Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Part 5: AG Guidelines for Gun Buyback in NJ


TRENTON -- The gun you see above is being checked for ammunition by a cop standing over a garbage can filled with sandbags. That part of the procedure coincides with the rules of gun exchanges. The box below is what a sweet old lady used to bring the gun to this location: the parking lot behind the Trenton Fire Headquarters on Perry Street.




Life really IS like a box of chocolates: You never know what you're going to get. In this case chocolate comes in the form of a Model 14 .38 Special. The sweet old lady walked up to the many Trenton cops standing next to the garbage can and handed one of them the box.




That surely doesn't look like the proper procedure for delivering a gun in accordance to Jersey law 2C:39-6g, which reads "Firearms to be voluntarily surrendered should be carried unloaded and contained in a closed and fastened case, gun box, securely tied package, or locked in the trunk of the automobile in which it is being transported."

Oh my god! Throw that old woman in jail! She had the audacity to wrap her .38 Special in a plastic bag and place it in an empty Russell Stover Assorted Chocolates box! How dare you, ma'am! Then she had the double-audacity to place that gun-filled chocolate box in a pretty pink handbag! Lock her up, Bocchini! She DESERVES to drink champagne made from the finest prison toilet water! She broke THE LAW!

So yeah, Mercer County Prosecutor Joe Bocchini said broke the law in the way he ran last week's "Food For Guns" exchange in Trenton. But he also said didn't break the law when you add in the AG Guidelines because the two work hand in hand in procedures such as these. The old lady didn't break the law, either. Here is the full copy of the Voluntary Firearms Surrender project guidelines by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office as they were written in 1994 and updated in 1998.

Gun Buy Back

Robert Hess wrote a lengthy piece full of outrage, which I ran unedited (it is Part II of this series). Hess laid out 5 instances in which Jersey residents can surrender guns in accordance to the law. He said everyone who returned a .38 Special or SKS (which isn't an AK-47) or a shotgun or a double-barreled Derringer or the 210 other guns did so illegally. He also said not a single person filled out the required voluntary surrender form (it's on page 18 of the above document) before surrendering their weapons. Hess is a literalist, the same way Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a Trenton native, is a literalist of the Constitution and delivers his decisions as such, the way many religious folks live their lives as literalists of the Bible or Torah or Koran. But Joe Bo said people like Hess need to calm down and stop being so ridiculous because the bottom line is that 214 guns were returned, not to mention the gun exchange was operated within the spirit of the AG Guidelines.

Peter Asseltine of the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General said Wednesday that Trenton's exchange "was legal and consistent with the Attorney General Guidelines." As far as the way people brought their guns to the TFD, Asseltine said transportation rules "should be complied with" -- but he wouldn't comment when I said a woman brought her .38 Special in a chocolate box and that the rest brought their guns to the TFD quote-unquote illegally. I can't say that everyone, or even a large majority of them, transported the guns in their trunks, but I do know that in the 45 minutes I stood there not a single person brought his or her gun in a gun box. A lot of the guns were in wrapped boxes, though.

Pretty much everything else that took place last week was in accordance with the law. The cops who accepted each gun were gun experts, in accordance to the AG Guidelines. They examined every gun properly, carefully, pointing them all barrel-down into the garbage can as they checked for ammo. Once they cleared the guns, an officer or member of the prosecutor's office walked each person across the street and into the fire department to fill out forms. Then those people got their gift cards. Everyone who returned a gun remained anonymous, although I wonder if surveillance cameras were running.

I'll give Hess this point, because I agree: We'll never know if any of those 214 guns -- even the old, busted ones -- were used to commit a crime, including murder. Assistant Prosecutor Angelo Onofri said you don't need a smoking gun to convict someone, but at the same time not every case has an abundance of evidence to convict other than a smoking gun. How do you justify that to someone whose son or daughter or mother or father was killed?

"That bothers me," Bocchini said. "But at the same time we removed 100s of other guns that may have been used in (future) homicides, burglaries and assaults."