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Even soldier working under terrorist threats can’t get gun carry permit in NJ

Lt. Col. Terry Russell (Credit: U.S. Army)
Lt. Col. Terry Russell (Credit: U.S. Army)

When it comes to firearms, Lt. Col. Terry S. Russell has more knowledge and training than most people in New Jersey. The 27-year U.S. Army soldier holds a senior position at the Picatinny Arsenal in Wharton.

But neither his expertise — nor the fact that he works at a military site that has been under threat of terrorist attacks — were enough for the state to grant him a concealed-carry permit.

In denying his application for a concealed-carry permit, Oceanport Police Chief Daniel W. Barcus said Russell was unable to demonstrate “justifiable need” because there had been no specific attacks or threats made directly on him.

To legally carry concealed firearms in New Jersey, residents have to apply to their local police for a permit demonstrating such a need. But critics of the state’s strict gun laws say this results in very few people other than acting and retired law enforcement officials getting approval for such permits.

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Last month, state acting Attorney General Robert Lougy loosened the restrictions in order to allow permits for residents who can prove “serious threats” against them. This and other changes came after a 39-year-old Camden County woman was stabbed to death in her driveway by her ex-boyfriend. Carol Bowne had been awaiting on approval for a gun permit. 

After police Russell’s application, he appealed to Superior Court. Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni stood by the denial, saying in a Jan. 29, 2015, letter to Judge Joseph Oxley that the soldier had failed to demonstrate “justifiable need” to have a carry permit.

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“None of these threats appear to specifically relate to this applicant — he is in no different position than any other person who is assigned to that facility.”

Gramiccioni also contends that if Russell is granted a concealed-carry permit, other employees of Picatinny would have to be issued permits as well.

On April 5, the judge in the case agreed with the prosecutor, issuing an order that “thanks” Russell “for his service” but denies Russell’s appeal.

Russell, who serves as the product manager for the Army’s Individual Weapons and Small Arms program, applied for a concealed carry permit last May, according to the conservative National Review, which was first to report on this case. In his letter of need, which is required to obtain the permit, the Oceanport resident lists his extensive knowledge of firearms and gun safety.

“I have been fully trained and qualified, at a minimum annually, to skillfully employ handguns and rifles,” Russell explains.

In addition, he’s been “vetted through the Department of Defense security office every five years for the past 25 years” to have Top Secret Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance.” An attachment to his application shows that he already holds a concealed carry permit in Texas.

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But Russell’s desire to have a concealed carry permit in New Jersey goes beyond the desire to carry a firearm on his person between his home and the Picatinny arsenal, according to his application. His letter of need references threats against the military and a desire to protect himself and his family. His application states that “service members, including family members, have been specifically targeted by radical extremists.”

In support of his application, Russell  specifically mentions a threat that was verified by the U.S. military against members of the military and their families. He also says the Picatinny Arsenal’s web page had been hacked in an attempt to “obtain personal military member and family information” and refers to a “full evacuation of the arsenal due to “the discovery of a dry run attempt to drive a Vehicle Borne Improved Explosive Device onto Post.”

In a letter of appeal, Russell’s attorney, Evan F. Nappen, argues not only that denial of a concealed-carry permit is a violation of his Second Amendment rights, but that he requires the permit to protect himself physically as well as “the military intelligence he possesses.”

“Failure to issue Lt. Col. Russell a carry permit puts national security at risk,” the attorney stated.

Under state law, members of the military are exempt regarding the possession of handguns, “but not at all times.” The attorney states that if Russell is caught carrying a gun while not actually on duty, he is not protected against unlawful possession.

Russell’s attorney argues, however, that because the soldier is in charge of everything from research and development of weapons as well as procurement of firearms for the military, his case is “specially situated.”

Russell and his attorney could not be reached for comment.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been corrected to say that Carol Bowne was fatally stabbed, not shot.

Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at toniann.antonelli@townsquaremedia.com, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.

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