- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

ANNAPOLIS State lawmakers have met with Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. to devise a way to protect the gun-owning rights of thousands of residents who have been convicted of minor offenses.

Under Mr. Curran's advice, Maryland State Police have been confiscating firearms from and denying gun permits to residents who have been convicted of minor crimes decades ago. Those residents include Donald G. Arnold, a former Maryland "Citizen of the Year" who was honored for his work with Baltimore police to make the city's southeastern neighborhoods safer.

Lawmakers say they never intended firearms disqualification to apply to residents like Mr. Arnold.

"Right now this net is cast too broadly," said Delegate Dana L. Dembrow, a Montgomery County Democrat and lawyer who is one of many legislators unhappy with Mr. Curran's interpretation of federal and Maryland firearm disqualification laws.

Mr. Curran told state police they must strictly enforce a federal law prohibiting individuals from having firearms if they have been convicted of any offense for which they could have been sentenced to more than two years in jail.

The range of offenses for which someone could be sentenced to more than two years is includes any kind of assault even an unwanted slap on the back or throwing water and common-law offenses such as disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly and blasphemy.

"I think it's pretty commonsense that there are thousands out there" who would be disallowed, said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany County Democrat.

Most of them probably don't know it and the General Assembly may have to approve an emergency bill to keep state police from enforcing the law as Mr. Curran has interpreted it, Mr. Dembrow said.

Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany County Democrat, said he may file a bill today that could fix the problem. The bill would exempt anyone who had served a year or less for a misdemeanor, or two years or less for a common-law offense from being disqualified upon completion of the sentence. It would do so by changing state law to specify that such residents had their civil rights restored for purposes of federal law.

Assistant Attorney General Mark Bowen said lawmakers "were admonished to be careful how they craft the exception so as not to be overly broad."

The chief of firearms enforcement for Maryland State Police told The Washington Times last month that his division plans to begin combing databases for people with disqualifying offenses.

Although state lawmakers, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., objected and said state police should concentrate on real threats, state police spokesman Lt. Bud Frank said there has been no change in policies or procedures.

Mr. Dembrow said that, as the state is now interpreting firearms laws, he is concerned that a new gun safety act approved by the General Assembly last year has put thousands of Marylanders in violation of the law and made them subject to mandatory five-year sentences for illegally having a gun.

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