Gun-advocates up in arms over concealed-carry hearings

Posted: August 11, 2010

The audience was armed - literally - at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Upper Darby yesterday to examine a loophole in the state's concealed-weapons laws.

From short, pudgy, middle-aged men to young, slim ones, gun-rights advocates came packing heat to the hearing about what's become known as the "Florida loophole."

Under Pennsylvania's firearms-reciprocity agreements, the state must recognize "concealed-carry" licenses from certain other states, and vice versa.

The "loophole" is that three of those states - Florida, Utah and New Hampshire - allow out-of state residents to get licenses in their state and through the mail, even if their state has denied them a license or revoked it.

Of the three states, police say that Florida is the biggest problem - it has issued more than 3,100 out-of-state permits to Pennsylvania residents. That number is up from 2,600, when the Daily News first wrote about the issue in February.

In her testimony, Lt. Lisa King, commander of the Philadelphia Police gun-permit unit, said that there is no way to tell if those 3,100 have been denied a permit in Pennsylvania because Florida will not provide police with their names.

"I fundamentally have a problem, that Pennsylvania allows another state to dictate who can carry a concealed-carry permit here and not tell us the names," said state Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery. "Whether you're in the NRA or CeaseFire PA . . . we would all be better suited having Pennsylvania laws govern [here]."

State Rep. Bryan Lentz, D-Delaware, who sponsored a bill that would close the loophole, said that the Florida license is basically a "get-out-of-jail-free card."

But gun-rights advocates said that the loophole is necessary because the permit application process, especially in Philadelphia, is too strict.

Brian Grady, Philadelphia deputy district attorney for special operations, noted that 90 percent of concealed-carry applications in the city were approved last year.

"We're talking about giving you a deadly weapon," Grady said. "We're not talking about giving you a Schwinn to ride around the parking lot."

The crux of yesterday's four-hour hearing rested on the fact that, in Pennsylvania, one can be denied a concealed-carry license based on "character and reputation" alone. Therefore, someone with a dozen arrests but no convictions or someone who associates with criminals can be denied, even if they've never been convicted of a crime.

Kim Stolfer, legislative committee chairman for the Allegheny County Sportsman's League, said that the character and reputation clause is "the elimination of the presumption of the right of innocence."

"We will never, ever agree to deny someone a freedom based on an arrest alone," he said.

Stolfer said he'd like to see the character clause eliminated and for character references to be required.

Judah Kocher, 24, of Cochranville, Chester County, who attended the hearing with his wife, his sister and his Springfield Armory XD 45-caliber gun on his hip, said, "I don't want it to be harder; I want it to be easier to protect yourself."

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