost of the fare.

          1. “Only” the first two? 😛 That’s two more than the rest of the airlines and two is plenty for the average traveler.

            But back to this case. Boggles the mind. You can bet that everyone involved was just doing their job. Not an ounce of thought left in their heads.

  7. Calling J sub D, or other ACTUAL attorneys: I was contemplating Westboro Baptist today, and their God Hates Fags protests at soldier’s funerals, and have a legal question.

    What if someone could organize it, and a VERY large group of people (thousands) showed up at their next protest?

    If the group slowly and calmly marched en masse straight at the protestors, literally walked them down and away from the area; would this be considered assault or otherwise actionable?

    Sorry for the jack.

    1. It could likely be construed as assault Kant. If the act would induce fear of injury in a reasonable person it is likely assault. And the only reason that your tactic would work is if the protesters were convinced that if they didnt move they would be pushed, or pushed over.

    2. One could organize protests against the Westboro Baptist Church or any of their members’ funerals.

      1. Oh, there’s going to be a HUGE demonstration when old man Phelps kicks. I already have my placard designed.

      2. THIS+10000000000

    3. Somebody else organized something much better.

      Instead of a counter-protest, he set up a fundraising booth across the street for them, gathering donations specifically for GLBT-friendly organizations and churches targeted by the WBC.

      He then sent Phelps a thank-you card signed by the many donors for helping these organizations.

      There’s a YouTube out there somewhere in which he explains it and encourages others to put similar plans in motion wherever they pop up.

    4. You’d definitely be setting yourself up for an assault charge and possibly battery. There’s the possibility of a civil suit, too.

      1. OK, what if the group simply walled the protestors off or even peacefully surrounded them without breaking that “pesonal space” barrier?

        1. While chanting “One of us, one of us?”

    5. It would probably be considered an assualt and/ or battery if the people were legally able to be where they were. Idiots like the westboro bunch are just waiting for confrontation that leads to violence and then they will run to the courts and sue.
      The existence of such a group while deplorable is a big reason why our country is so great. We let our morons run amuck-let dickheads exists and such. In doing so we hopefully ensure the best and the greates flourish too. Small comfort to the afflicted I realise, but there are small in numbers, living in isolation and pretty much doomed to a slow and pitiful death.

      1. It is specifically the goal of Westboro. Some people think they actual care about the stuff they protest – they dont. They make money off lawsuits from people assaulting them.

  8. I took a shit in Newark. Twice.

    1. You did your best, but it still didn’t improve the state.

    2. You took a shit, people moved there and called it Newark.

  9. Reminds me of what happened to kwais.

    1. Exactly what I was thinking.

      1. Sounds very much like what happened to me. Those bastards! I am still angry about that.

  10. One more reason to avoid New Jersey (like I really needed any more).

  11. beat me to it, Ken – glad he didn’t get jailed.

    is there any hope for this guy? Would he be informed of such borders for the protection when checking in or getting the papers?

    (ugh. this is the US – “getting the papers” is a disgusting phrase)

    1. I think his only option (had be been aware of the law and what dicks NJ procecutors are) would be to secure his gun in an airport locker before he even leaves the terminal.

      Which I’m sure makes everybody feel much more safe, right???

      1. How does he get said weapon to the locker in the first place?

      2. While a huge pain in his ass, the safest bet would have been to explain the situation to a TSA employee with an IQ over 60, if he could find one, and to refuse the checked luggage until authorities secured the gun and ammo for his return.

  12. Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.

    The “…and carry” part of this law is troubling to me. Despite the clear wording of IIA, where can a person lawfully carry a firearm.

    1. It’s saying that IF he can carry it in his state of origin, and IF he can carry it in his state of destination, then he can TRANSPORT it through any state, so long as it’s not “readily accessible”.

      New Jersey’s case was that if it was in his suitcase it was readily accessible, even though the ammo was locked up.

      Fucked up, but by the letter of the law it would appear he’s screwed.

