A single mother from Philadelphia could be facing up to three years in prison for what she and her attorney say was her effort to be honest with New Jersey authorities.
On Oct. 1, 2013, Shaneen Allen, 27, was pulled over in Atlantic County, New Jersey, for a routine traffic stop. When the officer approached her vehicle, the mother of two informed him that she had a handgun in the car and presented her concealed carry permit for Pennsylvania.
Allen quickly learned that her Pennsylvania gun license held no legal weight in New Jersey when instead of getting a traffic ticket, she was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and armor penetrating bullets.
"She voluntarily and honestly told the officer that she had her licensed handgun and gave him her license to carry," Allen's attorney Evan Nappen said.
"She’s a hard-working single mom. It’s really crazy that New Jersey is taking someone who’s got no criminal record and was doing nothing wrong — other than a minor traffic violation — and making it into a felony-level conviction with minimal mandatory time."
Nappen is a New Jersey-based criminal defense attorney whose practice focuses on gun law. He says his client did not know it was illegal to have her .380 Bersa Thunder handgun and the hollow-point bullets in it while driving through the state.
According to the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association, Pennsylvania concealed carry permits, like the one Allen has, are honored in 30 other states. New Jersey is not one of them.
Nappen says Allen purchased the gun through a licensed dealer roughly a week before her arrest because she feared for her safety. She had been robbed twice earlier that year.
According to Nappen, Allen's case is particularly unfortunate because she has two small children, and because an Atlantic County prosecutor denied Allen admission into a Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) program that would have allowed for a more lenient punishment, a period of probation and some community service.
"People believe that your gun license should be treated like your driver’s license. Right now there’s a national law being proposed that would mandate that all states recognize other states licenses," he said. "It’s still pending, but it's needed for people like this. I’m calling that bill Shaneen’s law."
University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Kermit Roosevelt said New Jersey authorities were well within their rights when they arrested Allen.
"I don't think the law is problematic. Each state has legal authority to regulate behavior within its borders. So, they're saying we have laws, and if you come here, you have to play by our rules," he said.
When it comes to firearms laws, New Jersey is considered to be one of the strictest states in the country.
Roosevelt agreed that a federal law might be a good solution for the future.
"I think, as a general matter, a federal law would be a good idea. When you get conflicts between the states about issues like this, Congress is supposed to weigh everyone's interests and find a reasonable resolution," he said. "In the meantime, it's still up to the states."
A court date for Allen's case has been set for Aug. 5. Nappen said he plans to request a dismissal of all charges.