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No gun for N.J. boat captain

By Gannett News Service, Daily Record

TRENTON - Tour-boat captains voyaging on New Jersey waters cannot carry a weapon, even if they fear terrorists may try to commandeer the vessel and deploy it as a bomb like Sept. 11 skyjackers did with jetliners in 2001, a state appeals court ruled Friday.

The decision involved a Hackettstown, Warren County, tour-boat captain who skippers vessels for a company operating party boats off the coasts of New Jersey and the rest of the East Coast.

The man, Salvatore Atanasio, failed to show what the appellate division said was the legal "justifiable need" to carry a handgun, even though he said an attacker could storm his vessel.

The decision marked a reversal. When Atanasio first applied for the gun permit, Warren County prosecutors objected but lost in court. The state Office of the Attorney General appealed.

Friday's decision said, "A general sense of apprehension, shared by all those who work in, or otherwise interact with potential targets of terrorist attacks, is insufficient to satisfy the statutory requirement."

The court said that if Atanasio had the right to carry a gun, then a string of other workers, from airline flight attendants to bus drivers and overland truckers "would be legally entitled to carry concealed firearms." (Oh, the horror! -Joe)

Neither Atanasio nor his lawyer, Lee March Grayson of Randolph, were available for comment.

It was unclear if Atanasio had applied for handgun permits in other states through whose waters he navigates vessels.

No one responded from the company to say whether it had asked its captains to seek gun permits, or if Atanasio were applying on his own.

A nighttime cruise from Weehawken in Hudson County, from where the captain said he sails, out to Long Island and back can involve navigating waters of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

Arming ship captains - and only the captain - had been a long-held tradition in maritime commerce.

But that faded long ago, when ship owners realized the legal complications they faced when their vessels entered jurisdictions with assorted gun laws.

Also, according to lecturers at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., the need for the gun, which was primarily to quell mutinies, faded as modern ships made speedier voyages and unions safeguarded crews against draconian commanders.

That said, traditional piracy, combined with thievery by gangs that storm aboard anchored or docked vessels, endures today as a threat to seagoing commerce, especially in Asia and the west coast of South America.
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