    2. Thanks, wayne, I had just copied that for pasting here.

      I’m a little mystified as to how carrying a firearm in your bags is not “transport[ing] a firearm”.

      The statute is horribly drafted. The concept of a vehicle appears out of nowhere partway through, “or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle”, without a reference for “such transporting vehicle.

      I read this as saying there are two ways to meet the standard – the gun and ammo are either (a) not “readily accessible” OR (b) not “directly accessible from the passenger compartment . . . .”

      Under the court’s definition, (that is, there is no protection unless you are actually in a vehicle), how is it that any baggage handler who carries a bag containing a firearm in NJ doesn’t violate the statute?

      1. I think the law is written to imply that you can drive through NJ with a gun in your trunk, if it’s legal to have it in both the place you came from and the place you’re going to, but a pedestrian with an unloaded gun in his suitcase is obviously a terrorist threat. Why do you hate America, anyway?

      2. RCD,

        I agree the statute is horribly drafted. That is one of my chief complaints with “the law”; it is written with no regard whatsoever for clarity, or standard English.

        1. Is, be serious you?

  13. There’s a man in jail for no good reason right this minute.

    Thanks a lot, liberals.

    1. On the bright side, he’s got plenty of company. The jails are stuffed with people who are there for no good reason.

      A friend of mine has a kid who is in jail at this minute, just because he sold a little weed to his friends. Even an opponent of drug laws like me could see the wisdom in some kind of slap on the wrist for being a black-marketeer, but to throw an 18-year old in jail for such a petty crime is asinine.

      1. No argument there, Tara.

      2. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

        1. And if we can just get a few more laws passed, juanita, we can ALL be criminals.

          1. Won’t be long till it’s a moot point.

          2. There are so many laws now we are probably breaking one or more without realizing it.

        2. Jaunita is in favor of making jails so crowded and the system so expensive that rapists will be released early. Why is that, jaunita?

          1. no other way to get laid?

  14. If this had been me, right around the time I realized I was going to be arrested, they probably would have had ample reason to arrest me. Public disorder, at a minimum.

    That the guy was very clearly trying to stay in compliance with the law, and through no fault of his own was literally trapped by it, is indeed infuriating. The cop should have shown some discretion, or at least worked with the airline to send him on his way, even if the gun had to stay behind.

    The gun law isn’t even the issue here, it’s the damn overzealous cops. Geez.

    1. The cop should have shown some discretion, or at least worked with the airline to send him on his way, even if the gun had to stay behind.

      But that would be reasonable. The only reason this provision of the FOPA is necessary is because a handfull of state governments go ballistic over the idea that a citizen might own a firearm.

      In most states this situation is a non-issue, since there are no gun licensing or ammunition restrictions you need protecting from.

    2. The gun law isn’t even the issue here, it’s the damn overzealous cops

      Without the gun law, what’s the damned overzealous cop’s pretext for harassing the victim here? The law absolutely is the issue.


      1. Couldn’t put it any better myself.

      2. Don’t know the history of the law, but it’s possible overzealous cops in the War On Drugs were the initial lobbyists for the law.

  15. Another engineer I know was taking one of his pistols to Huntsville, AL on a TDY job at RSA. (Pistol stays in the hotel of course) … When he got to Huntsville airport a policeman asked if his pistol was loaded and he said, “No.” which is correct according to AP (even pre-TSA) regs. The cop says, “Well, you should load it when you get your car, because an unloaded pistol will get you killed.” My friend considered this wise council from a local LE dude. However, hoplophobia (morbid fear of weapons)becomes part of the culture as you approach the Mason-Dixon Line.
    New Jersey? Naw, I’ll skip spending any money there until they get their laws straightened out. Lautenberg casts a long and slimy shadow.

    1. Unless something’s changed in the last few years, you need a permit to carry a loaded weapon in your car in Alabama. Come on across the border to Mississippi, where the Supreme Court has ruled that your car is an extension of your home. Until I started parking on state property (where firearms may only be possessed by LEOs), I kept a revolver under my car seat. No permit necessary.

