Reading Township supervisor candidate found guilty of firearms violation
Posted in the Hanover Forum
#1 Aug 11, 2011
By STEVE MARRONI The Evening Sun
Posted: 08/04/2011 03:58:48 PM EDT
A candidate for Reading Township Supervisor, convicted on drug charges in 1987, was found guilty Thursday in Adams County Court of possessing firearms as a felon.
Ronald A. Kesselring, 49, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison after being found guilty of the two second-degree felonies. The jury deliberated a half-hour before reaching its verdict.
In court, his attorney, Sherri Coover, said the weapons were inoperable antiques, and Kesselring testified he'd researched the law and thought he could own the flintlock and percussion pistol found in his home. After court, Kesselring referred questions about the verdict and his candidacy to his attorney, who declined additional comment.
But Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner said he advised Kesselring to withdraw from the race, and if he doesn't, Wagner said he would file a civil complaint to have him removed from the ballot. Wagner said a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision from 2000 prohibits convicted felons from holding offices such as township supervisor.
The trial was held before Judge Michael A. George, with a jury of seven men and five women.
Officer Eric B. Beyer of the Reading Township Police Department testified he executed a search warrant for Kesselring's home on Hunterstown-Hampton Road because he suspected him of illegally possessing firearms. Kesselring, who has a 1987 felony conviction of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, is prohibited from owning guns.
When he entered the house, Beyer immediately saw a flintlock rifle above the mantle, he testified. After about 10 minutes, Kesselring got home, was detained, and told police about a percussion revolver he had in a desk drawer, along with ammunition that would fit the weapons.
Cpl. Nicholas Scianna, a firearms expert with the Pennsylvania State Police, testified he was able to fire both guns when they were brought to his lab for testing.
Coover argued that though they fired in the lab, Kesselring never fired them, evident by corrosion inside the rifle. She also said Kesselring did not have the necessary black powder at his home to fire them.
And when Kesselring took the stand, he said he researched the law before purchasing each gun for $100 in 2008, and believed he was in compliance, saying the guns were non-functional. He said he bought the weapons because he had received death threats, he said.
In her closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Amber Lane told the jury that even though the guns are considered to be antiques, they can still fire, which qualifies them as prohibited weapons for felons.
"If you can use it, the law applies," she said.
For now, Kesselring is still on the ballot. But even without Thursday's gun conviction, the 1987 felony makes him ineligible to hold office to begin with, Wagner said.
Currently, Kesselring is the Republican candidate for the one available Reading Township supervisor seat. He is running against Democrat Paul Bart in the November election.
He is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 20.
#2 Aug 11, 2011
Take a shot at felon rule
Posted: 08/10/2011 01:00:00 AM EDT
You'd think the National Rifle Association, the American Civil Liberties Union or the "Don't Tread on Me" Tea Party folks would have something to say when police seize an old flintlock musket off a man's mantel and haul him off to court.
But the case of a Republican Reading Township supervisor candidate convicted last week of illegally owning two black-powder weapons has hardly been a shot heard around the county, let alone the world.
Back in his 20s, 49-year-old Ronald A. Kesselring was convicted on drug charges, meaning he can't own firearms today. But a police officer seized the flintlock and a percussion-cap pistol from Kesselring's home and now he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison after a jury deliberated just a half hour last week before finding him guilty of illegally possessing the two weapons.
His attorney, Sherri Coover, insisted in court the pistol and the musket, a weapon using technology out of date long before the Civil War, were inoperable antiques. True enough, State Police technicians were able to fire the weapons, but Coover insisted the corrosion in the barrels, and the fact that Kesselring did not have the black power at home necessary to fire them, should support his contention they were collectibles, not weapons for self defense.
We wonder at Kesselring's statement in court that he got the guns because someone was threatening his life. Who buys inoperable firearms to protect themselves?
But we also have to wonder why no one is coming to Kesselring's defense on this, because the real question ought to be, "So what if his guns were operable?" Or put another way, "Why should a 20-year-old drug conviction bar him from owning a weapon today?"
The answer is it might not, at least for not much longer. Only in the last few years has the U.S. Supreme Court recognized gun possession as a fundamental right, and a case similar to Kesselring's is currently winding its way through the courts.
A Tennessee man, David Scott Blackwell, convicted of felony drug possession in 1988 when he was 20 years old, is suing the state for the right to possess a hinting rifle.
Blackwell's case is bit more complicated - he was pardoned in Georgia, where he committed his crime, but Tennessee is refusing to recognize the restoration of his right to gun ownership. Legal observers, though, say it's likely the first in a series of cases that will limit a state's authority over gun ownership for felons.
It makes sense for states to keep guns out of the hands of those convicted of violent crimes, or cases in which a gun was used in the commission of a crime. But what about property or drug crimes in which no bystanders were hurt? Once they've served their time, why shouldn't those folks regain their right to protect their home or take their son or daughter hunting?
Adams County District Attorney Sean Wagner says even without the gun conviction, Kesselring shouldn't be on the ballot because of his prior felony conviction for drugs. That's bad enough, as we'd leave the determination of his fitness for public office to the voters rather than the district attorney. But by the time you read this, Kesselring will almost certainly be off the ballot. So voters won't have a chance to decide how much weight to give that conviction 24 years ago.
Still, if it's too late for Kesselring's candidacy, its not too late to make sure state lawmakers revisit the whole issue of gun ownership by felons and enact some rational amendments. We keep hearing about how politicians fear the powerful gun lobby.
So where are all the Second-Amendment folks right now when they should be standing up for Kesselring?
#3 Aug 12, 2011
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