A New Jersey man, Carlo Bellario, has been arrested for illegally possessing a pellet gun. He was cast as a bodyguard in an independent film, Vendetta Games, being made by André Joseph. Bellario’s part was to shoot a prop gun at an oncoming car while driving in a car chase scene. This was being filmed in a neighborhood in Woodbridge. Residents called the police, reporting a man waving a gun around, and the police showed up to inform the filmmakers that they did not have a permit to film, but Bellario was the only person arrested.
Filming in New Jersey does require a permit, though the details about how much such a thing costs and how to go about getting permission isn’t clear. One thing that the state mandates is a million dollars in general liability insurance—two million in Newark—and more if pyrotechnic effects are to be used. Naturally, you can hire a company to help you through the process, but all of this suggests that the state only wants well financed studios doing filming within its borders.
Now filming in a residential area, for example, does make use of the public streets and can inconvenience the people who live there, so a permitting process makes sense, but since filmmaking falls under the protections of the First Amendment, that process ought to be simple and cheap.
But threatening someone with a five-year sentence for possessing a pellet gun, as the State of New Jersey is doing, is difficult to justify. Yes, we can cite the case of Tamir Rice, but that case doesn’t do a good job of supporting gun control. Should Rice have been in possession of a toy that looked like a real gun? Probably not, based on his behavior with the toy, but the confluence of unfortunate mistakes and bad choices does not demonstrate that pellet guns should be banned, nor does it offer support for the kind of laws imposed in New Jersey.
That state is infamous for the strictness of its gun laws, and my position on those laws ought to be clear, but the particular absurdity here is in insisting that things that aren’t guns are in fact guns. Under New Jersey law, a pellet gun is a firearm. It would be interesting to require laws to make sense in terms of grammar and diction, especially since many laws would be struck from the books on those grounds. To declare an airgun to be a firearm by diktat is no better than declaring the mathematical constant, pi, to be equal to three.
Are pellet guns capable of killing? Yes. But given the wide variety of such devices—from a spring-loaded plastic BB chucker to an air rifle that can take down heavy game—laws based on the appearance of the object are ham-handed.
A criminal who employs a toy gun as if it’s real in the commission of a robbery deserves to be punished. If he is shot by law enforcement or some other good citizen, he gets what he asked for. But while filming without having made arrangements with the neighborhood sounds like something that reasonably should earn the filmmakers a fine, forcing one of the actors to face charges that could result in five years behind bars proves to me that New Jersey’s laws are about being vindictive, rather than about being reasonable.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.