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A Times Editorial

Inform dealers; enforce gun law

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001

In addition to being the victim of a fatal act of violence, Meghan Durling was a victim of bad timing and government's lack of initiative.

The man who killed Durling, and then himself, was Troy Truax. He used a shotgun he had purchased earlier in the day Feb. 19, in apparent violation of a county ordinance that requires a three-day waiting period for most gun sales, including shotguns.

Even though the ordinance has been on the books almost two years, some firearm vendors are not enforcing it. They are either unaware or unconcerned about the ordinance, which goes a step beyond the state law that requires a three-day waiting period only for handgun sales. Citrus County's ordinance regulates all firearm sales.

Truax had a concealed weapon permit, and had it been current, the waiting period would have been waived for him. But the permit had expired, which initially prevented him from buying the shotgun he used to kill his ex-girlfriend. One pawn shop owner, Al Manchester, caught the discrepancy and refused to sell Truax the gun on the spot, even though he knew Truax.

But the owner of A-OK Pawn and Gold in Crystal River, Marlene Sabados Williams, was not as diligent. She sold Truax a shotgun, which he used just a few hours later to carry out his brutal murder-suicide plan. The State Attorney's Office has charged Williams with unlawfully selling a firearm, which is a second-degree misdemeanor. She could be fined $500 and sentenced to 60 days in jail if found guilty of the charge.

It is always difficult to second-guess how these tragedies might have been avoided. But this incident merits reasonable speculation that if the County Commission had informed firearm dealers about the stricter ordinance directly and more promptly, Durling's death might have been prevented.

Sheriff Jeff Dawsy was made aware last fall by Manchester that some gun sellers were circumventing the county's 72-hour waiting period for background checks for firearms other handguns. Dawsy's office had begun notifying pawn shops and other firearms dealers, something he was not required to do, but he was waiting for assurance from the State Attorney and County Attorney that the county's ordinance did not conflict with the less-restrictive state law.

But that process was not completed soon enough for Durling, whose 1-year-old daughter Molly is being raised by her grandparents.

The county relies on legal ads and media coverage to get the word out about new laws. That's all that is generally required. But this case is different. We're talking about lethal weapons, not changing rights-of-way.

While it would be unwieldy for the commission to notify every resident by mail every time it passes a law, it could have been accomplished easily and inexpensively in this case. There are fewer than 30 gun sellers in Citrus County and because the county's ordinance changed the way they do business and made them even more of a gatekeeper for weapons, the commissioners not only should have made an effort to notify them of the new requirements, but also should have solicited the assistance of police for follow-up enforcement.

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