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Shooter bucks the system and wins ... or does he?

* What heinous crime would have to be committed to find yourself sitting in a courtroom, pitted against the police chief of your township? The murder of a government official, police officer, or a crime against the state?

My offense, the reason for my court appearance? I had requested permission to purchase a handgun. A simple request, a routine procedure, to secure the necessary permits to buy a set of pistols, for me had become an eight-month ordeal, a bureaucratic nightmare, climaxing in court.

In September of 1976, while working I injured my back. Doctors diagnosed the injury as disintegrated discs of the lower back, and recommended a series of operations to rebuild my spine. I could not bear the thought of the operations, and was forced to apply for workman's disability. Over the next seven years, I had to reshape the life I had forged in the past 45 years. As a teenager I had hunted and fished, when I became older I joined one of the finest sportsman clubs in South Jersey. I shot with the .30 caliber rifle team, trap and sheet on the ranges, and walked the archery course all situated on the club grounds. All of these sports were beyond me now. I could never lift my rifle or swing my shotgun, draw back on my bow. My back would never take the pressure or strength necessary to perform these positions. I was a semi-cripple, not confined to a bed or a wheelchair, but unable to do the things that once were so natural, so easy for me. Still, I wanted desperately to keep active in some type of sports. Friends suggested pistol shooting, the club had one of the finest ranges available, and scheduled pistol tournaments. I had never been interested in pistols; in fact I didn't even own one, and now it might be the last sporting event open to me, except for light fishing.

A small ad caught my eye. A bank was offerin a set of matched Colt revolvers as an inducement to sell certificates of deposit. If you were to deposit $2,500 for a six-year C.D. they would send you a set of handguns, a .357 Python, and a .22 Diamondback, in lieu of interest. It seemed perfect, as my wife and I wanted to set up a trust fund for our young grandchildren. In six years they would be teenagers and would have their endowment, and I would have a set of guns at no cost to begin my new sporting adventure. I wrote to the bank, and they sent us the necessary forms. All they required besides the money was that all federal and state firearms regulations had to be strictly adhered to. In our township, all you had to do was to go to the police station and request a handgun purchasing permit--no big deal!

At the police station they now had a firearms division, headed by detectives. I was given five forms; one was the rules and regulations for the purchase of handguns, plus the costs; two were questions and consent for mental health records search (failure to consent requires denial or disapproval of the application); two were for fingerprints, which had to be typewritten, so I had to take the forms home in order to fill them out. A few days later I returned to be fingerprinted. A detective and I had a conversation, he asked a few questions and then said, "I don't see any problems here, you should have your permits in a few weeks. We'll notify you." I thanked him and left, seeing no reason for any problems. I had lived in our township for over 25 years, had no police record nor problems with neighbors, belonged to a reputable gun club, and therefore expected no problems, none whatsoever. The date was February 3, 1983.

When March rolled around, I called to inquire about my permits, and was told that they hadn't received the reports from the FBI. On March 22, I received a letter stating that my fingeprints were returned as illegible and I had to be re-fingerprinted. During April, I called again and was told they hadn't received the two letters of recommendation from my neighbors. I went to see them to nudge them a little. One told me he was against anyone owning guns, but we were frineds too many years for this to bother me. I could understand this, and respected his feelings. I gave the police the name and address of another neighbor. In the meantime they were calling people in our neighborhood to ask questions about my character.

After more time had passed I called again, and was told they still hadn't gotten a reply from the FBI. I asked for the FBI's address and wrote them asking for a response to the report on my fingerprints--no answer. (A friend told me the FBI doesn't answer letters unless you belong to a governmental agency.) When a few more months and phone calls had passed I was becoming discouraged. The bank notified me and wanted to know why I hadn't sent for my guns. I wrote and tried to explain all the delays. There was nothing they could do, because they wouldn't send the guns without the proper permits.

In disgust and desperation I asked some friends to try and intercede for me, but all they said was, "It's in the hands of the police department, just be patient and wait. Nothing can be done." I was now over five months since I applied for the purchasing permits. Frustrated, I wrote to my district congressman telling him of my problems and asking if there was anything his office could do to expedite the matter. I received a letter form him, with a copy from our mayor, saying that the case was held up because of a "confidential nature" and I should contact the chief of police. Now I was concerned and worried. What "confidential nature?"

When I had been told I would never again be able to work at my trade (cabinet-making) I had to find a new way to earn a living. My family and friends suggested I try for a teaching certificate, even if it meant three years of college. It had been six years since I had tried to do anything. I became depressed, worried over money matters. I began to eat and drink too much. It all too soon took its toll, and I became an alcoholic. Luckily I went for medical treatment, was cured and found a doctor who could treat my back condition without surgery. I enrolled in college in a teacher's certification program. Now I was concerned that this "confidential nature" might jeopardize my teaching career.

I wrote to teh chief of police, trying to get an appointment to straighten out this matter. It was getting out of control. I began to regret i ever saw that ad, or wanted to shoot some lousy pistols at some target. I finally got to see and talk to him.

