Glyndon-area gun dealer's home shop becomes target of crime bill provision Zoning rule may cost bullet maker his license

September 23, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The nationwide anxiety that spawned the 1994 federal crime bill wasn't aimed at Neil S. Kravitz's rural home business -- making special bullets for target shooters -- but it hit his bull's eye anyway.

A minor provision requiring local police to ensure that people with federal gun dealers' licenses abide by all local laws, including zoning laws, is threatening to put Kravitz out of business.

And he's upset.

"I just don't understand it," says Kravitz, who lives near Glyndon in Baltimore County.

"I've complied with every single, solitary rule and regulation," for his two federal and one state firearms licenses.

"It's discrimination," Kravitz, 47, adds, arguing that people who sell beauty products or do other work at home haven't had such problems. He is asking the Circuit Court to overturn an Aug. 16 Board of Appeals ruling against him.

The part-time semiconductor salesman has assembled golf clubs, made wine and rebuilt computers amid the formidable clutter of his rural home, which is down an unpaved gravel track next to a farm. He lives with a female friend, two large boa constrictors, two dogs, a cat and two Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Only two federally licensed gun dealers in the county -- out of 135 operating in residential areas -- responded to a Police Department letter last year telling them to comply with local zoning laws or face denial of their federal license renewals. The county has 440 licensed gun dealers.

Kravitz, one of the two to respond, is the only person declared in violation of zoning regulations on home businesses in noncommercial areas. And he regrets coming forward. "If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't do anything."

His federal license has been extended six months while he appeals. But he imagines that if he had ignored the police letter, he might have escaped notice and been let alone.

County police Capt. William G. Kalista, who commands the Firearms Violence Unit, says that ignoring the letter would only have worked until Kravitz's three-year federal licenses came up for renewal. The county police then would have notified the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which would have withheld renewal of the license.

Still, Kalista acknowledges he's not certain of the status of the 133 other license holders who did not respond to the police letter.

Thomas Stewart, area supervisor for the federal agency, said 13 county gun dealers have had licenses renewed this year; four others surrendered theirs.

No Baltimore County dealer has had a license denied, but some have let their licenses expire without seeking renewal, he says. The bureau does not keep track of those separately.

Kravitz says he's been target shooting since age 14 and has become so good at the arcane skill of custom-loading bullet cartridges that shooters who demand accuracy come to him unsolicited for help. That includes county police detectives, who have him load ammunition for their range practice.

The combination of chemistry in blending powder and the physics of a bullet's trajectory fascinates him.

"I'm a real enthusiast of ballistics," he says. "I'm not a gun nut."

His hobbies are sometimes indistinguishable from his businesses -- which has led to his zoning problems.

Two of Kravitz's ammunition reloading machines and most of his supplies are in a converted garage, but one machine and some supplies are in the basement of his home. The location of the machines was central to the zoning rulings; officials say that because the garage is not part of his home, the business violates the law.

Meanwhile, county planners are reviewing home business laws and seeking to modernize them. The antiquated rules, for example, still refer to occupations such as taking in washing and ironing.

Pub Date: 9/23/96

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