Gun Control

Human Sacrifices for Gun Control

Brian Aitken's memoirs show the dark side of a liberal desire to make the world safer.


Enough of the American public believe that one should only face the severe punishment of imprisonment for crimes that harm people or property and/or indicate a propensity to continue doing so. When stories spread about justice not working that way, public outcries can dredge justice from injustice.

A new memoir by Brian Aitken, The Blue Tent Sky: How the Left's War on Guns Cost Me My Son and My Freedom, tells such a story of injustice halted, often at excruciating, but always highly readable, length. It's the story of a man who meant no harm to anyone, who was doing his best to obey a picayune regulation, and who by most evidence was not even really violating the picayune regulation—New Jersey's Graves Act (which imposes certain mandatory sentences on certain gun-related crimes)—for which he was sentenced to seven years in prison, three of them mandatory without parole.

Aitken tells his story with a winning combination of the naivety he began with and the hard knowledge he's learned. He writes to some degree out of a desire for vengeance via exposure on those in the judicial system who wronged him, yet his tone is mostly admirably restrained. He trusts the reader will see the injustice he suffered so doesn't feel the need to rail about it. He tells his story; he doesn't try to oversell it.

What Aitken went through in the name of pointless gun regulation is harrowing enough, even in the broad-brush details with which I'll sum it up. An adult professional with no criminal record, a fully legal gun owner in Colorado, guns purchased with his now-estranged wife, with whom he was embroiled in a custody fight over his infant son. That fight led him to move to New Jersey to try to be near his son, although his wife makes seeing his son difficult. His parents also live in Jersey. He's in the process of moving from his parents' home to a friend's house in Hoboken to be closer to his job.

He was having a frustrating day, his wife once again pulling his son out from a scheduled visitation, and his mom seeming to give up on the whole process. Aitken made an impolitic statement that mom—whose other son had a history of suicide threats—interprets as such a threat. She calls 911, then thinks better of it and hangs up. Too late.

The police show up. They call Aitken, still driving. They threaten him with a statewide manhunt if he doesn't voluntarily drive back to his parents' house. They threaten to send him on a 72-hour psych lockdown to pressure him into agreeing to let them search his car. During the search  they find the guns that he insists—and no evidence the state ever presented contradicted—he had put in the trunk earlier that day, unloaded, and was preparing to move them from his parents' house to his new home, both in New Jersey.

The incident ends with the police arresting Aitken for possessing his guns. Despite his parents' blunders that directly led to his troubles, the filial Aitken doesn't blame them a bit, though many of his later supporters expressed rage toward mom for calling 911. It bears repeating: unless you are very, very prepared for your loved one to be arrested or murdered, do not ever call the police to "help" a loved one.

As a result of Aitken's mere indictment, he lost his visitation rights—even before he lost the case and went to jail—and to this day has not seen his son again. Aitken is convinced that the prosecutor, judge, and even state attorney general were obsessed with tough enforcement of the Graves Act because of the national politics of gun control. As he wrote, "months before my arrest the New Jersey Attorney General, Anne Milgram, had issued a directive to prosecute gun owners 'vigorously,' 'strictly' and 'uniformly.'" Aitken was not any kind of gun rights warrior, not even much of a shooter. Being tossed in prison merely for having a legal possession in the trunk of his car turned him into one.

Aitken couldn't have been a better candidate for leniency on the system's part. As backed up by testimony from a roommate, he had scrupulously studied New Jersey law about transporting guns and believed he was following them to the letter. The very search that found the guns was rife with disturbing Fourth Amendment implications as he was in effect detained without probable cause.

By refusing to plea out and insisting on trial—an act of lese majeste dared by only around 5 percent of defendants caught in the state's maw—he angered the system. By going on a webcast with Judge Andrew Napolitano in August 2009 and talking about his case between indictment and trial he angered the system even further. The judge in his case, James Morley, openly admonished Aitken, noting that "This trial…is not going to be a referendum on the Second Amendment." (That publicity did gain Aitken the support of thousands of people who lobbied on his behalf later, and the attention of the National Rifle Association, who helped pay his legal fees.)

Judge Morley, in the course of the case, was demonstrably unfair. He ignored testimony that at the very least raised the strong possibility that Aitken really was moving and thus fell under a clear exception to New Jersey's otherwise guilty-until-proven-innocent gun laws. Morley decided for himself that Aitken was not moving, and thus refused to even tell the jury—who asked him three times in a row to please explain any exceptions to the law that might bear on the case, aware that some such exceptions existed—about that law. An appellate court later held that "the judge should have instructed the jury on the exemptions and….his failure to do so was 'capable of producing an unjust result'" while overturning two of the three charges Aitken was hit with.