      1. In KY, you can carry in your glove box or in plain sight in your car without a permit. Anywhere else in the car requires a concealed carry permit (well, anywhere else within reach – trunk is okay without a permit).

        Loaded/unloaded whatever.

  16. How does locked up, and unloaded equal,”readily accessible”? As you tell the person your about to rob, ‘uh, hold on a second while I get my gun out of my suitcase, and load it, okay”?

    1. You have the reasoning (if it can be called that) precisely backwards with regards to the NJ law. The presumption is that while armed, you are a criminal. Criminals can take their time to prepare the weapon for the nefarious act they are obviously about to commit. Thus, the only way to prove that you are not a criminal is to be defacto “not armed” by making absolutely sure every weapon transported is made to be less than frightening to the twitchy rodents that craft those hateful laws in that blighted, blasted “Garden State”.

  17. Hollow-point ammunition? He’s obviously a cop-killer! (not that there’s anything wrong with that)

    But I’m ignorant… what’s the point of a hollow-point bullets?

    1. Supposed to be more lethal because they mushroom and make a bigger hole.

      I don’t use them and I have become convinced that a regular jacketed bullet works just fine.

      1. Hollow point or expanding/fragmenting jacket ammunition is potentially safer to non-targets because the broader cross-section of the bullet will dump its energy into the intended target, without over-penetrating through and striking something or someone not intended.

        Naturally, marksmanship is also required for desired feature of no over-penetration to be effective – which is the subject of unintended consequences of tax laws designed to make ammunition more expensive. The greater the expense per round, the less practice anyone (including LEOs) actually receive. The net result is obviously not more “safety” in any real sense. But the legislative rabbits shake less when they imagine the big world outside as created by their good works, so it’s all good.

      2. You are one cold-blooded mofo if you’ve had enough opportunity to empirically “become convinced that a regular jacketed bullet works just fine.” Unless you shoot deer? In lots of places in the US expanding ammunition in game hunting is required, because it is more humane. Maybe you just want to see them suffer?

        1. Maybe he’s military. Geneva convention and all that. Full Metal Jacket required.

          1. The Geneva Convention has nothing to do with FMJ ammunition.

  18. Why did he not cite IIA in his suit?

  19. This is almost exactly what happened to me.

  20. All of you Randian individualists are supporting him? Whatever happened to states rights? Personal responsibility to know the law and abide by it? The miniscule additional cost of a direct flight?

    1. Did you even read the article? His flight was disrupted by powers outside of his control. Being of sound mind, he had no intention of remaining in that hellhole.

      But more to the point: how many slaves do you own, mister?

    2. Just because I support state sovereignty doesn’t mean I have to agree with the shit policies enacted by New Jersey.

    3. You contradict yourself, Pendulum. Individualism and “states rights” are not the same thing.

    4. States dont have rights. They have powers. Gun possession is an individual right that no state has the power to overturn.

    5. 2A Rights are protected by the US Constitution; New Jersey has no right to decide on its own what civil rights a person is allowed to have within its borders.

  21. Great SITE for Documentaries check it out

  22. It’s time for a “no harm, no foul” amendment. Prohibit all prosecution for any act unless there’s victim.


    1. Again, I agree. Thank you Mr. Randolph.

    2. Attempted murder? Now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry?

  23. Has anyone suggested the IJ to this guy?

  24. A couple of notes. First: terrible thing to have happened to him in the first place.

    However: charges were dropped – this was a civil 1983 suit against the PANYNJ cops (bunch of fricking power hungry $%#@%$#); he lost because it was not obvious that the law protected him.

    Second – I wish people wouldn’t say hollow-points are illegal in NJ – they’re not. They’re fairly restricted in where you can possess them (essentially the same restrictions as to handgun possession) and it’s an additional charge if you have them in the commission of a crime.

    NJ firearms laws suck, but NY’s are worse, and port authority policy is set from NY…

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.