District Attorney Seth Williams said that the loophole defeats local efforts to keep streets safe.
"We should not allow Florida to pierce the veil of sovereignty of Pennsylvania," he said. "This is something I'm going to direct my legislation unit to look into. This is a loophole I think it would be best to close."
Police and prosecutors are furious about the loophole, but gun-rights advocates say that it's the Philadelphia Police Department that has put a loophole in the process by requiring far more of applicants seeking permits for concealed weapons than the other counties in the state, where permits are issued by their sheriff's departments.
"You can purchase a firearm but you can't get a permit in Philadelphia to save your life," said Richard Oliver, a firearms instructor in Northeast Philadelphia who teaches safety courses for those seeking permits out of Florida and Utah. "That's what causes people to go to other states to get the permits."
Pennsylvania's firearms reciprocity agreements require the state to recognize permits from 24 other states that have permit laws as strict or stricter than its own and that those states, in turn, recognize Pennsylvania weapons permits.
Among the states covered, there are three - Florida, Utah and New Hampshire - that allow out-of-state residents to get permits even if they don't qualify or apply for permits in their home state.
Locally, though, it's become known as the "Florida loophole" because that's where most of the out-of-state permits are coming from, according to police and prosecutors.
People pass out fliers on the legal loophole and set up tables at area gun shows to help Pennsylvania residents complete the Florida application process, the gun permit unit's King said.
Williams called the loophole "a sick trick of the gun dealers in gun shows to circumvent the laws of Pennsylvania."
Oliver, the Northeast firearms instructor and owner of the Parapet Group, a security and law-enforcement training company, said that he's been teaching firearms courses that are required for Florida permits for four years.
"I used to go to the Valley Forge gun shows and I would see them teaching these [safety] courses and I thought it was a scam at first," he said. "But this permit is totally legal."
King said that the Florida Department of Agriculture, which issues the permits, is run by civilians and cannot determine if out-of-state applicants have been previously denied a permit in their home state.
She also said that Florida looks only at convictions, not arrest history or one's character and reputation, as the Philadelphia police do.
"If somebody has been arrested a dozen times and the cases have just been dismissed or discharged, that doesn't mean the crime didn't happen," she said.
Susan Harrell, bureau chief for the Florida Department of Agriculture's Division of Licensing, said that all applicants' names and fingerprints are run through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and then the FBI.
But CeaseFire PA executive director Joe Grace called the loophole "outrageous" and said that the issue is one his group will push in the upcoming governor's race, in which Attorney General Tom Corbett is a candidate.
Grace said that the reciprocity law is not unusual, but blamed the loophole on Corbett's translation of the law.
"Surely, the Legislature never intended for this scenario to play out based upon an interpretation by the attorney general," Grace said. "This, clearly, under any interpretation, has to stand the intent of that law on its head."
He said that the loophole is playing out on the streets, "where the bad guys have gotten wind of it."
"People engaged in criminal activity are smart enough that once they are denied here, they are aware of this law and apply in Florida," he said. "That's thwarting the ability of Philadelphia police or any department to police Pennsylvania law."
Grace cited an example of a Philadelphia man who obtained a Florida license to carry. He was subsequently pulled over in a traffic stop, and not only did he have two handguns on him, but he also had a half-pound of marijuana, numerous other drugs and several thousand dollars in cash.
When the case went to court, prosecutors could not charge the man with any gun violations, Grace said, because of his Florida permit.
Brian Grady, deputy of the Special Operations Division of the Philadelphia D.A.'s office, said that prosecutors come across Florida permits issued to Philadelphia residents whose permits have been revoked "more frequently than we would care to."
"I don't have a running number of how many of these occur, but when they do, we can't prosecute them," he said.
Grady cited one case in which a Florida license was confiscated from a Philadelphia resident with five prior arrests and a prior conviction that prohibited him from even buying or owning a gun under federal law.
"He then called Florida, told them he'd lost his permit and they sent him a new one," he said.
However, not everyone thinks the reciprocity agreement on gun permits is a problem.
Nils Frederiksen, Corbett's deputy press secretary, noted that Florida's application process is more stringent than Pennsylvania's and requires things like certification of a firearms safety course.
"One might ask, why would someone subject themselves to a more restrictive process if they're trying to elude something?" he said.
Gun-rights advocates also say that Philadelphia police are going above and beyond in their screening and approval process for CCW applicants, forcing them to go elsewhere.
Though the city is now required to comply with the rest of the state's standards, they conduct an additional interview and questionnaire and can decline someone's application based just on their character and reputation.
Oliver said that he teaches the gun-safety courses for out-of-state permits about eight times a year, and that about 25 percent of his students are people who've been denied a Philadelphia permit.
"They mention that they've been denied a permit in Philadelphia for everything from parking tickets to child-support payments," he said. "You may not have a criminal record but you owe some tickets or child support and they deny you when the rest of the state doesn't.
"That's not to say I'm for the deadbeat dad, but if you're behind in your bills are you not allowed to protect yourself?"
Christie Caywood, a member of the Pennsylvania Firearms Owners Association, who spoke on the organization's behalf, said that Philadelphia's practice of revoking licenses of victims whose guns have been stolen, and the department's high permit-revocation rate - 505 last year - send residents to other states.
"It is not surprising that some gun owners may opt for more uniform standards of another state license over the discriminatory abuses of the Philadelphia Police Department," she said.
Today, there are about 23,000 active gun permits in the city granted by Philadelphia police, King said.
However, it's unknown how many city residents have permits from Florida because Florida does not keep track of where the 70,228 nonresident permits it has issued have gone - though they make up nearly 10 percent of the total permits issued by the state, according to Harrell.
Even Philadelphia police can't get a list of the names or the number of city residents with Florida permits without subpoenaing the state, which they are working with the District Attorney's Office to do, King said.
Each year, Philadelphia's gun-permit unit sends numerous letters to Florida asking the state to revoke permits from Philadelphia residents. While King recalled one request being honored, they usually go nowhere, she said.
"These are just the . . . criminals we know of and when we ask Florida to revoke them, they won't," she said.
King said that it's the Philadelphia Police Department's ability to deny or revoke a permit on character and reputation that is key to keeping Philadelphia streets safe.
She said that the majority of Philadelphia citizens who have permits are law-abiding, but it's a bad group and a bad loophole that tarnishes the reputation of upstanding permit holders.
King hopes that the loophole will be acknowledged by those with the power to change it soon.
"Does every politician know about it? Probably not," she said. "Do we need to make them aware of it? Absolutely.
"Do they need to step up and get this changed? Yes."