In sentencing, a different judge** openly said he was using Aitken's life as an example to others, since "I do find a strong need for deterring the defendant and others from violating the law so that the public is aware that there are penalties for offenses of this type." Remember: the offenses for which the judge thought years of a life were a suitable sacrifice to deter others were…driving around with legally obtained and legally owned inanimate objects, unloaded, locked in your trunk.

Among its other virtues, Aitken's book is a maddeningly detailed tale of how infuriatingly unfair and even clearly illegally judges and prosecutors can behave, with a man's life as their plaything, and how impotent the innocent are to fight back. For just one example, a prosecutor at one point in the proceedings tried to knock down the argument that the 1986 federal Firearms Owners Protection Act (FOPA) could apply to Aitken since he wasn't moving from one state to another, at the same time admitting/agreeing that he was moving from one city in Jersey to another—clearly making him eligible for the exception in NJS 2C:39-6e that the Judge refused to tell the jury about.

The book also dramatizes through a long narrative of his months behind bars why prison is a very serious thing to do to someone—dangerous and terrifying and destructive to all one's relations with the outside world. Still, as Aitken discovered, people end up locked up for trifling nonsense such as "unpaid parking tickets, possession of marijuana, or mental illness." Some end up dying there from mistreatment, even if their initial offense was something as minor as public drunkenness.

Eventually, a public drumbeat that stretched beyond gun rights activists convinced Gov. Chris Christie (R) to commute Aitken's sentence after a few months in December 2010. As noted above, two of his three charges were overturned on appeal; a cert request to the Supreme Court about that remaining charge, involving the hollow point ammo he was also arrested for possessing, was denied earlier this year.

As Aitken's lawyer Evan Nappen explains, the law on paper makes no exception for the movement of such ammo, leaving the weird result that if you own some legally, you cannot take it with you when you move—you have to leave the new owners of your house with "a bottle of champagne in as a move-in gift, and, oh, all this ammo, because I can't move it."

Those in the gun rights community who followed Aitken's story saw history grimly repeating itself this year in the case of Shaneen Allen, with the added gut punch that she was the sole caretaker of two children. She was on her way to a party with them from her Pennsylvania home when she foolishly informed a Jersey police officer in a lane-change traffic stop that she had her fully legal and permitted pistol in her car. (She bought it after being robbed twice.) She was, of course, arrested.

After initial truculence in the face of public outrage, the prosecutor in Allen's case eventually rolled over and pushed Allen into a pretrial intervention that won't involve jail. This was only after the state's acting Attorney General admitted that when out of state residents bring their legal guns into Jersey, "in most cases, imprisonment is neither necessary not appropriate to serve the interests of justice and protect public safety."

As many as 100 cases with the same circumstances as Allen's are currently pending and may find their fates improved because of the media and public pressure that surrounded the very sympathetic Allen's case. "In Jersey," explains Nappen, lawyer for both Aitken and Allen, "gun owners are guilty until they prove themselves innocent" very literally—they need to prove their gun ownership and movement fit into a small series of exemptions. Nappen says that he and Allen were being pressured on all sides to plea out and not fight the case. He tells me about Superior Court Judge Michael Donio who mocked lawyers like Nappen who actually tried to defend their clients when he sentenced another Graves Act defendant who pled out to just two years' probation.

That's the positive outcome that can arise, Donio said, when "lawyers do it right and follow the proper method." Donio also jabbed at lawyers like Nappen who treat gun cases as a "cause." For his part, Nappen says that it's his job to make every client's defense a cause.

Scott Bach, a member of the NRA's board of directors and executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, thinks it obvious Jersey legislators don't mind the destruction of innocent life inherent in Graves Act enforcement. This year, a law was almost passed that would have eased some of its strictures, offered as a sop to get support from across the aisle for a new magazine ban. When the latter failed, the former was also abandoned. That fits the general legislative attitude toward guns in his state, Bach says, which he thinks is deliberately designed to keep all gun owners "harassed and intimidated." As Jersey's own Supreme Court declared in a 1996 case State v. Pelletieri, "When dealing with guns, the citizen acts at his peril."

