Appeals court: judge was wrong to revoke concealed carry permit

Posted: Friday, November 09, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A judge was wrong to revoke a man's permit to carry a concealed handgun because she believed he was mentally ill, the Alaska Court of Appeals has ruled.

The appeals court ruled Wednesday that District Court Judge Natalie Finn erred in taking away Timothy Wagner's permit to carry a concealed weapon until his mental illness was ''either cured or improved.''

In its decision Wednesday, the court cited changes to state law in 1998 to eliminate mental illness as a factor that the Department of Public Safety can consider when processing concealed handgun permits.

The court found that in defending Finn's action, the state Attorney General's office was relying on an earlier version of the law that allowed the Department of Public Safety to reject an application or deny a renewal if the agency believed the applicant was mentally ill.

''However, this provision of the Administrative Code was amended in 1998 to eliminate mental illness as a factor that the department can consider when processing concealed handgun permits,'' the court wrote in its decision.

Wagner was convicted of failing to disclose to a police officer on Oct. 7, 1998, that he was carrying a concealed handgun until the officer asked him if he was armed.

The court supported Finn's decision to place Wagner on three years probation. As a condition, the judge ordered him not to have any weapons.

According to court documents, the problem arose after Wagner entered the Alaska Mining and Diving store in Anchorage, and an employee noticed he was dripping wet and asked him if he needed help.

Wagner told the employee that he needed to soak out the chemicals that had been injected into him or else they would kill him. Wagner also said a computer chip had been implanted in his head. Another employee overheard the conversation and called police.

When police arrived, Wagner placed a briefcase he was carrying in a basket on his bicycle. The briefcase was within Wagner's reach while he talked to the police officer.

Police ran a background check and found that Wagner had a permit to carry a concealed handgun. The officer then asked Wagner if he had a gun, and he pointed to the briefcase.

The case illustrates concerns Gov. Tony Knowles had in June 1997 when he vetoed a bill that eased rules on carrying concealed handguns, said governor's spokesman Bob King. Lawmakers overrode the governor's veto and the bill passed in 1998.

The governor said in a letter when vetoing the bill, ''I believe the bill sweeps too broadly, and as a result allows people who are potentially dangerous to obtain or keep a permit to carry a concealed handgun... People who are mentally ill and under medication, although not formally institutionalized may obtain a permit...''

Since the concealed handgun law went into effect on Feb. 11, 1995, 18,301 permits have been issued as of the end of October. There was no significant increase in the number of permits issued after restrictions were eased, said Lt. Julia Grimes, supervisor of permits and licensing for the Alaska State Troopers.

The Department of Public Safety revoked Wagner's permit after hearing of Finn's decision, said Del Smith, the department's deputy commissioner. Wagner appealed the decision and the agency denied the appeal.

''I think Finn was concerned about his behavior and rightly so,'' Smith said. ''He made some pretty bizarre claims.''

Smith said if Wagner asks for his permit back, he'll get rejected again.

''If you're goofy enough acting, I'm not going to give you a permit,'' Smith said. ''The court hasn't ordered us to do anything.''

Wagner's lawyer did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.

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