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Bullet wounds deputy's pride

It was a day of firsts for Howard Arnold, a candidate for Citrus County sheriff. It was the first time the Lake County sheriff's deputy cleaned his guns at home and the first time since he bought a derringer 30 years ago that the gun was fired. And it was the first time in three decades as an officer that Arnold was shot _ and it wasn't even in the line of duty.

Arnold, a former Officer Friendly in Citrus County who now holds the same title in Lake County, inadvertently blew a quarter-sized hole in his left foot June 1.

Arnold was back at his desk Tuesday, more sore and embarrassed than hurt. "Besides feeling stupid, I feel extremely lucky," he said. Another inch higher, he said, and he might have seriously damaged his foot.

Barbara Arnold said her husband was home alone about 1:30 p.m. while she and daughter Marcy went shopping. While they were gone, he decided to clean his service revolver, a weapon he received as a gift after he left the department in Jacksonville, and a derringer he keeps loaded in the house for protection.

Arnold, 56, apparently left the derringer on the floor in their bedroom. The gun has two barrels, one on top of the other, and two safeties. Arnold said one safety was on. There is no trigger guard on the gun.

As Arnold was putting his revolver in a bedside drawer, he either kicked or stepped on the derringer, he said. The gun fired, shooting a .38-caliber bullet in his leg near his Achilles' tendon, out his ankle and into a closet door.

For about 20 to 30 seconds, he worried about damage to the room. But then he felt his foot go numb, looked down and saw blood on the floor.

Arnold, who was fired from the Citrus sheriff's office in 1989 after five years on the job, said he is still set to run against Citrus Sheriff Charles Dean.

"It's something I did that I was a little negligent on, I guess, but it's no reflection of my abilities, and I was not permanently injured," he said.

In fact, Arnold will use the experience to teach others. For the past two years, he's been Officer Friendly, visiting schools and talking to pupils from kindergarten to fifth-grade about the hazards of using drugs, playing with matches and tampering with loaded guns _ what Arnold calls "general safety stuff."

When school resumes, he'll now be able to draw on personal experience.

"When you load a gun, don't just lay it down," will be Officer Friendly's advice. "Put it in its proper place."

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