Cumberland County's recent arrest of a retired English teacher is again drawing attention to South Jersey in enforcement of the state’s gun laws.
Gordon VanGilder, 72, of Millville, was arrested Nov. 19 and charged with unlawful possession of a weapon.
VanGilder’s weapon was a 300-year-old flintlock pistol that was in the glove compartment of a car in which VanGilder was a passenger, said his attorney, Evan Nappen. VanGilder told the members of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office who initiated the stop that the gun, part of VanGilder’s collection of materials from the 18th century, was in the car, Nappen said.
Nappen said VanGilder was allowed to return to his Maurice River Township home, where authorities showed up the next day to charge him with the felony offense because New Jersey law treats antique weapons the same as modern firearms.
Jim McClain is a career prosecutor. But this year he learned the importance of defense.
VanGilder now faces up to 10 years in state prison and possible problems with the pension he earned after working more than three decades in public schools, Nappen said.
“We are looking at some of the strictest, harshest, draconian gun laws” in the country, Nappen said.
Other people are looking, too.
VanGilder is getting calls of support from students he has not seen in decades, Nappen said. People have donated more than $20,000 to VanGilder’s online effort to raise money for his legal fees. The National Rifle Association produced and distributed a video involving VanGilder’s arrest.
And, two state legislators are calling for leniency in VanGilder’s case. VanGilder’s arrest and the chance that he might have to serve prison time “doesn’t get more ludicrous than this,” according to a statement issued by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Assemblyman Robert Andrzejczak, both D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic.
The Philadelphia mother whose case brought national attention to New Jersey’s gun laws was a…
“We really have to handle gun possession cases with common sense rather than with knee-jerk responses,” the statement reads. “We urge the Cumberland County authorities to take a close look at this case and to provide a reasonable penalty for this infraction that does not include prison time. We have to review our laws when it comes to sentencing in these types of very narrow instances, but it is our hope that we do not even get to that point in this case.”
The Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office is reviewing the VanGilder case. Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McCrae declined comment.
In their statement, Van Drew and Andrzejczak made note of another of Nappen’s clients, Philadelphia resident Shaneen Allen.
Allen was driving to Atlantic City on Oct. 1, 2013, when she was pulled over on the Atlantic City Expressway in Hamilton Township. Allen was arrested after telling the state trooper she had her gun and a concealed carry permit with her. Allen said she did not know about the law in New Jersey, where average citizens are not allowed to carry concealed weapons, even if they are legally registered.
Allen wound up spending 46 days in jail after her arrest. Atlantic County Prosecutor James McClain denied Allen entry in a pretrial intervention program, citing a state law that increases gun charge penalties. McClain said cases concerning out-of-state legal gun owners coming into New Jersey illegally are so common that, if the Legislature had intended an exemption, it would have allow for one.
McClain changed his stance after state Attorney General John Hoffman clarified an earlier directive that increased the scope of the legislation. Hoffman said pretrial intervention would be appropriate in most of those cases.
Allen’s case and New Jersey’s gun laws wound up drawing national attention.
According to Cumberland County authorities, the car in which VanGilder was riding was pulled over on Second Street in Millville. A search of the car resulted in the driver, Adam Puttergill, 21, of Maurice River Township, being charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance, authorities said.
VanGilder was not charged with anything but unlawful possession of a weapon.
Nappen said the flintlock pistol was not loaded. VanGilder has no ammunition for the pistol because it would be “foolhardy” to shoot a weapon that old, Nappen said.
VanGilder has no criminal record, and there are no aggravating circumstances surrounding the incident, Nappen said.
“He is a learned man who has a debilitating disease,” said Nappen, adding VanGilder suffers from arthritis. “He is a man of principal, and he is very much dedicated to fighting for what’s right.
“These things are a stressful burden when you are 72,” he said. “You don’t need this stuff in retirement.”
VanGilder could not be reached for comment.
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