By Radley Balko
Last October, Shaneen Allen, 27, was pulled over in Atlantic County, N.J. The officer who pulled her over says she made an unsafe lane change. During the stop, Allen informed the officer that she was a resident of Pennsylvania and had a conceal carry permit in her home state. She also had a handgun in her car. Had she been in Pennsylvania, having the gun in the car would have been perfectly legal. But Allen was pulled over in New Jersey, home to some of the strictest gun control laws in the United States.
Allen is a black single mother. She has two kids. She has no prior criminal record. Before her arrest, she worked as a phlebologist. After she was robbed two times in the span of about a year, she purchased the gun to protect herself and her family. There is zero evidence that Allen intended to use the gun for any other purpose. Yet Allen was arrested. She spent 40 days in jail before she was released on bail. She’s now facing a felony charge that, if convicted, would bring a three-year mandatory minimum prison term.
At first blush, much about Allen’s case seems counterintuitive. When we think about the gun control debate, we typically picture progressive pundits, politicians and activists arguing with white, conservative activists and politicians representing rural interests. When I first posted her story to Twitter, a couple of progressive responders predicted that because Allen is a black single mother, the gun rights community would all but ignore her. But that hasn’t been true at all. In fact, Allen has become something of a rallying point for gun rights activists. She is being represented by Evan Nappen, an attorney who specializes in gun cases and is a gun rights activist himself. Some conservatives have similarly accused progressives of ignoring Allen’s case because she stands accused of a gun crime. It’s certainly true that her case has received much more attention from the right than the left. But Nappen says he has seen plenty of support for her from racial justice groups, too.