The Judge Napolitano interviews Brian Aitken/Will Christie pardon him? (CATO)

didn't like the Judge's stance on the Portland somali bomber but he's right 99% of the time...

Gun advocates ask if Christie's a straight shooter
Published: Tuesday, November 30, 2010, 1:27 AM Updated: Tuesday, November 30, 2010, 1:43 PM

A lot of pundits in the past have made comments on our governor’s size. Let me be the first to compare Chris Christie to a continent.

In his shift to the right over the years, Christie has moved at a pace that is positively tectonic. Christie started out in politics as a typical Northeastern liberal. He has, over the years, engaged in a sort of continental drift. Now, he’s a big hit in the Heartland.

But those who suspect a certain insincerity on his part keep coming up with embarrassing items from his past. One such item now knocking around the internet is a 1995 campaign mailer in which Christie attacked his opponents in a race for the Republican nomination for state Assembly.

"Tony Bucco and Mike Carroll want to repeal the ban on assault weapons," it read. Below it was a photo of an AK-47. But gun enthusiasts point out that the law also banned certain .22 caliber rifles, weapons useless for anything other than assaulting a soda bottle.

Shooters are sensitive to that sort of thing. Bucco and Carroll ended up in the Legislature, where they serve to this day.

As for Christie, he seems to have learned a lesson from that loss. By the time he ran for governor last year, he had adopted the position that politicians traditionally adopt when they really, really wish the gun issue would just go away: He said he wouldn’t seek new laws, but would enforce current laws.

That’s not good enough for gun lovers, and the case of Brian Aitken shows why. Aitken, a media consultant in his mid-20s, was a normal, law-abiding citizen until January of last year. That’s when he moved back to his native New Jersey from Colorado, where he had lived for several years.

He brought along three handguns he had legally purchased there, thoughtfully calling ahead to the New Jersey State Police to determine how to legally transport the guns to the Garden State — locked in the trunk of his car and unloaded.

But when police found them there after a minor family dispute at his mother’s house in Burlington County, Aitken faced felony charges.

Aitken didn’t help his case when he went on former New Jersey judge and Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano’s "Freedom Watch" TV show in August 2009. He told Napolitano how he felt he was being railroaded under then-Gov. Jon Corzine’s campaign to crack down on guns. When Aitken later went on trial, the judge admonished him for trying the case in the media. He was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in state prison, where he sits today.

The case shows the flaws in New Jersey current gun laws, said Carroll, a lawyer from Morristown who still holds that Assembly seat he won in that long-ago race against Christie.

"He was almost certainly guilty of what he is accused of doing," said Carroll of Aitken. "Technically speaking, under New Jersey law, you can’t even stop for coffee if you’re transporting guns."

Visiting his mother’s house with guns in the trunk exposed Aitken to the same sentence he would have faced if he’d stuck up a 7-Eleven.

"Assume for the moment he’s guilty. So what?" said Carroll. Treat it like failure to get your dog licensed."

Meanwhile, Napolitano, who has a home in Sussex County, told me yesterday the case represents an opportunity to take advantage of two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to attack the constitutionality of New Jersey’s gun laws.

"Heller and McDonald have changed the whole world," said Napolitano, citing decisions in two cases in which the court affirmed an individual right to possess firearms. "If you can have a gun in your home, then you have to be able to get the gun to your home."

Aitken is quickly becoming the poster boy for the effort to loosen some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. So if our governor’s going to keep carving out a role as a right-winger, Christie will have to confront New Jersey’s liberal laws on gun control.

"If I were Chris, I’d say ‘Unless you can show me why I shouldn’t pardon this guy in 24 hours, I’m gonna do it,’" Carroll said.

Has Christie moved that far right? Continents drift slowly, but occasionally that drift results in an earthquake.

MORE ON THE CASE: Check this article in Reason Magazine for more on the case. Also on Dec. 12 there will be a rally in Toms River to free Brian Aitken. Also check this post on the Volokh blog about a lawsuit in Illinois that would help gun owners who were in a situation similar to that in which Aitken found himself.


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Will Governor Christie Pardon Brian Aitken?

