Big wrong turn for man carrying gun in car may lead to 3-year jail term in Canada

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In this Thursday, May 23, 2013 photo, cars from Canada line up to cross into the U.S. in Blaine, Wash. In April 2013, in its 2014 fiscal year budget proposal, the Department of Homeland Security requested permission to study a fee at the nation's land border crossings. The request has sparked wide opposition among members of Congress from northern states, who vowed to stop it. A fee, they say, would hurt communities on the border that rely on people, goods and money moving between the U.S. and Canada. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A 46-year-old Kentucky man and military veteran who made a wrong turn during a Vermont getaway with his wife and wound up at the Canadian border is facing three years in prison for allegedly trying to smuggle a loaded handgun into the country.

But Louis DiNatale says he didn't want to enter Canada to begin with. He and his wife were on a road trip in upstate New York last September when they were "misdirected by an unreliable GPS," to the Thousand Islands Bridge border crossing between New York state and Ontario, the Los Angeles Times reports.

At the border, DiNatale asked if they could turn around, but was denied. A border patrol agent then asked if he owned a gun.

"I told him I was retired military, I had respect for weapons, and I had a concealed carry license to do so," DiNatale explained in a statement. "He asked me when was the last time I had a weapon on me. I told him, 'Earlier that week.' He asked me again, 'Why?' I told him it was my right as an American citizen to do so."

According to DiNatale, he had forgotten about the Bersa .380 handgun he had stowed in the center console.

Agents searched the car, found the gun, and arrested DiNatale for attempted gun smuggling and lying to border patrol agents. He was released four days later, and a court date was set for June. If convicted, DiNatale, a retired Army sergeant major, faces three years in a Canadian prison.

"They're trying to make a general blanket statement to American citizens: Don't mess with our borders," DiNatale's lawyer, Bruce Engel, told the Times.

Engel may be right.

According to the Times, nearly 1,400 firearms have been confiscated at Canadian entry points over the last three years, most of them personal guns belonging to U.S. citizens.

"The Government of Canada is committed to effective firearms and weapons control," a warning on the website of Canada's Border Services Agency reads. "All firearms and weapons must be declared to a border services officer when you enter Canada. Failure to do so could result in them being seized, and you may face criminal charges."

The same warning, though, states that agents are also in charge of "streamlining the process for low-risk and law-abiding persons traveling with firearms for legitimate purposes and with the required documentation."

"They could have done their homework and looked at his background and seen he's a professional," Engel said of the border patrol. "They could have accepted the word of his wife and released him on his own recognizance."

Instead, DiNatale, a former Army legal expert and paralegal in his home state, is experiencing the wrath of the Canadian border's "zero-tolerance" gun policy. And DiNatale's lack of familiarity with such a policy does not seem to matter.

"I can't speak for all folks who cross," Chris Kealey, a spokesman for the Canada Border Services Agency, told the Times. "But those who live near the border are probably more aware of Canada's laws than someone from the southern part of the U.S."

DiNatale's case is increasingly common.

"At even relatively quiet crossings like that in Emerson (North Dakota), three Americans on separate occasions were charged with attempting to bring weapons across the border without the proper documentation," notes.

That led Canada’s Border Services Agency to issue an appeal to U.S. citizens last year.

“Don’t bring your guns into Canada,” CBSA representative Jean D’Amelio Swyer told the Detroit Free Press in 2013. “Leave your firearms at home.”