“Do you understand what it means when you have absolutely nowhere to turn?” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
Clark Camp is a slight, mild-mannered blond who has spent recent weeks preparing to be locked away in a New York state prison for the next two years.
The 29-year-old Hawaii native faces a second degree weapons possession charge, a crime that carries a mandatory five-year sentence in New York, yet Camp’s lawyer, almost miraculously, managed to have that reduced to two. Camp has no criminal record and no prior arrests.
His life changed one night in 2016. He was living in San Diego and on his way home decided to stop into a bar down the street for a nightcap. He made eyes with a girl and they struck up conversation.
“We shared a plate of nachos, some drinks, and some laughs,” Camp recalls.
A whirlwind romance ensued over the next few days. Camp, who has never had much luck with women, fell madly in love. A few days later the two set off for an overnight trip to Mexico and rented a beachside Airbnb in Baja. As she prepared to return home to Brooklyn, and their affair drew to a close, the two found themselves unable to part. The woman suggested they take a road trip back to New York and perhaps Camp ought to just stay and live with her.
He would do just that, packing a few bags and heading cross-country in April 2016. But early on there were signs that she perhaps suffered from emotional issues. And one year later, Camp came back to their apartment to find his girlfriend naked on the sofa with another man. A heated argument broke out.
“I just wanted to leave,” Camp recalled to DANGEROUS.
It was too late. The noise from the shouting attracted the attention of neighbors, who called the police. Officers interviewed Camp’s girlfriend who told them, out of spite, he says, about a weapon he had in his car.
In a small compartment behind the seat of his ’85 Chevrolet El Camino, Camp stored a Hi-point .45 pistol he bought legally in Ohio for $140 and that he kept locked away in a safe. When the officers found the weapon, Camp was arrested and charged with a Class C Felony.
His girlfriend had a far-left stance on guns. She said it frightened her to have one in their apartment and so Camp kept it locked safely away in the car to appease her, he explained.
Even his former girlfriend didn’t realize the draconian nature of New York’s gun laws.
“I’ve never used it to menace or threaten anyone, especially not her,” Camp said. “She even later told me she regretted turning me in to the police, saying she believed I would ‘just pay a big fine.'”
“I legally purchased a firearm in another state for self protection, and when I moved to Brooklyn I brought the pistol with me,” he said. “At the time I knew that New York City had much stricter laws, but I couldn’t have imagined it would be so difficult for me to be in compliance with them, and that the punishment would be so extraordinarily severe. I never threatened or pointed it at anyone else, and I kept it locked up the entire time.”
New York City’s Gun Laws: A Constitutional Conundrum
New York City boasts some of the strictest gun laws in the country. The nearly 9 million inhabitants of the nation’s largest city must have a separate handgun license or rifle/shotgun permit for each type of weapon. Fingerprints are taken by NYPD officers separately for both. For a handgun, there is a 17-page application process. Some of the questions include, “Have you ever been fired from a job?” and, “Have you Testified before Congress?”
The applicant then must provide two photographs for each application, as well as proof of residence, an original Social Security card, and a New York state driver’s license. In many cases applicants are asked to provide income tax returns and utility bills. Those with arrest records or past violations must thoroughly report them even if all charges were dismissed. The same must be provided if a person has ever been under or filed an order of protection.
Application fees for a handgun is $340 and $140 for a rifle, plus $90 for fingerprints, all non-refundable even if the application is denied.
Would-be gun owners are then interviewed by a New York City detective and interrogated about the New York City gun laws, in detail, including how applicants intend to store the firearm, transport it, and then are asked to justify why you want it. NYPD also requires three letters of recommendations from non-relatives the applicant has known for at least five years, plus a note from a doctor saying you are not mentally ill. Add to that, court records for speeding tickets, and six months of bank withdrawal slips.
Only then does the NYPD begin a background check. The FBI runs records through a National Instant Criminal Background Check System to search for red flags.
The National Rifle Association-Institute of Legislative Action rates New York City as extremely difficult to get a gun license even if citizens have previously owned the weapon in other states. New York City does not honor outside handgun permits, even from New York state.
The laws are so strict that in the few recreational firing ranges within the five boroughs, civilians legally cannot shoot, rent or use a handgun without having a handgun license issued by the NYPD.
“I’m Going to Prison Because I Felt Vulnerable”
Camp’s naiveté to New York’s impossible bureaucracy will cost him big. On April 11 he heads to court for sentencing. His lawyers expect him to spend at least two years behind bars. He calls himself a patriot who believed his Second Amendment rights where inalienable.
Camp, who stands 5’6 and 130lbs, says he brought the gun with him to the big, bad city for protection. “I’m going to prison because I felt vulnerable and I wanted to be able to protect myself. The government has repeatedly shown its inability to protect its citizens from criminals and yet NYC doesn’t want you defending yourself,” he said.
In the year this case has dragged on, Camp has been required to make 10 trips from his home in Hawaii to New York, with each roundtrip ticket costing nearly $1000. These journeys were mostly pointless. Camp would cross an ocean and continent only to appear in court and have the prosecutor request a continuance.
Wrong Neighborhood, Wrong Skin Color?
Despite its harsh gun laws New York City averages about a murder a day. Other cities with ironclad hoops for legal gun owners such as Baltimore and Chicago still see some of the worst gun crime in the country.
Chicago, frequently cited by President Trump one of the nation’s hotbeds of criminal gun violence, despite its stringent laws, averages about 10 shootings a day. According to the Chicago Tribune, the city had 3,543 people killed or wounded by guns in 2017, with 644 of those resulting in death.
