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Beth Arneson Ferrizzi is shown in her Moorhead home. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Moorhead mom shocked by her New York gun arrest

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Fargo - Beth Arneson Ferrizzi and her husband will welcome their first child together in June, but it might seem less laborious after what she went through delivering his handgun to him last week.

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Ferrizzi was arrested last Tuesday at New York’s LaGuardia Airport as she tried to check her luggage containing an unloaded handgun and ammunition locked in a case – just as she had done in Fargo without any trouble.

But the Delta Air Lines agent called the Port Authority, which arrested and handcuffed the 6-months-pregnant Ferrizzi and drove her to jail, transporting her 6-year-old daughter in a separate unmarked police vehicle.

Now, the 29-year-old Moorhead mom is charged in Queens Criminal Court with a felony count of criminal possession of a loaded firearm – punishable by up to 15 years in prison – despite taking what she thought were all of the proper steps.

She bristles at comments she’s heard since her arrest that such incidents are the norm in New York. The state has what are arguably the nation’s toughest gun laws, which were further tightened earlier this year.

“It should not be normal that somebody who is attempting to do everything right is charged with a felony crime,” she said.

Ferrizzi, whose husband, Joe, is an Air Force master sergeant serving a yearlong tour in Honduras, is not alone. Two days after her arrest, WBC welterweight champion Robert Guerrero, of California, was arrested at JFK International Airport for allegedly trying to check a bag containing an unloaded handgun and three unloaded magazines.A Port Authority spokesman on Monday referred questions to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, who threw a verbal jab at Guerrero for his alleged crime.

“I hope that Mr. Guerrero fights better than he thinks,” Brown stated in a press release. “For anyone who hasn’t gotten the message, let me be crystal clear. You cannot bring an unlicensed weapon – loaded or unloaded – into this county or this city. And if you do, you will be arrested and face felony charges.”

Mother arrested

Ferrizzi’s stumble into New York’s legal system began March 16, when she and her daughter flew to New York City to visit her best friend, meet Ferrizzi’s husband and attend his sister’s wedding in Philadelphia.

Ferrizzi said she and her husband originally met while he was stationed in Grand Forks in October 2011, and they were married that December. She wanted to see where he grew up in Philadelphia, but he warned her it was a rough neighborhood and asked her to bring along his handgun for safety. He has a permit to carry a concealed weapon in North Dakota, with reciprocity in Pennsylvania, she said.

Before leaving Fargo, Ferrizzi said she consulted Delta’s website for its policy on transporting a firearm, called the Delta customer service hotline and even drove to Hector International Airport in Fargo to speak directly to a Delta employee.

She said she was told she had to declare the firearm when checking her bag, and that the gun couldn’t be loaded. The ammo could be kept in its original packaging in the same locked case as the gun.

Ferrizzi said she checked the bag in Fargo and picked it up at LaGuardia’s baggage claim with no hassle. The handgun was taken out of the bag only when she and her husband toured his boyhood neighborhood in Philadelphia, she said.

“I felt substantially safer knowing that it was along with us,” she said.

Before leaving Philadelphia, the gun was unloaded and returned to its locked case, she said.

But when she tried to check the bag at LaGuardia last Tuesday, declaring that she had an unloaded firearm, the Delta agent questioned her about the weapon.

“She asked me if I had some sort of a license, and I said I have a driver’s license, ’cause I didn’t know what she was asking me. And she asked me if I was an off-duty police officer, and I said no. And so then she said that they needed to call Port Authority,” she said.

Ferrizzi said she didn’t realize the extent of the trouble she was in until her arrest. She said she was treated well and, because of her pregnant condition, was allowed to stay in a Port Authority holding area she described as “hospital clean.”

The next day, she was arraigned in court and released on her own recognizance. Her next court date is set for May 20, but she plans to seek a continuance because she will be nine months pregnant.

Ferrizzi said she’s been told she should have known better, and in hindsight, that’s easy to say.

“I contacted Delta, and I was told that I was doing everything right. I never even considered calling the police in New York and asking them what their laws were, because I’m not familiar with guns. I’m not a gun person. I didn’t think of it at all,” she said.

“While she may have done everything that the airline had indicated – which a lot of people do – this is a common occurrence in New York Port Authorities,” Fargo airport Executive Director Shawn Dobberstein said.

In an email Monday, Delta spokeswoman Morgan Durrant reiterated the airline’s policy as stated on its website, including that customers “are responsible for knowledge of and compliance with all federal, state or local laws regarding the possession and transportation of firearms.”

Strict state laws

Earlier this year, New York state enacted what Brown called the toughest gun restrictions in the nation with the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, which has become the target of lawsuits challenging its constitutionality.

Helen Peterson, a spokeswoman for Brown’s office, said cases involving visitors unfamiliar with New York’s stricter gun laws arise multiple times a year. New York does not honor other states’ gun license and permits.

Her advice: “Unless you have a New York City license to carry, leave your gun at home.”

Ferrizzi said she hasn’t hired an attorney yet but is hoping her charge will be reduced, which happened in a similar case involving a high-profile tea party activist. Mark Meckler was arrested at LaGuardia in December 2011 after trying to check in for a Delta flight to Detroit with a Glock pistol and 13 rounds of ammunition, CBS reported.

Meckler, who co-founded and later resigned from the Tea Party Patriots, pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct violation and was fined $250.

Ferrizzi, who posted about her situation on Facebook looking for help and advice, said she hopes telling her story will prevent others from going through a similar ordeal.

Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM

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