72-Year-Old Former Schoolteacher Faces 10 Years in Prison for Possessing 18th Century Antique Pistol

New Jersey's draconian gun laws and mandatory minimum sentences converge.


||| flintock/flickr

Gordon Van Gilder is a retired New Jersey school teacher and collector of 18th century memorabilia. That innocuous hobby could land the 72-year-old behind bars for the rest of his life.

Van Gilder owns an unloaded antique 225-year-old flintlock pistol, the possession of which carries a potential 10-year prison sentence and mandatory minimum sentence of three to five-and-a-half years with no chance for parole.

When a Cumberland County sheriff's deputy pulled over Van Gilder last November for a minor traffic violation, Van Gilder—after consenting to a search—volunteered the information that the unloaded pistol was in his glove box. The next morning, according to Van Gilder's account in a video posted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), four officers showed up at his home with a warrant for his arrest.

New Jersey's strict gun laws explicitly include antique firearms, despite the fact that federal laws exempt them from most gun control regulations.

"I like to mind my own business and not bother anybody, but I have no choice here," Van Gilder said in the NRA video. "I've been thrown to the lions, so I'm going to fight back. I want these people to know they're messing with the wrong guy, because I know my rights and they're not going to get away with this."

The case is reminiscent of last summer's Shaneen Allen case, in which a Philadelphia resident and single mother of two crossed state lines and, after getting pulled over for an "unsafe lane change," voluntarily alerted a New Jersey police officer that she had a gun in her possession. She had purchased the weapon to protect her family as they lived in a bad neighborhood.

Because New Jersey does not recognize concealed carry permits issued in Pennsylvania, Allen faced three to ten years in prison. Eventually she was admitted to a pre-trial intervention program to spare her from jail time. Allen was represented by the same attorney, Evan Nappen, who is now representing Van Gilder.

In the event Van Gilder takes a plea agreement to avoid jail time, though, the felony conviction that comes with such a plea would likely jeopardize the teacher's pension Van Gilder spent 34 years accruing, according to The Washington Times.

Regardless of the outcome, Van Gilder said he's already made plans to move out of the Garden State as soon as the case wraps up.

A video report from NRA News can be viewed here: