Pawnshop is redeemed by city

September 27, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

With great fanfare, Baltimore housing officials led reporters and television cameras on a media parade 11 days ago to Livingston's Loan on the edge of The Block. Amid the glare of the cameras' lights, they burst into the downtown pawnshop and read a notice ordering it to close, contending that it was illegally selling firearms.

Now, chagrined officials say, all of that was a mistake. They have canceled the order, admitting that the pawnshop at 501 E. Baltimore St. has the right to sell rifles and shotguns after all.

The pawnshop doesn't need a special city permit to sell guns, housing officials say, because it already had a license before the city laws were passed in the late 1980s. Officials discovered their error after reviewing records.

"We knew whatever happened had to be a terrible mistake," said Joseph Triplett, one of Livingston's owners. He added that he was pleased that city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III apologized for the error.

"But by no means does it make everything right," Mr. Triplett said. "We certainly didn't like the way the whole thing was handled. We deserved at least a phone call before they took action."

The cancellation of the order against Livingston's marked the second time that city officials had to back off during their celebrated "crackdown" on pawnshops selling firearms. On Sept. 19 -- just three days after the crackdown began -- officials admitted they made a mistake in issuing a violation notice to Boston Loan Office. The West Baltimore pawnshop also was licensed to sell firearms before the 1980s city laws took effect.

Five other city pawnshops were issued zoning violation notices Sept. 16.

City housing officials blamed the local office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) for the mistakes. "Based on ATF records, we proceeded," said Zack Germroth, spokesman for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. The ATF took responsibility for the mistakes.

In the case of Boston Loan, it said, an ATF inspector misread the records. In the case of Livingston's, which was closed for several hours on Sept. 16, the ATF Firearms Licensing Center in Atlanta had apparently entered the wrong information into its computer.

"We're extremely upset and embarrassed," said Michael F. Fronczak, a compliance supervisor in the ATF's Baltimore field office.

Mr. Germroth defended the city's decision to tell reporters about the action against Livingston's before informing the pawnshop. "We wanted to hold a press conference that got the message to others."

But Steven A. Allen, attorney for Livingston's, said housing officials succeeded in "unfairly tarnishing Livingston's good name through the press coverage which the city arranged." He said he is considering filing a lawsuit against the city.

Mr. Triplett -- who had vehemently contended that Livingston's had the right to sell firearms when city officials visited his shop Sept. 16 -- said his business' image was hurt. "With an industry such as ours, which has a stigma attached to it, I found myself having to explain to everyone what went on," he said.

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