Donald Ray, a convicted wife beater, swears he just wanted a handgun for target practice. So the ex-Marine plopped down $600 at Gilbert's Guns Unlimited for a .357-caliber Magnum revolver in February.
After a week waiting for the state to approve his application, he picked up his new gun.
"I have had guns my whole life," said Ray, 26, who also owns a 12-gauge shotgun and a .22-caliber rifle. "If I wanted to shoot someone I could, but it is not really worth it. I have a little boy."
State police say Ray, convicted of domestic battery, and 26 others ineligible to possess handguns under state law because of past crimes took advantage of delays in criminal background checks to get weapons. The state police charged the 27 people last week with filing false handgun applications and perjury. Others may be charged.
Over a five-month period, the agency fell behind on 1,500 criminal background checks primarily because of computer problems, state police have said. Fifty-four guns went to people who cannot legally own them. The state police reassigned three supervisors in charge of licensing late last week after investigating the delays.
Among those who bought guns were five people previously convicted of felony possession of a deadly weapon other than a handgun, a drug dealer, six people convicted of possessing drugs, and one person convicted of assault with intent to maim. Two people with outstanding arrest warrants also purchased handguns.
Several interviewed in the past few days about their purchases said they had no plans to use the weapons illegally. They said they bought the guns for target practice, home protection -- and one said he bought it as a present for his wife.
Some said they didn't know they couldn't own guns.
Ray said he planned to use his revolver to shoot cardboard targets at his father's home in Virginia. The state police went to his Rockville home Wednesday night, took his handgun and notified him that he was being charged.
"I was like, `I want my gun back or my money back,' " said Ray, a glass technician. "They said tough luck. I called them the next day and cussed them out."
Convicted burglar Richard Polidore said he bought a gun for home protection because he was burglarized in August.
"You supposedly got the right to bear arms in this country," said Polidore, 30, a mechanic. "The criminals have guns, but I don't."
Polidore acknowledged that his "arrest record is really, really long." He was convicted of felony theft and breaking and entering. He was ordered by a judge to stay away from his former girlfriend but wouldn't say why.
"It was all due to drugs," said the recovering addict, who has been drug-free for eight years.
After the state failed to notify Valley Gun Shop on Harford Road that Polidore was ineligible, he picked up his handgun a week after paying a deposit.
"I have turned into an upstanding member of society and all of a sudden -- boom -- I am arrested," he said. "I spent 30 hours in jail.
"I should have just gotten a baseball bat."
Those charged by state police slipped through the system by applying for, then purchasing their guns after the seven-day waiting period. With state police so far behind, gun merchants could legally sell the weapons.
State police were expected to notify the gun stores that the sales shouldn't go through if an applicant had been convicted of a felony or crime involving domestic violence. Drug addicts, those under 21 and people with a history of mental illness are also prohibited from buying guns.
Early Sunday, Baltimore police recovered the last gun illegally purchased. None of the 10 guns recovered in Baltimore was used in a crime.
On Saturday, Robert Deaton received a letter saying he had failed the police background check. He had bought his gun early last month. "It was kind of funny that I received a letter five days after they took the gun and three days after they charged me," said Deaton, 39.
Deaton, an automobile mechanic living in Glen Burnie, said he bought his weapon for target practice. He got tired of renting a gun each time he and his wife went shooting, so he bought a 9 mm pistol for $130. Deaton said he spent three years, beginning in 1980, in military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He did not know his conviction in a military court for assault with intent to rape would show up on his criminal record.
Electrician Terry Gavazzi said he thought that when his probation ended in 1993, he could own a pistol. He had pleaded guilty to a drug manufacturing charge 13 years ago.
"I have a family, I drive the speed limit and I was trying to buy this gun legally," said Gavazzi, who bought a pistol for his wife after his brother threatened him. "I am totally burned about this. It is going to cost me time and money."
Gavazzi also lost a 20-gauge shotgun, another pistol and several .22-caliber rifles to the state police who showed up at his home. He said they were heirlooms.
"They were going to be mine one day," he said.
Research librarians Jean Packard and Paul McCardell contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 3/23/99