Posted by David Rittgers

Brian Aitken, a finance student at NYU and economic scholar at the Foundation of Economic Education, ran afoul of New Jersey’s draconian gun laws when he was arrested while transporting two handguns unloaded and locked in the trunk of his car.

After separating from his wife in 2008, Aitken moved from Colorado to his native home of New Jersey the end of that year, to be closer to his son.

Shortly thereafter, in January 2009, Aitken – according to one account – “became distraught, muttered something to his mother, and left his parents’ home in Mount Laurel, NJ,” after his ex-wife canceled a visit with their son.

At that point, his mother, who is a trained social worker, called the police out of concern. That’s when things went downhill for Aitken. After the police caught up with him, they determined he wasn’t a threat to his or anyone else’s safety, but proceeded to search his car anyway. Upon finding the guns, police pressed weapons charges against Aitken.

New Jersey law makes it nearly impossible to get a concealed carry license, and you can’t otherwise take a gun out of your home unless it is in connection with several enumerated exceptions. Moving from one residence to another is one of the exceptions. Aitken was in the process of moving; it took police over two hours to remove all of his possessions from the car before they found the two guns in the trunk.

The jury never heard about the moving exception, virtually guaranteeing Brian’s conviction.

Yet Judge Morley wouldn’t allow Aitken to claim the exemption for transporting guns between residences. He wouldn’t even let the jury know about it. During deliberations, the jurors asked three times about exceptions to the law, which suggests they weren’t comfortable convicting Aitken. Morley refused to answer them all three times. Gilbert and Nappen, Aitken’s lawyers, say he also should have been protected by a federal law that forbids states from prosecuting gun owners who are transporting guns between residences. Morley would not let Aitken cite that provision either.

Brian Aitken is currently serving seven years in a state prison. Now a website and Facebook page are asking Governor Chris Christie to pardon Aitken.

Gov. Christie has proven a sensible leader and shown political courage in taking on his state’s debt-ridden “Situation.” Here’s hoping that Christie, a former prosecutor, will see that Aitken’s continued imprisonment does nothing to serve the interests of justice.


New Jersey Gun Case Exposes 'Patchwork' of State Laws, Experts Say

By Joshua Rhett Miller

Published December 02, 2010


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Brian Aitken, 27, seen here in an undated photograph, was sentenced to seven years in prison for guns his attorney and father claim were owned legally. Some experts told the entrepreneur was a victim of the country's "patchwork" of gun laws.

Brian Aitken, 27, seen here in an undated photograph, was sentenced to seven years in prison for guns his attorney and father claim were owned legally. Some experts told the entrepreneur was a victim of the country's "patchwork" of gun laws.

The case of a New Jersey man who is serving seven years in prison for possessing two locked and unloaded handguns he purchased legally in Colorado is a perfect example of how a law-abiding citizen can unwittingly become a criminal due to vastly differing gun laws among the states, gun rights experts say.

Brian Aitken, a 27-year-old entrepreneur and media consultant with no prior criminal record, now spends his days "bored and depressed" behind bars at New Jersey's Mid-State Correctional Facility, his father, Larry Aitken, of Mount Laurel, N.J., says.

Brian was trying to get his life back on track two years ago when he moved back to New Jersey from Colorado to be closer to his young son and estranged wife. But on Jan. 2, 2009, his mood darkened when his planned visit with his son was canceled at the last minute. His mother, concerned for his safety, called the police, and when the police located him, they searched his car and found two locked and unloaded handguns in the trunk.

Aitken had purchased the guns legally in Colorado, and he passed an FBI background check when he bought them, his father said. And he said Brian also contacted New Jersey State Police before moving back back home to discuss how to properly transport his weapons. But despite those good-faith efforts, he said, Brian was convicted on weapons charges and sent to prison in August.

"I don't think there are words yet invented that could characterize the -- I guess anger would be one word, but it's a lot deeper than anger," Larry Aitken told on Wednesday. "Whatever the word is that's a combination of anger, shock, disbelief, horror and a desire to expose all of this -- that's the word.

"This can't happen. I won't let this happen to my son."

