Diane Watkins, shown at a rally for teacher tenure in July. (Meaghan McDermott/Rochester Democrat & Chronicle)
Diane Watkins, a long time teacher and pistol permit holder who was arrested while chaperoning a school trip to New York City, now faces possible jail time and disciplinary actions.
The educator was escorting an excursion to Gotham by ten Rochester STEM High School students, when she was taken into custody at the entrance to the Statue of Liberty on May 31 after security personnel found a .38 caliber revolver in her purse. While other teachers continued the trip with the students, Watkins was booked on charges of second degree criminal possession of a weapon, a felony that carries up to 15 years in prison.
According to WHEC Rochester, the 46-year-old teacher and Army veteran has held a pistol permit from Monroe County, where she lives, and was unaware the license was not honored in the city, still in the same state.
When Rochester School District officials discovered the charges nearly two months later, administrators sent a letter to parents of students in the city. In the letter, which was obtained by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, the district maintains that students were not in danger and Watkins’ supervisors were unaware of the charges for some time.
“Principal Denaro has called all of the parents of students who attended this field trip,” reads an Aug. 1 letter sent by Bolen Vagas, Rochester’s superintendent of schools. “We have instructed Ms. Watkins not to contact students over the summer, as the District investigates this matter internally. She will not be returning to STEM High School when school resumes and will not be working with students until this matter is resolved.”
A search of the school’s website would seem to indicate that Watkins’ profile has been deleted from the teacher directory.
The National Park Services, which maintains the Statue of Liberty, has since 2010 allowed firearms inside many areas provided the gun owner is carrying legally for the city or state . As noted on the park’s website, “The role of the responsible gun owner is to know and obey the federal, state, and local laws appropriate to the park they are visiting.”
The pitfalls in the case of the educator packing heat in New York City, still in the same state as Watkins’ permit are common enough to be noted by the issuing agency who granted her license.
According to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office application for a pistol permit and literature on firearms safety, “A pistol permit issued by an upstate county is valid in any county in New York except New York City.”
The Big Apple itself has very strict may-issue permitting policies for either residents or non-residents who intend to bring their guns to the largest city in the U.S. These include an extensive application process, interviews, letters of reference and up to $432 in fees that are non-refundable if applicants are not approved. According to a 2011 report by the New York Times, there are approximately 4,000 license holders in the city of 8.3 million who have one of the special grades of “limited carry,” “business carry” or “special carry” permits that allow them to take their guns on the city’s streets.
In fact, New York’s rates of legal gun ownership are so low that the recent release of cable film Sharknado 2, in which swarms of vicious sharks drop from the sky into the five boroughs, brought immediate tweets lampooning gun control.
This is not the first time that seemingly well-meaning concealed carry holders have found themselves under threat of imprisonment by being armed and away from home. Last month a 27-year-old single mother of two found out the hard way that her Pennsylvania permit was not honored in neighboring New Jersey where she is now facing a minimum of three years in jail for unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of hollow-point bullets.
Some areas, like Utah, have very flexible reciprocity, recognizing concealed carry permits from as many as 35 other states. While others, such as Illinois and New York City, recognizes none but their own. This confusion of recognition of concealed carry permits has led to calls on Capitol Hill to have universal 50-state right to carry legislation enacted that would treat concealed carry permits like driver’s licenses, allowing current permit holders to carry in any other area that issues permits.
While legislation of its kind is still in its infancy, Watkins is currently out on bond and is awaiting her court date in New York.