Because of New York's strict gun laws, many otherwise law-abiding gun owners have been arrested and charged for traveling in the state with their guns or gun accessories. Reason TV's John Stossel sat down with several of those who'd been caught up in the system and the district attorney who prosecutes such cases in a video released Tuesday.
"Most every week New York jails someone who innocently travels with a gun legally licensed in their state," Stossel said in the video.
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Both Patricia Jordan and Avi Wolf were arrested for violating New York's strict gun laws while traveling from out of state. Though Jordan followed the Transportation Safety Administration's guidelines for flying with her gun, she was arrested for violating New York's laws when she and her teenage daughter tried to fly back from New York with her firearm.
"I declared my gun because I always do," Jordan told Stossel. "I fly in and out all over the U.S. with it."
When she flew out of New York City, however, she found the laws are significantly different from the rest of the country. The city requires everybody to obtain a special license simply to possess a handgun.
"The next thing I know they're getting ready to arrest me for having a gun," she said. "I have my permit, I'm doing everything I'm supposed to right."
Jordan was arrested and taken to jail on a charge that carries up to seven years in prison.
Avi Wolf faced similar charges when he tried to fly back home from New York City with an empty gun magazine that turned out to be legal in his home state of Georgia but not in New York. "Somebody could've done more damage to an individual with a fork from McDonald's than with that," Wolf told Stossel. "I'm telling them ‘just a notification, I have a magazine here. It's empty, there's no bullets, there's no gun powder. I called TSA before doing it and this is what they told me to do, to declare it.'"
Despite doing what the TSA had told him to do, he was arrested.
"The next thing I know they pulled me over to the side and they’re all like ‘do you know what you have in your bag?'" Wolf said. "I'm like ‘I know what I have in my bag. I told you what I have in my bag.' Fast forward about an hour, four Port Authority police officers are there, the Chief of LaGuardia airport is there. I mean, they thought they found somebody trying to do a 9/11 repeat."
Wolf and Jordan were sent to jail for a day before being released. However, they both faced a felony charge that involved serious jail time, which Jordan said caused her a great deal of stress.
"I could barely function," Jordan said. "I had to get on, like, anxiety medicine. I was throwing up every day."
Wolf and Jordan were eventually allowed to plead to a lesser crime of public disorder but, in addition to the time they spent in jail, the ordeals cost both around $15,000. Stossel interviewed Jack Ryan, Queens chief assistant attorney general who handles New York City airport gun crimes, on why the city pursues cases like these.
"Why does New York City do this to people? They need to spend a day in jail?" Stossel asked Ryan.
"We get them through the system as fast as we can," Ryan said. "We're not going to apologize for enforcing our gun laws. We do enforce them fairly, and humanely, and as compassionately as we can."
Ryan said he is enforcing the laws that the legislature creates.
"You're a sadistic bully locking these people up," Stossel told Ryan. "These aren't threats."
"We know they're not threats after we check them out," Ryan responded. "We do not know who they are when we first talk to them."
Stossel didn't buy Ryan's argument and said the prosecutions were more about sending a political message.
"Give me a break," Stossel said. "Prosecutors have discretion. They could be reasonable with these poor people who had no idea that they violated New York's strange laws but New York politicians don't want you to have a gun so they will put you in jail to send everyone a message."