Brian's relatives and his lawyer, Evan Nappen, believe he had a legal exemption to have the handguns in his car because they say he was in the process of moving from his parents' home in Mount Laurel to Hoboken when the guns were found. A formal appeal and clemency petition have been filed with the office of Gov. Chris Christie, and a "Free Brian Aitken" Facebook group has garnered roughly 7,000 supporters. A brief on his appeal is due on Dec. 30, officials told

Nappen claims the moving exemption issue was raised both during the trial and in a pretrial motion to have the entire case dismissed, but he said the jury was never given the exemption statute because then-Superior Court Judge James Morley refused to provide it to them.

Morley, for his part, told on Wednesday that his recollection of the trial record did "not establish" that [Aitken] was in the process of moving. He declined further comment.

In an email to, Joel Bewley, a spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, said "no evidence" was presented during the trial to support Aitken's claim that he was moving at the time of his arrest. And despite an appearance on's "Strategy Room" in August 2009 to discuss his case, Aitken did not testify at his trial.

"However, his roommate testified that they had been sharing the Hoboken apartment since June 2008, and that he had seen the guns at the apartment in September 2008," Bewley wrote. "[Aitken's] mother testified that he had been living in Hoboken and working in New York City since June 2008. This incident occurred in January 2009."

Regarding Aitken's interview on the case, Bewley wrote: "While we fully recognize the defendant has a right not to testify, it is difficult to understand why he would grant an interview on national television yet choose not to explain his actions to a jury when his liberty was at stake."

Nappen, meanwhile, says Aitken's case "absolutely" shows how states' differing gun laws can put well-intentioned gun owners at risk.

"There's a wide patchwork of gun laws between various jurisdictions, and in some states, it can differ from a local town that passes an ordinance to another town," said Nappen, who also cited New Jersey's mandatory minimum sentences for weapons charges. "That's why it's so Draconian in its application and how you end up with a Brian Aitken situation."

According to a 2009 rating system by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, New Jersey is one of six states with the most restrictive gun laws in the U.S.. The others are California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland and New York.

Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Utah have the least restrictive gun laws, according to the rating system.

In New Jersey, a person must have a purchaser's permit and a carry permit to have a handgun in his or her car, neither of which Aitken had at the time of his arrest. But in Colorado, where he purchased the handguns, all he needed was a permit to carry concealed weapons; neither a purchaser's permit nor a license was required. Other states, including Florida and Texas, do not require purchaser's permits but mandate that gun owners obtain licenses to carry handguns openly.

According to the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action, out-of-state permits in New Jersey are technically available for non-residents, but they are rarely granted. A total of 15 states, including Arizona, Idaho and Kansas, recognize New Jersey permits, while New Jersey itself does not recognize licenses from other states.

Aitken is not the most recent gun-carrier to learn the hard way that gun permits are typically not transferrable to other states.

James High, 71, of Duluth, Ga., was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon on Oct. 29 when an officer found a gun on the front seat of his car in Madison, N.J., according to the Madison Eagle. High had been locked out of his car and sought assistance from a police officer, who found the handgun, which was properly licensed in Georgia. High was released after posting bail, pending a mandatory court appearance, the newspaper reported.

And just last week in Boyton Beach, Fla., a 49-year-old man was charged with two counts of carrying a concealed firearm and three counts of carrying a prohibited weapon after he was spotted carrying a holstered .40-caliber Glock handgun with a 30-round magazine at a Walmart store. The gun's owner, Christopher Scott, said he had a valid permit in Arizona and thought it was reciprocal in Florida, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Rachel Parsons, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, said those cases collectively highlight the need for gun owners to pay close attention to the varying laws across the country.

"When you have a patchwork of gun laws within the country, and when you're crossing state lines, it gets very confusing and it makes it nearly impossible to comply," Parsons told "We do hear about these cases and that's why the NRA has a civil rights defense fund for people who are charged but are not criminals."

"The burden of the law should be on true criminals," Parsons said, "and not on individuals who are trying to follow the law, especially in times when our justice system is overtaxed."

Read more:


New Jersey Man Sentenced to 7 Years in Prison for Legally Owned Firearms
Thursday, December 2nd, 2010 at 9:16 am

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