According to a 2013 article in the New York Times, not everyone faces prison time for these types of weapons violations. Many caught with a loaded gun in New York’s most crime-stricken neighborhoods actually never see the inside of a jail cell.
As the Times reported, as few as 31 percent of those caught with illegal weapons in the Bronx were imprisoned. The Bronx is New York’s poorest borough by median household income and has one of the highest crime rates in the nation. The predominantly black and Hispanic 16th Congressional district of the South Bronx is also the poorest Congressional District in the nation, with over 52% of residents living below the poverty line. The 16th’s violent crime rate is also among the worst in the nation, but still 69% of gun offenders in the Bronx are not put in jail, according to the Times.
Camp is not expecting to get that pass. The neighborhood where he was arrested, Williamsburg, is a rapidly gentrifying section of Brooklyn dominated by hipsters, would-be artists, and upper middle class white collar workers. Still, the neighborhood fares poorly with overall crime rates. A recent study by DNAInfo ranked Williamsburg 47th safest for per capita crime out of 69 neighborhoods surveyed.
A Gubernatorial Pardon
In 2013, a 27-year-old Philadelphia woman named Shaneen Allen was pulled over by police across the river in New Jersey for a routine traffic violation.
Allen, a phlebotomist, willfully told the officer she had a .380 caliber Bersa Thunder in her purse which was legally registered in Pennsylvania but not New Jersey. Like New York City, New Jersey has similarly extreme laws against gun ownership. Allen said she worked odd hours and legally purchased the firearm for protection after being robbed and beaten twice in the South Philadelphia neighborhood where she lived.
Allen, a young mother, was arrested on a similar charge as Camp and an 18-month ordeal ensued as she faced a mandatory five years in prison. In 2015, as he geared up for a presidential bid, Gov. Chris Christie finally gave Allen a full pardon, a decision that received praise from the NRA and conservatives.
At this point, it seems only a similar action by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo can spare Camp, but that is unlikely to happen. On his own website, the New York Democrat brags, “Under Governor Cuomo, New York has passed the strongest gun control laws in the nation.”
Cuomo is also not known for using his pardon power, but does make exceptions. Last year he began a “clemency project” committed to “mercy.” Cuomo opened up a website for people seeking pardons or commuted sentences. Even those in jail on murder charges are under consideration from the governor. In 2015 the Cuomo pardoned two ex-cons whose robbery and drug charges threatened their immigration status.
Since 2017, in an apparent jab to President Trump, Cuomo has given 18 pardons to illegal aliens who faced deportation, all the while the governor presses for hasher gun restrictions.
Freedom, and a Livelihood, Stolen by the State
Camp loves the high seas. He received his captain’s license recently. In Hawaii, he worked as a scuba diving boat captain.
“It’s a career I’m very passionate about, and I love. I worked hard to get where I was,” he says.
During his fateful year in Brooklyn, Camp worked as a New York City water taxi driver, ferrying commuters across the East River. Because his conviction is a felony, Camp’s boating license will be revoked for as many as 10 years, leaving him with few options for employment upon his release. He will also lose the right to vote.
Camp is also nervous about his health. He’s a type-1 diabetic and wears an insulin pump inserted into his abdomen. While being detained at Rikers for ten days following his arrest, Camp was rushed to Bellevue hospital because of the prison staff’s incompetence for administering his medication.
“I was so sick, pale, and thin that when I went to the hospital the nurse assumed I was a heroin addict there for a methadone treatment,” he said.
The El Camino he drove cross country was his father’s pride and joy, and he willed it to Camp after he passed away. The vehicle has been taken by police and Camp is not confident about getting it back.
As he prepares to be walled up two years at at the expense of taxpayers, Camp is trying to be optimistic.
“I’m not too worried about the violence, that is rampant. I’m pretty good at being diplomatic and avoiding conflict and diffusing confrontations,” Camp said. “But that nonetheless has been on my mind as well.”
In a nation where laws are intended to protect the rights of citizens, and punish those who’ve infringed on the rights of others, cases like Camp’s raise serious concerns. The inalienable privileges granted to otherwise law abiding citizens in the Bill of Rights are often trampled upon by overreaching and monolithic regulations in cities like New York that punish the innocent.
Camp’s crime was once a guaranteed right, and still is in most parts of the country. In late 2017 the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 38, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017. The bill is designed to allow gun owners with concealed-carry permits in one state to legally carry their weapons in any other state, making carry permits much like driver’s licenses. It passed in December by a vote of 231-198 in the Republican-controlled House with support from six Democrats. It currently awaits a vote in the Senate. 42 states and the District of Columbia overwhelmingly recognize the right to concealed carry, with only eight states with laws that may prevent even the most qualified applicants from obtaining a license unless they can show an extraordinarily compelling reason to own a firearm.
While he prepares to confront territory usually reserved for the worst among us, Camp hopes to spend his time behind bars reading. His favorite authors are Charles Bukowski, Kurt Vonnegut, and Robert Heinlein. He’s started an Amazon wish list for people to send him books. Yet an existential dread still weighs on his shoulders. He cannot be sure what awaits him once the prison door slams shut behind him.
“I’m afraid of being alone. Having my friends and family, those I hold dear to my heart, forget about me, or lose touch with me,” he said, looking at the floor and laughing nervously.
Chadwick Moore contributed to reporting.