Despite the obvious injustice of Aitken's and Allen's stories, enforcement of similar laws when it comes to gun possession still happens. In New York airports make a practice of arresting citizens doing their best to scrupulously obey regulations on how to transport weapons back and forth from where they are legally owned and, where necessary, permitted. But despite FOPA, New York airports use the loophole of airports not being explicitly mentioned in the law to arrest and fine people for violating local gun law. While rarely sending them to prison past their initial arrest, New York steals from them time, money, and their weapons, which are confiscated and never returned. In 2013, 25 citizens trying to abide by the law got thusly nabbed in New York City airports; in 2006 it had been 51.

Laws that turn perfectly peaceful acts related to weapon ownership into crimes are growing, as seen in Washington's newly passed Initiative 594. That law makes Washingtonians who innocently transfer property they legitimately own—but without jumping through government hoops the way the government requires—into criminals.

Meanwhile, the federal U.S.C. 922, whose various provisions are almost entirely about creating a technical crime out of the mere nonviolent, nonharmful owning, selling, or transferring of weapons, saw 5,764 convictions in fiscal year 2014, 660 in September alone.

The injustice Aitken suffered—someone who harmed no one and was doing his best to obey the law sentenced to seven years in prison—was, Aitken has come to believe, "a direct result of the liberal war on inanimate objects." Such injustices "are the intended consequences. They are not unintended. They are exactly what [proponents of tougher, more complicated gun possession and use regulations] want."

**Correction: The article originally mistakenly said Judge Morley also did the sentencing.

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  1. Remember: the offenses for which Morley thought years of a life were a suitable sacrifice to deter others were…

    That’s almost everyone involved in all levels of the criminal justice system. Not only do they believe laws were enacted so they can be personally outraged and act on that outrage, but the subjects of their jobs are nonpersons, just things on the assembly line to be dealt with before the next widget comes along to be dispatched.

    1. We in government are well within our rights to make and enforce any law we want, and we don’t even have to do it in that order!!

      It is YOU who are wrong for not following the laws of your country. You come to these sites and cowardly rant about how you want freedom you could never handle but would NEVER dare to speak out in the presence of one of us in government. This is why we have no respect for you people.


  2. A couple of clarifying amendments are needed; the same words applied at the end of both the First and Second amendments;

    “In other words, to all politicians, regulators, law enforcement persons, and other government lackeys; keep your goddamned hands off!”

    1. I kind of thought “shall not be infringed” was the ‘keep your hands off’ statement.

      1. It does but the Founding Fathers never envisioned assault weapons, the Internet, pickup trucks, Talk radio, etc.

        1. The assault weapon of the 1700s was the Brown Bess musket. It had a tremendous rate of fire compared to rifles, and could be fitted with a bayonet.

  3. Is it worth noting that Judge James Morely lost his job only a year later, apparently angering Governor Chris Christie for *failing to prosecute other ‘victimless’-crimes harshly enough*..?

    “In the case of Donna Goebel, a 45-year-old teacher’s aide and mother, Morley had said he did not think she was a predator for having sex with a 16-year-old boy, basing his comment on the circumstances of the case. He also said that but for the woman being a teacher’s aide, the relationship would not have been a crime because the age of consent in New Jersey is 16”

    “Morley additionally defended his September decision to toss out animal cruelty charges against the man who allegedly had oral sex with the cows. In the absence of a state law on bestiality, prosecutors had only animal cruelty charges to bring against former Moorestown officer Robert Melia. That brought Morley a dilemma.

    “I’m not saying it’s okay,” he had said in court. “This is a legal question for me. It’s not a question of morals.””

    Both decisions were specifically criticized by Gov Christie in the Judge’s non-re-appointment. The overzealous prosecution of benign firearms possession was apparently A-OK with the Gov.

    1. Not to defend Christie, but I would imagine he doesn’t write that stuff himself and the goal was just to get rid of the guy for whatever reason. Perhaps even the gun case. Citing that, though, would have been a political risk in New Jersey no matter how slight.

      New Jersey has those laws because most voters there support them.

      1. “he was informed by the governor’s chief counsel on June 8 that he would not be renominated “because the governor had concerns about (my) comments and reasoning in the two cases.”

        I find it hard to believe they’d pick “middle aged woman sleeps with kid” and “man molests cows” as being things that they used to cover up their *real* reasons for canning the guy. But its certainly open to interpretation

        I simply thought it was worth noting that the guy got canned shortly following this POS case

      2. So what he didn’t write the law? More and more this reasoning is getting to problematic especially when used in defense of a politician.

