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Man fights to regain right to carry weapon

| Friday, May 4, 2012, 9:51 a.m.

A Mt. Pleasant Township man is fighting to regain his right to carry a concealed weapon after police charged him with drawing a handgun in a public area and threatening to kill a former state trooper.

Court records say David J. Warburton Jr., 49, had his firearms permit revoked in April. Police say Warburton unholstered a Browning .380-caliber pistol during a confrontation with David S. Flagg, 45, on Dec. 4 inside the East Huntingdon Township Wal-Mart.

Westmoreland County Sheriff Chris Scherer said he decided to take Warburton's permit away after he learned state police charged Warburton with recklessly endangering another person, terroristic threats, simple assault and harassment. Warburton's lawyer, Jeffrey Abramowitz, said his client did not point the gun at anyone and drew it only because he felt threatened by Flagg. Abramowitz appealed Scherer's decision last week.

"He had no intention of discharging the weapon. He had no desire to do anything but ensure his own safety," Abramowitz said.

Warburton's arrest affidavit states Flagg approached Warburton in the store to ask about rumors he allegedly had been spreading about Flagg's wife. Police say Warburton unholstered the gun and threatened to kill Flagg if he came closer.

Flagg, an ex-state trooper who used to carry a concealed weapon himself, said Warburton acted irresponsibly and that he should not regain his handgun privileges.

"Absolutely, I felt threatened," Flagg said. "He asked me twice, in succession, did I want to die tonight."

Flagg said he left the state police in 1990 for personal reasons after eight years as a trooper.

Court documents indicate that two different people sought restraining orders against Flagg in 1999 and 2000 and that he served a probation term after being arrested for repeatedly harassing a woman between November 1999 and March 2000. Flagg said he and Warburton live near each other in Mt. Pleasant Townbship but do not know each other well.

"Regardless of what he knew or didn't know about me, Pennsylvania law prohibits him from doing what he did," Flagg said.

According to sheriff's department records, 36,335 people in Westmoreland County have a permit to carry a concealed firearm. Scherer said he seldom revokes permits and that Warburton's case is unlike any he'd ever dealt with.

Scherer said he didn't have to revoke Warburton's permit, but considering the circumstances, he thought it was the right thing to do.

"We got information from the Pennsylvania State Police that Mr. Warburton was going to be charged with a number of crimes and a firearm was used in the commission of those crimes," Scherer said. "If the facts reveal that he was justified, I would definitely reinstate his permit. ... The charges, on their face, are serious."

Warburton's criminal case is scheduled to be heard next month. Court papers indicate that Warburton is preparing to ask a judge for acceptance into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program. The ARD program typically is reserved for nonviolent first-time offenders.

Getting into the program does not require admitting guilt. At the end of a probation period, Warburton's record could be expunged. Abramowitz argues that the program applies to the case because drawing the weapon was not an act of violence, but self-protection.

"He, in my opinion, was doing what he thought was appropriate," Abramowitz said.

The permit appeal will be heard in a separate proceeding in civil court.

The thought that Warburton might regain his permit to carry a concealed firearm has Flagg worried.

"I would be opposed to it -- vehemently opposed to it," he said.

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