To say it takes perseverance to exercise your Second Amendment right to bear arms in New Jersey is an understatement. To maintain one’s commitment after an ordeal like the one endured by former New Jersey resident Keith Pantaleon requires particular courage.
Pantaleon was an IT professional for a Wall Street bank in December 2012 when he became embroiled in a convoluted series of events stemming from a simple heating outage at the three-family Jersey City home in which he was living. Two police officers found his legally owned handgun and Bushmaster rifle during a late-night search that a judge eventually deemed illegal. Charges of illegal firearms possession were also subsequently dropped — but not until what Pantaleon terms a two-year “judicial misadventure” that included his spending 35 days as a “guest” at the Hudson County Correctional Center. Ultimately, he won suppression of all evidence obtained during the unlawful entry into his apartment, and Jersey City paid him a $20,000 settlement.
Novice to No-Nonsense
Pantaleon, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Haiti in the late 1970s, was introduced to firearms in 2002 while working at Seton Hall University’s summer Upward Bound program for high schoolers from low-income families.
“I was teaching the students how to build computers from off-the-shelf parts,” he recalls. “One of the counselors, a former police officer, needed my assistance with his computer. After I assisted him, as a show of appreciation he took me to Ray’s Sport Shop on Route 22. From that moment on, whatever fears I had about firearms were replaced with curiosity and fascination.”
Since then, “I participate (in firearms activities) as much as my schedule allows me to,” including The 2nd Is for Everyone: Diversity Shoot at Gun for Hire in Woodland Park. “I volunteer time with the Oath Keepers, which works to bridge the divide between those who have taken the oath to the Constitution and the communities they serve. I also do my best to enlighten those around me and surround myself with everyone I can learn more from about not just the Second Amendment, but those who truly appreciate freedom — and that it is another word for responsibility.”
Having attended the first two NJ SAFE conferences, as a panelist in 2015 and a presenter in 2016, Pantaleon is looking forward to this year’s event as yet another opportunity to connect.
“New Jersey gun owners need a safe space to come out as a gun owner, to borrow the vernacular of the politically correct,” he explains. “It’s important to meet like-minded individuals where we work together to protect and restore the rights we allowed to be unjustly taken from us. The idea I try to stress the most is that the anti-Second Amendment groups were not created with the best intentions; the politicians who are anti-Second Amendment are not misinformed and only care about benefiting themselves at the expense of others.”
Fighting the Perpetual Battle
Pantaleon’s view of firearms ownership and the gun-control lobby extends beyond merely the right to bear arms, he explains. Inaction on this issue today, he says, would likely have far greater ramifications.
“Even if the anti-Second Amendment groups were to get a complete ban on all firearms, they would not be satisfied and would look for more ways to impose and intrude on our everyday lives,” he asserts. “This may sound sensational, but how many times have we learned that the politicians that push for stricter laws against private citizens at the same time create loopholes for themselves? Also, let’s not forget that a number of these politicians who were caught in some of the biggest criminal acts were also staunch supporters of gun control.
“But what that stands out the most to me is that no matter how much data out there proves that victim disarmament only serves to increase violent crime and does nothing to increase the safety of the citizens affected, or the fact that most of the supporters have not even the most basic familiarity with firearms, is that the gun-control lobby has no respect for the rights of individuals while using underhanded emotional tactics to push their agenda.”
A perennial case in point is Chicago, where gun violence statistics pile up daily despite some of the nation’s most restrictive firearms laws. On July 17, the day Pantaleon was interviewed, the Chicago Sun-Times reported 13 people were shot, three fatally, across the city. The following day, the newspaper reported that three more people were killed and five wounded in shootings.
“Even though the most egregious violent crimes happen in ‘gun-free’ cities, the blame is always place on law-abiding citizens as well as places where freedom is the rule rather than the exception,” Pantaleon concludes.
What created and continues to foster anti-gun sentiment and relentless disdain for America’s “gun culture”?
“Years of disinformation, between entertainment, fake news and constant race baiting,” Pantaleon asserts. “Most who did not grow up around guns — myself included at the time — believe that anyone who was not law enforcement, military or served a government function of some sort had no business owning guns. Also, there’s an idea that the idea that the Second Amendment only benefits ‘Duck Dynasty’ types and somehow racists. Looking back, I don’t believe this is by accident — and we need to do our best to dispel these myths.”
He engages others on firearms issues by employing the Socratic method: “Ask questions and allow them to come to their own conclusions. If they are intellectually honest, you may be able to change their minds; if they are not, you can save time and find more reasonable individuals.”
Optimistically, he expects firearms rights in New Jersey and across the United States to develop “the same way they played out in Florida, Texas and Georgia, with all the fears about private ownership of firearms being replaced with a new sense of responsibility and the ability to pass laws that restrict our rights being further diminished.”