- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland "citizen of the year" Donald G. Arnold is considering moving to another state now that it looks like efforts to keep him and thousands of other law-abiding Marylanders from losing their firearms for decades-old misdemeanors have stalled in the legislature.
"If it doesn't work out for me in Maryland, I'm sure there are plenty of other states that wouldn't mind having me," Mr. Arnold said yesterday.
"You have a lot of legislators who ride the fence down there they don't want to look like they're doing anything to lower the bar," he said.
Lawmakers, including the House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany Democrat, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George's County Democrat, were spurred to action when they learned that state police were confiscating guns and refusing firearm permits for acts as minor as a slap on the back or disorderly conduct. They supported a plan to make it easier for people with minor convictions to own guns.
But the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday pulled the bill from the House floor and returned it to the committee, likely killing the measure for the year.
The measure's proponents said they were thwarted when the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence and Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse (MAHA) began telling lawmakers that proposals to change the law would put guns back into the hands of violent abusers and legislators threatened to try to add new gun-control measures to the bill.
"It is an absolute outrage that MAHA is purposely misinterpreting the [bill] that was drafted," said Mr. Arnold's attorney, David W. Fischer of Glen Burnie. "I'd never push legislation that I thought would hurt victims of domestic violence."
Mr. Arnold, a Baltimore community activist honored for his work to make the city's southeastern neighborhoods safer, lost part of the living he had earned as a private investigator when state police refused two years ago to renew a concealed-carry permit they had issued to him since the 1970s.
The reason: In 1969 Mr. Arnold, a veteran just back from the war in Vietnam, got into a scuffle in a bar with a war protester who called him a "baby killer." State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. advised state police to disqualify anyone from having a firearm if they were convicted of an offense punishable by a sentence of two years, regardless of the actual sentence.
Mr. Arnold's punishment was a $10 fine and the night he spent in jail waiting to see the judge.
Delegate Kevin Kelly, an Allegany County Democrat and lawyer, learned of the problem in August when a client called for help because state police had shown up at his house and taken all his guns.
Mr. Kelly, the main sponsor of the bill, said he was astounded that the House approved legislation this week to allow multiple felons who had served their sentences to vote "which is a privilege," he said but not to restore constitutional rights to law-abiding citizens.
The final committee version of the bill stated that a person convicted in a single incident of misdemeanor common-law assault would not be disqualified from having a firearm if he served no time or 30 days or less if 10 years had passed since the end of the sentence.
Mr. Arnold said he hoped a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge who heard his case on Jan. 4 would decide in his favor.
His case wound up there after state's Handgun Permit Review Board twice directed state police to renew Mr. Arnold's permit, and Mr. Curran who had called for banning all private ownership of handguns resisted and appealed.
A spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening said the governor had pardoned some individuals and restored their gun rights in cases where he thought it was warranted and where the person demonstrated hardship.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., Prince George's Democrat, said he hoped the court would note that his panel felt Mr. Curran was misinterpreting the law.
Mr. Miller said he hasn't ruled out the legislature taking up the matter again.
Gun-rights activist James Purtilo faulted legislative leaders for pushing hard to pass gun-control bills but doing little to fix flaws.
"Apparently leadership can go to the mat for legislation to take our guns away, but somehow can't flex enough muscle to fix that law's smallest flaw," said Mr. Purtilo, publisher of the gun-rights newsletter Tripwire.


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