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Court Rules Against Traveling Gun Owner

(CN) - A Utah man traveling through New Jersey with a handgun and ammo in his luggage violated state gun laws when he spent the night in a hotel with the gun readily accessible, the 3rd Circuit ruled. But the court recognized the gun owner's "difficult predicament" and offered advice on how other gun carriers could avoid a similar arrest.

Gregg C. Revell was put in a "difficult predicament through no fault of his own" when his flight to Pennsylvania was delayed and he was forced to spend the night in a Newark hotel, according to the federal appeals court in Philadelphia. Nonetheless, the three-judge panel ruled that Revell's arrest by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey didn't violate the Firearm Owners' Protections Act or the Fourth Amendment, as Revell argued.

The judges affirmed the district court's dismissal of Revell's lawsuit, which had been joined by the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs.

Before the overnight delay in New Jersey, Revell did what he was supposed to do when traveling with a firearm: He checked in with airport security officials and told them about the gun, which he said he needed for protection on a planned return road-trip to Utah. But after he missed his flight in Newark, Revell took his luggage with him to a hotel without telling authorities, according to the ruling.

The next morning, port authority officers arrested Revell for possession of a handgun without a permit after he informed them of the gun in his luggage.

Ravell spent three days in jail in New Jersey. Although the charges were dropped four months later, Ravell sued the port authority and the arresting officer for allegedly violating his rights. He argued that the Firearm Owners' Protection Act, which lets gun owners carry weapons across state lines in certain circumstances, entitled him to carry the firearm and ammunition in his luggage, despite New Jersey law.

The district court ruled that the officer had probable cause to arrest Revell, and that the Act did not cover his actions, however well-meaning.

The appellate panel agreed.

The Act "allows a person to transport a firearm and ammunition from one state through a second state to a third state, without regard to the second state's gun laws, provided that the traveler is licensed to carry a firearm in both the state of origin and the state of destination and that the firearm is not readily accessible during the transportation," Judge Kent Jordan wrote for the panel.

When Revell took his luggage to his hotel with him, he stepped outside the Act's protection, because the firearm and ammunition were "readily accessible," Jordan wrote.

But the judges were not without sympathy for Revell and offered advice on what gun owners might do in similar circumstances:

"Although we conclude that Revell fell outside [the Act's] protection during his stay in New Jersey, we recognize that he had been placed in a difficult predicament through no fault of his own," Jordan wrote. "However, [the law] clearly requires the traveler to part ways with his weapon and ammunition during travel; it does not address this type of interrupted journey or what the traveler is to do in this situation. Stranded gun owners like Revell have the option of going to law enforcement representatives at an airport or to airport personnel before they retrieve their luggage.

"The careful owner will do so and explain his situation, requesting that his firearm and ammunition be held for him overnight. While this no doubt adds to the inconvenience imposed upon the unfortunate traveler when his transportation plans go awry, it offers a reasonable means for a responsible gun owner to maintain the protection of [the Act] and prevent unexpected exposure to state and local gun regulations."

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