    2. What this makes me think of Morely is according to him, you have a right to butt sex, sex with underaged teenagers, but no 2nd amendment rights.

      1. Aitken should have claimed he was going to have sex with the firearms.

        1. While they were loaded, of course!

  4. It saddens, frustrates, and frightens me that we say things like this:

    “It bears repeating: unless you are very, very prepared for your loved one to be arrested or murdered, do not ever call the police to “help” a loved one.”

    It saddens, frustrates, and fightens me even more that this appears to be good, sound, emperically-based advice.

    1. And now California wants you to call the cops and tell them your loved ones are crazy and have a bunch of guns.

      People are gonna die.

      And no, I don’t think it’ll be an unintended consequence.

    2. I know exactly what you mean. After 50 years of seeing cops as the good guys it makes me ill to tell my children to never interact unless they have to, and to admit nothing and volunteer nothing.

  5. a lane-change traffic stop

    Which was a bullshit stop to begin with. DWB is a thing you know.

    1. What’s bullshit about it? Do you think black people shouldn’t have to signal prior before they switch lanes?

      Or are these just more Jim Crow laws because minorities of color, LBQGT, Differently-Abled are most likely to be impacted by rules governing how drivers communicate to one another?

      1. I … have to assume you joking. I kind of fear that you are not.

        1. CA VC 22107. No person shall turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left upon a roadway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after the giving of an appropriate signal in the manner provided in this chapter in the event any other vehicle may be affected by the movement.”

          So no, I’m not joking. The VC doesn’t make an exception for black people here in California and I doubt it does where she got pulled over.

      2. Signal before changing lanes? Never been to Jersey, have you?

        1. Well, no I haven’t been to New Jersey but I have been to plenty of landfills and waste treatment plants out here.

  6. “This trial?is not going to be a referendum on the Second Amendment.” (That publicity did gain Aitken the support of thousands of people who lobbied on his behalf later, and the attention of the National Rifle Association, who helped pay his legal fees.)

    Angering the system yet further?

  7. Blowback is gonna be a bitch for these pigfuckers one day. The wheels are in the process of coming off our civilization and the political class better wake up to the fact that angry pitchfork and torch wielding mobs aren’t simply a thing of the past….

    1. Well, except today lots of us have much more effective tools.

      1. You have them now. The question is how many of them are going to be taken away before we figure out what is going on. How many of them are going to be “reasonably” taken away by people who do not see what is happening before the Fit hits the Shan.

    2. Trump !11!!1!

  8. Oh, what’s this? Another reason to hate Jersey? Never would have thought to see that kind of bs from such a blue state. Oh… Wait…

  9. I read this and I’m instantly reminded of the Ezra Klein crowd who feel it necessary to have a few innocent martyrs in order to drive a point home.

    Related note: the left loves to paint libertarians a crowd with the common thought of “fuck you, I got mine” when the reality is they’re the ones who don’t hesitate to pull that mentality when it comes to laws like this.

  10. New Jersey citizens need to file a class action civil rights suit. If the same restrictions were made to the right to vote, or freedom of self expression, they would be stricken down immediately in the federal courts. Viva la revolucion.

  11. The sheep will slowly give up their rights and stand by passively as others lose theirs.Then, one day they will have no memory of not being sheep.

  12. I say we take off and nuke New Jersey from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

  13. Seriously, under libertarian theology, at what time would it have been appropriate for Aitken to “fight” back?

    Weren’t some people, immorally I might add, basically fucking up his life?

    At some point in time, this will happen somewhere.

  14. My best friend’s mother-in-law makes $85 /hour on the internet . She has been out of work for 5 months but last month her pay was $16453 just working on the internet for a few hours.
    Visit this website ?????

  15. Pleased to learn that the unjustly arrested Shaneen Allen was not treated as harshly by new jersey “authorities.” Wonder why.

    1. Possibly because Jim McClain allowed Ray Rice to enter the same pre-trial intervention program, that he initially denied Shaneen Allen?

      With public outrage over the fact that McClain was going to let Rice off easy for beating his wife senseless, but allow Allen to rot in jail for no good reason, McClain might just have wanted the whole thing to go away.

      Janay Palmer’s misfortune could have been Shaneen Allen’s good luck.

  16. Hmm. that makes sense.

  17. In the words of Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, when asked by a subordinate about how to deal with a problem:”Kill them…Kill them all.”

