- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. is co-sponsoring legislation that would stop state police from denying gun rights to residents with minor or old convictions.

Mr. Miller said state police should focus on "real threats," after learning that police have been confiscating firearms and denying gun permits and purchasing to residents such as former Maryland Citizen of the Year Donald G. Arnold of Baltimore.

State police have been seizing guns and refusing permits to persons convicted of offenses classified as second-degree or "common-law" assault misdemeanors that can be as minor as disorderly conduct or throwing a glass of water at a person.

"No weapons are involved it can be throwing a pencil at someone," said Mr. Miller, a Democrat who represents Prince George's, Calvert and Anne Arundel counties. "Hopefully we can make some positive changes."

State police have based their policy on the advice of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who has not relaxed his strict interpretation of state and federal gun-disqualification laws.

Mr. Curran has said those laws require police to keep guns from people convicted of an offense for which they could have been sentenced to more than two years in prison, regardless of the seriousness of the offense or actual length of the sentence.

Other sponsors of the legislation have said they believe Mr. Curran's interpretation is a result of his anti-gun sentiments, which include his calling for a statewide ban on all private handgun ownership. Other lawmakers say the law itself may be flawed and that Mr. Curran's interpretation could be accurate.

"That's all the more reason to pass this legislation," Delegate Dana L. Dembrow, Montgomery County Democrat and co-sponsor of the measure, told the House Judiciary Committee Thursday.

The proposed legislative remedy consists of two measures, each of which has been filed separately in the House and the Senate.

One would restore civil rights to persons "sentenced to serve" 30 days or fewer for common-law misdemeanors. It also would restore rights to persons who served more than 30 days and less than six months if more than 10 years have passed since the sentence, including any probation or parole.

The other measure would remove second-degree assault minor offenses classified as common law before 1996 from the list of crimes that automatically disqualify a person from having a firearm in Maryland.

Mr. Miller is co-sponsoring both measures in the Senate, and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany Democrat, is co-sponsoring both measures in the House.

The legislation would not clear the way for gun rights to be restored to people convicted of second-degree assualt after 1996, said Delegate Kevin Kelly, an Allegany Democrat who filed the House bills last month to help a constituent and Mr. Arnold.

"We just don't have the horses to do it this year we may try to fix it in the future," Mr. Kelly said.

Although the Senate legislation must clear the Rules Committee because it was filed past the regular deadline, identical proposals in the House have cleared a major hurdle by winning the support of Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Jr., Prince George's Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The bills have bipartisan sponsorship in both chambers.

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