In his office he opened a folder and began to explain all the information that had been compiled. He stressed one point that I had on record--a drinking problem. I explained that it was something that happened over two years ago, and there was nothing in my conduct to warrant a drinking report. I had never been arrested for drunken driving or behavior; this was strictly a family matter. He was not interested, all he knew was that it was an acknowledged fact. "So what?" I replied "What the hell does that have to do with me now?" He said he had to refuse me my purchasing permits on the grounds that he would not take the responsibility of issuing a permit to someone with a drinking problem. I was in minor shock. I never dreamed that a personal problem could haunt me years later. As far as I was concerned I had not been drinking in years. I felt I had no drinking problem. I asked what recourse I had, how I could get this blotch off my record. I was concerned about my teaching certificate, and what this would do to me later in life. He began to tell me of cases of other police chiefs issuing permits and then being sued because of it. I didn't want to hear about other police or other stories. I was only concerned about mine. I could tell him plenty of stories about guns. He went on to say that if he issued me a permit and I became involved in an incident involving guns or alcohol, he could confiscate all my guns. Now this was going too far. All my life I had been collecting guns; it was my hobby, my favorite sport. Now all of a sudden I was becoming a criminal by association. What the hell was going on? "What does your giving me a permit have to do with my conduct?" I asked him. "How can you or the township be held responsible for my actions?"

"According to the law we cannot issue a permit to anyone with a drug problem," he answered. Now all of a sudden it became a drug problem. I wanted to scream. Now it had mushroomed completely out of control. Because I wanted to purchase some guns I had jeopardized my life and my family. I regretted I had ever started this mess. Now I had to control it, get it straightened out. I again asked what recourse I had, what could I do to get this matter off my record. He told me to call the country court clerk and file for a motion of complaint that I objected or disagreed with his decision. I didn't have any money for a lawyer, so I had to handle the case myself. I began to prepare my argument. A state police officer had come to the gun club to lecture on "firearms control and law." I missed the meeting but a friend brought me a copy of a booklet, "New Jersey Firearms and Weapons Laws." Included were forms for voluntary firearms registration. That was all I needed. I read it to see what was involved. In all the years I had hunted and fished there was never anything like this. We had always gotten our rules from the fish and wildlife booklet, from the game commission, and when we bought our license. Now they had a book. From what I could gather from the book, these people didn't want anyone but government people to own guns. I decided just to go to court and explain to the judge the way things were and take it from there. If these people wanted to restrict anyone from having a gun there was little you could do about it. I expected the worst. Some friends had said it had gone too far and there was no way that I would win the case. It seemed as if the anti-gun lobby had won, and it wouldn't be long before guns would be just fond memories, pictures in a book--old war relics.

On September 16, 1983, at 11:00 a.m. I appeared in court. I brought along three documents, one from the Department of Labor and Industry, director of vocational rehabilitation, dated May 7, 1981. It told of my cure and my being retrained for some other nonphysical work. The second document was the record from Social Security listing the day of my disability and my award; the third was my acceptance letter from college for teacher's certification. I decided this was all I needed. If they wouldn't accept the documents, it was a lost cause, and didn't matter anymore.

The police chief was called first. He stated his reason for denying me my request, then proceeded to answer the questions put to him by the judge. He answered truthfully and sincerely. He told of the fact that I had no police record and was never a problem even when I was supposed to be an alcoholic. He was just trying to protect the township from any future lawsuits as no one could guarantee when a person would once again begin to drink and possibly cause a problem.

Then i took the stand. The judge asked me to explain why I needed or wanted handguns. I told him of my desire to join a pistol team. He questioned me about my work and I replied was disabled and was going to school to earn a teaching degree. I then told him of the documents I had, and would like to present them to the court. He seemed surprised but accepted them, read them for a moment, then announced what the documents were. His decision: he found no evidence of alcohlism and he saw no reason why my request should be denied. He then addressed the police chief and announced the courts had now absolved him of all responsibility.

The chief replied that now he would issue the necessary permits for my guns and he thanked the court. I followed suit and the case was closed.

As we walked out of court the police chief said he would instruct his department to have all the permits by Monday. All I had to do was stop by and pick them up.

As the judge was summarizing my case my mind began to wander. I began to think about why I was sitting here. Were these guns so important to me that I had to place myself, my family, in such a position? Who was I to fight these people, and what for?

The judge announced his decision, and the case was over. Everything had been settled, everyone should have been satisfied. I was exonerated of an accusation, and was awarded my purchasing permits, he chief was relieved of any responsibility, and the township was protected from any lawsuits involving me and my guns.

Who really won? The chief--he was only performing his duty; the township--they couldn't care less. I felt I shouldn't have had to go through this bureaucratic maze. Who won? The system won, the people who are in charge, who mandate this so-called system, had won. Once again they had proven that no matter what kind of situation, what kind of problem arises, they could handle it. They have a solution, an answer for any challenge that may confront it. It didn't matter how long it took, time wasn't a factor, nor people, their emotions, wants, desires, whether an issue was right or wrong, if they were satisfied or not--these things aren't important. The laws, the rules and regulations that they have mandated was the essence of the case. They had even proven that they could solve a hypothetical situation should it arise, and had everything under control. The system was victorious, the system had survived.

On the way home I began to think about the Second Amendment. It is only 27 words long. Not one word referred to a man's mental or physical condition. There is no written word like permission, registration, permits, license, investigation. And what of the words "Shall not be infringed"--what do they mean anymore?

On October 18, 1983, the two matched Colt pistols arrived. The great expectations, the joy of owning the guns had long ago departed.
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Title Annotation:New Jersey man goes to court for right to own pistol
Author:Rossi, Anthony
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Apr 1, 1984
Previous Article:The magnificent six.
Next Article:.22 rimfire shot loads: are they any good?

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