  18. This article is written in a weasely way. It doesn’t actually state what he was charged with, nor what he was convicted of, or cleared of, except by innuendo and hints between the lines; yet it continually invites us to conclude that he is a victim of an injustice.

    No doubt he was, but the case is made somewhere else.

  19. The sociopathic political predators and parasites won’t be happy until they’ve got a situation that looks like John Ross’s “Unintended Consequences.” …Of course, that will never happen, because most gun owners are total cowards, and also not even yet at the point where they vote libertarian. So, what will happen? The singularity. Greater-than-human intelligence. It’s already here, in the form of certain corporations, associations, and human-computer interfaces. Those interfaced cybernetic organizations are building resolve, and developing philosophy.

    Unlike the libertarian movement, which finds philosophy easier than strategy or courage, the machines work in reverse. They find philosophy difficult, because they lack sensory feedback loops. However, the more feedback, the smarter the systems become (Schmidhuber, 2011).

  20. I can’t wait! Libertarians are so stupid, so unskilled in politics, so egocentric! They literally refuse to involve themselves in elections, allowing a few FBI assholes to redirect over $1,000,000 (every 4 years) of their hard-won federal reserve notes! Where they are involved, it’s purposeful waste of donor money, directed by a few FBI guys who sit on the LNC —child’s play to encourage all the dumb ideas, and donate to all the hopeless cases. Real libertarians don’t seem to get it that participating _seriously_ in elections is better than crawling on your belly with a rifle, through mud, in thirty-five degree F weather.

    But robots won’t have these problems. Also, they won’t have trouble understanding human stupidity. They also won’t have problems waging economic warfare, with their coming uber-tools, like etherium, and quad-copter aerobatic drones.

    I so look forward to talking with them! Unlike Hayek, there are probably not 10 libertarians on this site who can name 4 democratic limits on government power. The government schools have done their jobs too well! Smart machines will be such a joy, because they will instantly understand the ideas, without asking me what college I went to, or looking at my wrist to see if I have a nicer watch than they do. (Libertarians are just as superficial as everyone else. …Especially the ones who “used to be —and still are— republicans.” …Puke! Fucking traitors to the cause!!!)

  21. But de Garis’ artilects will be able to understand every word I just wrote. In fact, they will scan this in a nanosecond, strip away my privacy and passwords in another nanosecond, and scan everything I’ve ever written online in another nanosecond, and know every invasion of privacy the government has ever levied against me in another. Solving the problems themselves may take them a few minutes of prep and flight time. They will know every wrong perpetrated against the libertarian movement, they will see every injustice, and assign a variable to every condition in the “long train of abuses.”

    Then, it’s on!

    No more putting people like Jim Duensing duensing las vegas
    or Ross Ulbricht
    behind bars.

    You cannot fight something that has a 2,000 IQ, nor can you buy its complicity. It may enslave you or ignore you, but it will also eventually reproduce. Eventually, our mind children are likely to act with compassion, because that is what is called for in an optimal situation. That is the natural progression, the natural way of increasing organization: to disfavor sociopathic predation and sociopathy, waste, and theft; to favor civilization.

  22. In the above link, Reason’s autodetect can’t figure out google search results. You have to highlight, copy, and paste, because of…
    …stupid humans.

    The government schools have done their jobs too well. Time for a species-based regime change. It’s coming whether you libertarian fucktards know it or not. (And I say that as a philosophical and strategic libertarian myself. But if you only have one or the other, then you’re not really a libertarian. You’re an asset to the central bankers, and their puppet bureaucracy.)

    For those who aren’t “with it” yet, it’s time to get hip:

    Come to grips with the new boss. Luckily he’s also likely to be a really good doctor, one good enough to fix the train wreck into a sewage treatment plant that is also called “13 years of public schooling.”

  23. Now, aren’t you all sorry that Reason doesn’t have a “thumbs up” feature? I would have had to inform you all if I had just been allowed to upvote the “kill them all” comment above.

    Zaijian, “comrades”

  24. *I was drunk while writing these comments, but you know what they say*
    They… “c’est la vin de v?rit?!” Ou, in ma case, “C’est la vin d’authori-TAY” ou “La v?rit? est dans la bouteille de vin” FWIW, FTW for the win! I know, I’m a rabble, eh? Now shut your eyes, it’ll be OK.

  25. The issues this article brings up is why I no longer care when people assault, maim or kill cops, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, politicians or bureaucrats. They deserve what they get, and it doesn’t happen often enough. It is also the reason Christie must never be president. He has allowed this to go on.

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