Legal Guns en Route to New York Are Cause for Arrest Before Flight Home

A subset of visitors to New York City looks, on the surface, just like the rest. Some are high profile, like the boxer this year, and the football player, and the Tea Party leader from California. They are joined by the anonymous: the military wife from Minnesota, and the hazardous waste expert. There was a minister, and a surgeon, and someone in pest control.

What sets them apart is what each brings along on a visit to the city. A handgun. The guns are legally owned, with the home state permits all in order. The visitors have locked the gun in a box and checked it at the local airport, as they were told to do by the airline. But for these visitors, the trip to New York will almost certainly end in handcuffs and felony weapons charges, and their flights home will leave without them.

“They’re so used to carrying it,” said Dennis B. Coppin, a lawyer who has represented defendants in airport gun arrests. He described clients who don’t realize that the laws of the state they are leaving do not apply in the state where they are headed. They had tried to do the right thing.

“They contact the airline and say, ‘I want to bring my gun with me. How do I do this?’ ” said Martin D. Kane, a criminal defense lawyer in Queens. The travelers are told that the gun must be packed, unloaded, into a preapproved lockbox.

The visitor arrives in New York and retrieves the gun. No problem there. They see the city, whether armed or with the gun locked away at the hotel, without incident.

Trouble arrives upon their return to La Guardia Airport orKennedy Airport to fly home. The visitors repeat the procedure practiced at their home airport, presenting the firearm to a gate agent to be checked. Only this time, the gate agent calls police officers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the airports. The gun owners are then placed under arrest.

There were 42 arrests for gun possession in the two airports in 2012, according to the Queens district attorney’s office. Some charges of criminal possession of a weapon bring minimum sentences of three and a half years in prison. Like many arrested in New York, the gun owners can wait a day or more behind bars for a hearing before a judge.

“They’re locked up the same as anybody else on any other felony charge,” Mr. Kane said. “People’s lives are really, really disrupted, as you can imagine.” Mr. Kane has represented so many of these tourists that he has posted a greeting to prospective new clients on his Web site.

“When you came to the airport to return home and followed the same approved procedure, all hell broke loose,” he writes. “You were arrested, spent several hours or overnight in custody, appeared before a judge where the D.A. asked for humongous bail, and you were finally released and told to come back with a lawyer. Now you’re scared and fighting mad at the same time. What’s going on?”

With the exception of high-profile defendants, most of those arrested remain anonymous after they make a plea deal, as they often do, and their records are sealed. But a defendant in a similar case, Bobby Glen Jackson, provided the fish-out-of-water gun owners’ point of view. He said he did not think twice about bringing his pistol to New York City from North Carolina in April. When he went to visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and realized guns were forbidden, he hid his under a chair cushion in a hotel lobby, prompting a huge police response and his arrest.

“If I knew that, I never would have gone up there with a handgun. I don’t disrespect other people’s laws,” he said later. “Down South, anybody can carry a firearm anytime they want to,” he said. “I’m just an old country boy. I’ve always had guns.”

On March 28, Robert Guerrero, a welterweight boxer, approached a Delta agent at Kennedy shortly before 7 a.m. and declared he had a firearm in his luggage that he wanted to check, a .40-caliber handgun, which he was bringing to Las Vegas to shoot target practice on a television show. He was arrested.

“I hope that Mr. Guerrero fights better than he thinks,” said the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, later that day.

A month earlier, a defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Da’Quan Bowers, was arrested at LaGuardia after trying to check his own handgun. And in 2011, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, a coalition of Tea Party groups, was arrested after presenting his lockbox containing his Glock pistol to an airline agent at La Guardia. In all three cases, the guns were legally owned.

The military wife arrested in March, Beth Arneson Ferrizzi, had flown with her 6-year-old daughter from Minnesota to La Guardia, where they were to reunite with her husband, who had been stationed overseas. Her husband had asked her to bring the gun along for a visit to the rough Philadelphia neighborhood where he was raised.

After their visit, she tried checking the gun in at La Guardia for the return flight home on March 26 and was arrested.

“I do my best to set a good example for my daughter and to be a law-abiding citizen,” she wrote on a blog. “I believe that I am being overcharged for my lack of knowledge. I was misinformed.”

Delta and other airlines, in their online instructions regarding handguns, suggest travelers review the laws of the state they are visiting before bringing a gun.

“It’s like a disclaimer,” Mr. Kane said.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Jack Ryan said visitors should know better. “New York gun laws are not exactly a secret,” he said. “If you were on Mars and you wanted to know who had strict gun laws, I think most people would know they’re pretty strict.” Nonetheless, there is lenience in these sorts of cases.

In a vast majority of cases like the ones described above, the defendant is allowed to plead guilty to a far lesser charge, a violation, and pay a fine. Mr. Bowers, the football player, paid less than $400 in fines, according to USA Today, and his case was later sealed. Mr. Guerrero, the boxer, was ordered to serve 50 hours of community service and was fined $250.

In a statement that day, he said, “Lesson learned.”

There is one thing the defendants do not get back: their guns. Those are confiscated and destroyed.


Posted on June 12, 2013, in Government, Guns/NRA, New York, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Confiscated and destroyed…..

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