- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Donald G. Arnold is a Vietnam veteran and president of his neighborhood association. He was named a "citizen of the year" by Maryland in 2000 for his work with police in southeast Baltimore to stop drug dealers and make the city safer.
None of that mattered, however, when Mr. Arnold tried to renew his permit to carry a gun that he needed in his work as a private detective and security guard. What mattered was that he was convicted in 1969 of a misdemeanor in a barroom scuffle after a man who spotted his Army jacket called him a "baby killer."
Mr. Arnold no longer can carry a gun on the job, and the restriction, he estimates, has cost him about $10,000 in work he has had to turn down.
On the advice of Maryland's attorney general, state police are denying guns and permits and even seizing firearms from people with decades-old convictions.
Federal law disqualifies a person from possessing a firearm if he or she is convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year or of a state offense including misdemeanors and common-law offenses punishable by more than two years.
But Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. argues that a 1996 decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals allows state police to disqualify a person from possessing firearms based on the sentence he could have received.
"To take somebody's constitutional rights based on 'could have' I don't understand that," Mr. Arnold said.
State police said they soon will begin searching databases for gun owners with disqualifying offenses on their records.
Maryland state Sen. Perry Sfikas, whose district includes Mr. Arnold's Baltimore neighborhood, said he supports "reasonable gun control" but is baffled by Mr. Arnold's case.
"That's not appropriate Don's a wonderful individual, and he's been an absolute blessing to the communities of southeast Baltimore," said Mr. Sfikas, a Democrat.
Mr. Arnold, who was 21 years old at the time of the scuffle, spent a night in jail and the next day went before a judge without an attorney. He was found guilty, received a 60-day sentence all suspended except the day served and was placed on unsupervised probation.
"No one showed up, nobody gave testimony if I'd had a lawyer, I wouldn't have been convicted of anything," Mr. Arnold said.
One gun owner had a 1983 conviction come back to haunt him.
Maryland State Police seized firearms from Larry L. Dicken's home outside Cumberland in August, even taking with them his hunting rifle.
In conducting a background check on Mr. Dicken for a handgun purchase, police discovered that he had been involved in a 1983 shoving match over a property line. Although it wasn't Mr. Dicken's only conviction he had been convicted on two assault-and-battery charges and two assault charges between 1980 and 1983 the shoving incident prompted police to take his guns.
Mr. Dicken acknowledges receiving convictions two decades ago but says he has been on the "straight and narrow" since. Police confirmed they found no offenses on his record after 1983.
Gun disqualification laws impose the same penalties on people with vastly different records, police said. The range of offenses that carry sentences of more than two years is broad. Someone guilty of blasphemy or disorderly conduct, for example, would lose the same rights as someone convicted of assault.
"Trust me. In a lot of these cases, I'm sympathetic, but I'm governed by the law," said Maj. Thomas Bowers, chief of detectives for Maryland State Police.
Lawyer David W. Fischer of Glen Burnie said the Attorney General's Office is "purposely misinterpreting federal firearms laws to take away the rights of as many gun owners as possible" including his client, Mr. Arnold.
Maryland's Handgun Permit Review Board has rejected Mr. Curran's interpretations of both federal and state law and twice has ordered police to renew Mr. Arnold's gun permit.
State police then appealed the board's decision in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Judge John Fader heard arguments on Jan. 4 and has not yet ruled.
Delegate Kevin Kelly, an Allegany County Democrat who is also a lawyer, says Mr. Curran's interpretation of the law serves Mr. Curran's personal belief expressed in "A Farewell to Arms," a report his office published in 2000 that no one should be allowed to have handguns except police.
The lawmaker got a firsthand look at the state's aggressive confiscation effort through Mr. Dicken, his friend and client.
Mr. Dicken passed background checks and purchased several handguns before Aug. 24, when state police called saying they needed to visit to verify serial numbers of his guns before they approved his pending purchase.
Two troopers arrived at Mr. Dicken's house in an unmarked car, Mr. Dicken presented the guns, and the troopers told him they had been ordered to seize all his firearms.
They allowed him to contact Mr. Kelly and agreed to let Mr. Kelly remove Mr. Dicken's long guns to his own home. But the troopers took all three handguns in the home, including one belonging to Mr. Dicken's wife, Kathy. They argued that Mr. Dicken still would have access to firearms if they left the handgun there.
State police later agreed to transfer ownership of the guns to Mrs. Dicken and returned them to her on Oct. 3.
Mr. Kelly is sponsoring a bill to prohibit federal firearms disqualifications from being applied in Maryland.
"Cases like this demonstrate the huge gulf between the intentions and realities of gun control," said James Purtilo, publisher of Tripwire, the Beltsville-based gun rights newsletter.


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