Records show veteran, denied right to buy gun, was never convicted in 1971 pot case
By DANE SCHILLER | The Houston Chronicle | Published: August 31, 2013
Ron Kelly finally got his gun.
The Tomball, Texas, resident and retired soldier has been jockeying for justice the last few months after a computerized government background check determined he could not buy a gun due to a minor marijuana possession charge from 1971.
At the time of the rejection, he insisted that he'd been convicted of a misdemeanor, not a felony, and there was no justification for denying a right he defended with a 20-year career in the Army.
After a July article in the Houston Chronicle, Kelly stepped up his efforts to contact politicians and lawyers, and find a resolution, perhaps a waiver that would permit him to get a gun. The FBI even reached out to try and fix things.
His trip Wednesday back to the Walmart where he was originally denied permission to buy the gun was prompted by lawyers who volunteered to help the 59-year-old get records from his arrest so long ago in North Carolina.
The records showed that his charge of possessing a gram or more of marijuana was dismissed by the judge at the request of prosecutors. There had never been any conviction, not even a misdemeanor.
Armed with the new information, off to Walmart Kelly went. The background check took about five minutes, and he walked out the door with a $229 Mossberg 715T, a .22-caliber rifle.
"I am not sure if I got it because they cleared my record or because somebody up the line said, 'Let him buy a cannon if he wants to so he won't be in the news anymore,'?" Kelly said with a laugh.
Unaware of resolution
He said he didn't expect to be able to get the gun because he had not heard back from anyone in government that his situation had been resolved.
"I am still under the impression that they haven't admitted they made a mistake," he said.
Texas continues to lead the nation in the number of requests for background checks with nearly 1 million so far this year. About 1 percent of them nationwide are denied, landing Kelly in the same situation as people who have renounced their U.S. citizenship, been dishonorably discharged from the military or convicted of domestic violence.
Nearly 600,000 denials since 1998 have come for the same reason Kelly's - a criminal conviction. In Kelly's case this amounted to a supposed crime punishable by more than two years behind bars.
No criminal record
The whole matter happened so long ago that Kelly admits he can hardly remember the court proceeding. He also can't believe that acting on the government rejection letter and his own confused recollection of events he went on national television and conceded he had a misdemeanor conviction - when in fact he had no record at all.
By the time the original record was located, Kelly's case was not only being handled by lawyer C. Kevin Marshall of the Jones Day law firm, but had prompted inquiries by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, whose district includes part of Harris County, and U.S. Sen John Cornyn.
Marshall said he was ready to go to court if the government hadn't made things right for Kelly.
"It is lawless and of dubious constitutionality for the federal government to impose on citizens like Mr. Kelly delays and bureaucratic obstacles to exercising their constitutional right to keep and bear arms," Marshall said, "when it can find no basis to conclude that they are prohibited from having a gun."
As for what comes next, Kelly said he's not even sure he'll fire the gun. He wants to just have it around the house.
"I was a 20-year veteran," he said of how many thousands of times he has fired a gun. "It is not much of a big deal for me."