Fatal omission; Gun law: Violent man who shouldn't have been able to buy a gun did; now his children are dead.


MARYLAND'S gun law should have kept Richard Wayne Spicknall II from buying the weapon that police believe he used to kill his young daughter and son. It didn't. The Howard County Sheriff's Department is to blame.

Last winter, Mr. Spicknall consented to a restraining order requested by his estranged wife. The sheriff's department, confused by the word "consent," wrongly assumed it meant the order didn't have to be entered into state and federal law enforcement databases, which are used to screen applicants for firearm purchases.

Howard Sheriff Charles M. Cave hasn't adequately explained why the correct information was entered into the computer, then "inadvertently removed." The omission allowed Mr. Spicknall to buy a 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun at a College Park pawnshop. He is now charged with murdering his children, Destiny Array, 3, and Richard Wayne III, 2.

Law enforcement personnel must be vigilant in updating and checking the information that is critical for the network to operate. Last spring, the Maryland State Police made a self-described "major blunder" when a mix-up allowed at least 54 people to buy firearms who shouldn't have been allowed to do so.

Since the shooting of the Spicknall children Sept. 9, the Howard sheriff's office has found, and corrected, at least three improperly recorded restraining orders.

Other law enforcement agencies in the state must immediately review their files for possible errors. Background checks for gun purchases can save lives, but only when those sworn to uphold the system do their jobs.

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