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A Times Editorial

Settlement request for rifles way off target

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 4, 2003

Jeffrey Smith said he was only trying to be helpful. But his proposed settlement with Citrus County for an injury he suffered at the new courthouse addition is causing more trouble than he ever imagined.

In a recent letter to the county, Smith suggested a deal: He would drop the matter if the county were to find him two expensive, high-powered rifles.

The offer raised concerns for several reasons. For one, county officials are rightly troubled by an offer that turns them into arms brokers.

"We don't want to be purchasing guns for the general population," County Attorney Robert Battista said.

For another, Smith should be aware of the potential for mischief that his request creates. As a state prosecutor, Smith no doubt is all too familiar with the troubles that firearms can cause for the law enforcement community.

Even though Smith intended to give the weapons away to presumably law-abiding citizens and organizations, imagine the repercussions if one of the powerful weapons were to fall into the wrong hands at some later date. Would the county or Smith like to be responsible for setting in motion that chain of events?

Such a circumstance would be unintended, of course, but Smith should be painfully aware that accidents can and do happen.

After all, it was an accident in January when a security door at the new courthouse addition closed on his hand that started this saga.

Smith explained that he was merely trying to think creatively when he proposed the settlement.

Rather than simply ask for cash, he figured he might be able to help the county save some money by asking for the firearms. He pointed out that insurance companies often have recovered items in storage; and if the county's insurer could locate a couple of Ruger rifles, with scopes and reloading dies, in the backroom, it would be a cheap solution.

Now, he regrets his unconventional thinking. "If I had known the furor this was going to create, I would have just asked for the cash," he told the Times.

After the recent razzing that Citrus County suffered at the hands of a Boston Globe columnist who portrayed our community as a few steps below Mayberry, Smith's gambit unintentionally is providing ammunition to those who would poke fun at us.

Citrus does not want to get a reputation as a place where law officials try to barter with the county for high-powered guns.

Smith, an avid hunter, meant well with his suggestion. Unfortunately, his idea missed the mark.

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