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S. Philly woman mired in gun charge eager to 'start over'

Shaneen Allen said she “feels blessed” by Gov. Chris Christie’s pardon.

FOR ABOUT two years, doors were closing for Shaneen Allen.

She was fired from her job as a phlebotomist, losing the income she relied on as a single mom supporting two sons.

She went on more than 50 interviews for various health care positions, some very promising. But whenever she made it to the final round, the same hurdle kept cropping up, and the offers were rescinded.

An unlawful-weapon charge will do that to you.

"For someone like me who has been to school and who has no criminal background, they always wanted to know what happened," Allen, 28, told the Daily News on Friday.

New Jersey happened, a state with some of the strictest gun-control laws in the country.

Allen, a South Philly resident, was hit with that gun charge in October 2013 during a car stop in Mercer County. When the state police officer pulled her over, she told him that she was carrying her .380 Bersa Thunder, a gun she's permitted to carry in Pennsylvania.

She didn't know that the Garden State doesn't honor other states' gun permits and that, therefore, her firearm was illegal. And so began a two-year long ordeal of court appearances and legal discussions that ended Thursday, when Gov. Chris Christie pardoned Allen.

"I just feel blessed that I got this pardon, because my case was really holding me back," she said. "Now that I'm free, I can try to start over."

But what she's most thankful for is peace of mind.

"It was draining; it kept me numb at times," Allen said of her time fighting the charges.

"I tried to be hopeful, not knowing what could happen in my life, what could happen in my future."

In the wake of her arrest, she agonized over the looming possibility that she could spend up to 11 1/2 years behind bars, away from her sons, Naiare and Sincere. Then, last fall the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office allowed her to bypass jail time by entering a pretrial intervention program.

Still, her future was uncertain, so she spent as much time with her sons as she could. It wasn't easy: Even before her arrest, Allen's life was hectic.

She juggled three jobs, working until 4 a.m. most days. In between, she hustled across the city to pick up her kids at day care, usually well after dark.

Those odd hours made her an easy target: She was robbed twice within a month, she said.

A friend told her she needed to protect herself, so she applied for a carry permit. She chose the Bersa Thunder because it's a small gun, one that fit easily in her purse, she said.

More importantly, it has two safeties and a trigger lock. Those features appealed to her - she wanted to protect her kids, too.

But right now, guns are of no concern to Allen, who became a national icon for the NRA and other lobbyists.

Christie's pardon ended her obligation to attend the pretrial intervention program. She's now free, able to live without worry, she said.

She has her eyes set on going back to school to become a registered nurse. In the meantime, she's back on the job market and much more confident, now that her criminal record is clean.

Before Thursday, she was Shaneen Allen, wrongful victim of stringent law.

Today, she's just a South Philly mom trying to support her family.

And she wants to keep it that way.