Gun dealer tied to fatal shooting in Parkville faces trial today

October 17, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

The early-morning call from a Parkville condominium sounded dire. A woman said her estranged boyfriend had a rifle and was threatening to kill himself.

Officers responded to the scene after 2 a.m. on Feb. 18 and tried to persuade Keith J. Showalter to surrender, but he refused, according to a police account. The 25-year-old then came out of the building on Lowell Glen Road brandishing a Yugoslavian military-style rifle and fired seven rounds at police just yards away. Two officers returned fire, killing Showalter.

Today, prosecutors are slated to take to trial the case against the gun dealer charged by the Baltimore County state's attorney with illegally providing weapons to Showalter.

It is the latest, and potentially the most serious, chapter in the long legal saga of Sanford M. Abrams, the former National Rifle Association national board member stripped of his license by federal agents last year for failing to keep track of hundreds of weapons in his shop's inventory.

In the Parkville case this year, Baltimore County police charged Abrams, saying in court papers that the sale was illegal because Showalter had a criminal record that prevented him from owning a gun legally and because such gun sales are supposed to be reported to the Maryland State Police. Police also found an illegal machine gun in Abrams' custody during a search of his property.

If convicted, Abrams could be sentenced to up to 10 years on the machine gun charge alone. He also faces four other counts related to the illegal sale and possession of firearms.

Reached yesterday, Abrams, 58, of Owings Mills, and his criminal defense attorney, Norman King, declined to comment on the charges. The prosecutor in the case, Kristin Blumer, also declined to talk about the case scheduled for trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court in Towson this morning.

Gun-control advocates who have tracked Abrams for years applauded a rare state prosecution of a licensed gun dealer, but decried the lack of federal criminal laws governing the sale of weapons by rogue dealers.

"Over and over again, these guns dealers can evade federal sanction and, thanks to the NRA, it's very hard to bring a federal criminal case," Daniel R. Vice, senior attorney at the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence Legal Action Project, said yesterday. "We're lucky here these police officers were not killed and that the state decided to step in and charge Sandy Abrams."

Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, whose office handled the federal civil case over Abrams' license revocation, declined to comment on why Abrams has not been charged federally.

Baltimore County police first became involved with Abrams more than a year and a half ago. Federal agents asked county police for help in seizing the firearms at Abrams' Valley Gun shop in the 7700 block of Harford Road after his federal and state firearms licenses had been revoked. After the weapons were secured, Baltimore County Detective William Ryan wrote in charging documents that he began to receive several tips that Abrams was still selling weapons.

Abrams had lost his license after the federal courts determined he had more than 900 violations of recordkeeping regulations designed to help police track guns used in crimes. Richard E. Gardiner, Abrams' lawyer in the federal case, said yesterday that the former gun dealer decided not to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court after losing on appeal.

Abrams said at the time he planned to sell his remaining 700-gun inventory on consignment to an independent shop next door in a building owned by his family. But after Showalter shot at police, Baltimore County authorities said in court papers that they found otherwise.

After the February fatal shooting, Ryan wrote that he found two guns on Showalter's body and one inside the safe of his apartment. In addition to the Yugoslavian rifle, the others were a Bushmaster assault rifle and a Remington semiautomatic rifle with the butt stock and barrel sawed off.

Records showed that all three weapons had been in the possession of Abrams, but there was no record of a sale to Showalter. The Yugoslavian rifle, Ryan wrote in court papers, was not covered by Maryland firearms laws. But the other two weapons were, he wrote.

Contrary to Abrams' pledge, the owner of Just Guns, the shop that took over for Abrams' Valley Gun, did not receive all of Abrams' inventory, according to police interviews. In addition, Ryan found that Showalter had been convicted of second-degree assault in 2002, making him ineligible to possess any firearms.

Those facts, Ryan wrote, "are indicative of Sanford Michael Abrams trafficking/selling firearms without abiding by current laws," Ryan wrote.

Later, at Abrams' weapons supply shop, county police found a machine gun and paperwork indicating Abrams was in the process of selling it.

"The actual possessor of a machine gun is required to register that machine gun to themselves and in this case Sanford Abrams failed to do so," Ryan wrote.

Finally, police wrote that they found records that show Abrams sold Showalter the Bushmaster rifle but failed to follow firearms regulations and report the sale to the State Police.

"If Mr. Abrams had followed legally prescribed methods to sell the firearm," Ryan wrote, "the sale would not have been approved due to Keith Showalter's prohibiting criminal record."

Sun reporter Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.

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