We’ve been meaning to tell the gun-rights nightmare story of Brian Aitken for some time. Finally, our desire to tell this story has been overcome by events, for Brian has told the story himself.
Three years ago this month, thanks mostly to poorly written laws and a vindictive judge, I turned 27 while incarcerated in Mid-State Correctional Facility in Fort Dix, New Jersey.
I got sentenced to seven years in prison for legally owning guns. I had purchased them in Colorado and brought them with me to New Jersey, home to some of the harshest gun laws in the country, where I moved to be closer to my young son. I complied with all of the regulations, but one day the police searched my car and charged me with unlawful possession of a weapon—even though my handguns were locked, unloaded, and in my trunk. The court said it was on me to prove that I wasn’t breaking any laws, which obviously was very difficult. When Reason magazine covered my case, it wrote, “Even the jurors who convicted him seem to have been looking for a reason to acquit him. But the judge gave them little choice.”
Governor Christie should have pardoned Aitken and worked to overturn the law — instead, in light of his Presidential ambitions, he tried to split the baby and commuted Aitken’s sentence to try to please pro-gun primary voters, while refusing to pardon Aitken and, as Brian recounts, doubling down on the law that criminalizes mere gun possession in the Superfund State.
The problem for Christie is that, while he plans to run as a liberal Republican, on gun rights he’s indistinguishable from President Obama or Senator Schumer, to name two people no gun owner would count as allies. He can’t win the nomination with just the liberal Northeast and the states that allow his fellow liberals to cross over from the Democrats in the primaries. So that’s why you get the baby-split between his own beliefs, which would have left Aitken in crowbar motel, and his ambitions, which makes him utter the telltale rosary of a closet anti: “I support the Second Amendment, but…”
Only in New Jersey do the Mafiosi walk free, and violent criminals who use their guns are seldom if ever charged under the Graves Act, while a Brian Aitken gets, not just prison, but the punishments that continue even after Christie’s grudging commutation:
The only real value I can add is to tell them what it feels like to get caught in a patchwork of draconian gun laws. I decide to focus on the consequences I’ve faced as a convicted felon who has broken no laws.
I start with how a family court judge decided I wasn’t a fit parent and couldn’t see my son because of all of the (nonviolent and victimless) charges against me. I go on to explain how my record included so many weapons offenses, all for that one incident, that my fellow inmates thought I must have been a big-time arms trafficker. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked to “hook up” somebody “on the outside.” The Bloods who wanted my business didn’t like it when I told them they could go to my supplier, Bass Pro Shops, and get whatever they wanted so long as they could pass all the FBI and CBI background checks I did.
Did I mention how the judge refused to let the jury to consider the laws in my case? Did I remember to tell them how the jury asked three times what the exemptions to the law were that would have let me walk? Did I mention how I am not allowed to vote, or own firearms, or that my passport was revoked?
I wish I wasn’t able to tell my story; I wish I didn’t have a story to tell. I just want to be in New York with my dogs and my fiancée. I just want to be annoyed that my son is jumping up and down on my bed and keeping me from sleeping in. I just want my life back.
“No life for you,” says Chris Christie and his antigun Greek chorus of bipartisan liberals. As long as there is no reciprocity, as long as anticonstitutional jurisdictions like New Jersey can do what they did to Brian AItken, as long as people take Chris Christie for Presidential material, as long as Brian Aitken’s freedom is not secure, your freedom and mine are not secure.
Reason magazine has written about Brian, not once, but often. Some are blog entries, some are longer-form essays.
- 15 Nov 10: Brian Aitken’s Mistake: A New Jersey man gets seven years for being a responsible gun owner.
- 10 Dec 10: PJTV on the Brian Aitken Case. “Aitken began serving a seven year prison sentence … even though he … made a concerted effort to comply…”
- 20 Dec 10: Chris Christie Commutes Brian Aitken’s Sentence. To time served, but refuses to pardon him.
- 01 Mar 11: Brian Aitken’s Mistake: An outrageous gun prosecution in New Jersey. Note that despite the similar title (and same writer), this is entirely different from the 15 Nov 10 article. This article has quite a bit more about the judge’s misconduct in this case.
One small thing in Governor Christie favor: the Andrei Vyshinski of New Jersey, Judge James Morley, needed a reappointment to stay on the bench, and Christie withheld it. But before we make with the hosannas, it was over Morley’s misconduct in other cases.
Clausewitz had it wrong. Sometimes it’s politics that’s the continuation of war by other means.