Baltimore County Cop Accused Of Taking Bribes For Gun Training Certification

AP Photo/Michael Hill

When the government turns a right into a privilege and tacks on burdensome requirements to exercise that right, bribery almost certainly follows. Not only is this predictable from observing human nature, but it is also borne out by real-world evidence.

By now, most of us have heard about the extensive bribery permeating the New York Gun License Division. Because New York City in all its wisdom turned the exercise of our constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms into a government-granted privilege, cops had an unprecedented amount of unchecked power to decide who gets to exercise that right. The result was predictable: cops granted gun licenses in exchange for bribes that included cash, expensive watches, tickets to sporting events and Broadway shows, overseas vacations, meals, booze, car repairs, and trips to strip clubs. This wasn’t unique to New York City; on the other side of the continent, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office has also been embroiled in bribery allegations.

So, it should come as no surprise that another state with a May-Issue permitting regime has a government official indicted for taking bribes to let people skip a government-created hurdle.

A news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland has the details:

Baltimore County Police Officer Facing Federal Indictment for Allegedly Seeking and Accepting Bribes in Exchange for Falsely Certifying the Completion of Firearms Training Required to Obtain a Handgun

Also Allegedly Falsely Certified the Completion of Training to Obtain a Permit to Wear and Carry a Firearm

Baltimore, Maryland – A federal grand jury today returned an indictment charging William R. Johnson, Jr., age 32, of Baltimore, Maryland, for a federal charge of honest services wire fraud, for allegedly seeking and accepting bribes and kickback to falsely certify that applicants for Maryland handgun qualifying licenses (HQL) and wear and carry permits (CCW) had completed the required training.

Why was Mr. Johnson able to demand a bribe from the applicants? The indictment describes the perverse incentives created by the State of Maryland.

In order to purchase, rent, or receive a handgun in Maryland, residents must have a handgun qualification license (HQL).  To obtain an HQL, the applicant must be at least 21 years old and complete four hours of instruction by a qualified handgun instructor, including classroom training, a firearms orientation, and a “live fire” exercise in which the applicant safely shoots the weapon. 

That’s a significant burden to buy, receive, or simply rent a handgun in Maryland. (I am 100% confident that Baltimore gangbangers have been following Maryland’s requirements.) Those are the requirements for keeping arms; what about bearing arms? The indictment has more information:

Similarly, to obtain a license to wear and carry a firearm (referred to as a wear and carry permit or “CCW”) residents must have completed the Maryland State Police (MSP) firearms training course within two years of submitting a new or renewal application.  In addition, the applicant must undergo a minimum of 16 hours of instruction for an initial CCW application, and a minimum of eight hours of instruction for a renewal CCW application which is administered by a qualified handgun instructor.  Part of the training course for obtaining a CCW is a firearms qualification exercise in which the applicant must shoot a specific course, scoring at least 70 percent accuracy, to demonstrate their proficiency and use of the firearm.

There’s a saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and it’s totally applicable here. Maryland jacked up the burden on its lawful citizens to make firearms ownership as unpleasant as possible. The only thing that Maryland accomplished in the process is to create the conditions and incentives for bribery, while making zero difference to Baltimore’s awful crime rates.

Johnson allegedly charged approximately $100 for an HQL certification and between $150 and $200 for a CCW certification.  In conversations with the applicants, Johnson allegedly made clear that once they paid the money, Johnson would send them the required documentation and they did not need to attend the required classes. 

A $100 bribe to circumvent the 4-hour training requirement for an HQL certification and a $200 bribe for the 16-hour CCW training requirement sounds reasonable to both the briber and the “bribee.” They both get to avoid the hassle and the “bribee” pockets the cash for simply filling out paperwork.

I really hate to see this sort of corruption in the United States. Before I moved here, I was accustomed to being hassled for bribes by government apparatchiks in India. Want a phone line? Pay a bribe. Want a train ticket? Bribe! Want a building permit? Bribe! Get pulled over? Bribe!

Public corruption in any country starts out small, but once it’s accepted on a small scale in some facet of governance, it spreads like a cancer.

I hope Maryland legislators realize that they are partly responsible for creating the conditions that incentivized corruption and address the root cause. I also hope that New York legislators, who are proposing burdensome training requirements like Maryland’s, are paying attention to avoid repeating the latter’s mistake.

Nov 29, 2021 4:30 PM ET