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COLUMN

Right to bear arms barely there for landlord

Police took weapon, license, after confrontation with 'dangerous' tenant

Saturday, October 6, 2012 - 9:26 am

Whatever one thinks of the Second Amendment, this much should be beyond debate: If merely displaying a legal firearm makes a person unfit to carry or own one, the right to keep and bear arms is not worth the parchment it was written on.

Whether the implications are quite that black-and-white in Richard Snider's case is not entirely clear, but the 44-year-old Air Force veteran is convinced he's been victimized by a system that too often protects the guilty at the expense of the innocent – and the facts back him up, at least to a point.

“It took a little time, but I finally realized, 'If they can do this to me they can do it to anyone,' ” said Snider, whose effort to evict a problem tenant led to a confrontation with Fort Wayne Police that cost him his pistol and license to carry it, even though the .45-caliber automatic never left the holster and the department ultimately paid him $3,500 for his trouble.

It wasn't nearly enough, Snider insists, because some things really are far more precious than money.

The story began three years ago when Snider, a contractor who also owns seven

apartments, began efforts to evict Albert J. Smith from a unit on Randall Court for nonpayment of rent. After several heated confrontations and a perceived threat to his safety, Snider did what many other red-blooded Americans have done:

He bought a gun, got a license to carry it and made sure Smith knew it.

Problem solved, right?

Wrong. Snider was working in his shop a few days later when a Fort Wayne Police officer called to ask whether he was armed, then ordered him outside – where Snider was greeted by several officers with guns drawn, “some pointing at my head.”

As even the May 8, 2009 police report admits, Snider was told he could pick up his Springfield Armory pistol later. But after going to department headquarters, which was then on Creighton Avenue, Snider was told the pistol would be sent to Indianapolis for testing. Six week later, Snider said, he was informed the gun would not be returned because of his “propensity for violence.”

So Snider did something else millions of red-blooded Americans do: He made a federal case out of it, arguing in U.S. District Court that several of his constitutional rights had been violated. In May 2011 the city paid him $3,500 to settle the suit, with neither side acknowledging wrongdoing.

But Snider never did get his gun back and, to add injury to insult, the State Police had refused to renew his carry license just four months earlier.

“I served (in the Persian Gulf) for freedom, and this was a slap in the face,” Snider said. “They take your freedom a little at a time and before you know it, 'Whoa!' People just usually say, 'Oh, well,' but when the police overstep, you have to do something.”

Chief Rusty York, of course, sees things differently.

York defended his officers' decision to confiscate Snider's weapon “to protect public safety,” noting that they placed much of the blame for the escalating landlord-tenant hostilities and mutual charges of battery on Snider. “Due to (his) instigation and unpredictable behavior, along with signs of growing aggression, we confiscated his weapon,” a May 8, 2009 report states.

Given that unpredictability and the State Police's revocation of Snider's license, York's department kept the gun to protect the public and avoid any liability that might have come from its misuse had it been returned, York said. Besides, he added, Snider's acceptance of the $3,500 payment require him to give up the $700 weapon, which will be destroyed – part of the reason the money was offered in the first place.

Snider denies he instigated the conflict with Smith and wonders why the police didn't take him into custody if he was so “unstable.” On the other hand, imagine what might have happened had the police not intervened and Snider had used that gun to do more than intimidate.

But does that justify the permanent confiscation of Snider's weapon or denial of his license? York said he couldn't remember a similar case, but I wrote about one just four years ago – which, if not quite a pattern, does at least indicate Snider's experience was not unique.

In the earlier case, Kimmel resident Jim Grimes lost his 9 mm pistol and carry license after firing his weapon to stop another driver from fleeing following a suspicious 2006 traffic accident. Those decisions were never reversed despite Grimes' subsequent acquittal on charges of illegally “pointing a firearm.”

But Snider never fired his weapon under circumstances far less questionable and, in fact, legally bought another just like the one he was deemed unfit to own or carry. As for his judgment, consider this:

When Smith was charged with drug-related crimes in 2011, federal authorities called him “a danger to the community.” The feds also noted his “record of violence” for resisting law enforcement during a previous confrontation.

That was in 2001 – several years before Snider concluded he had reason to fear the same thing.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.