Inquirer Editorial: Progress on gun safety

Carolyn Murray of Illinois holds a photo of her slain son during the State of the Union address.
Carolyn Murray of Illinois holds a photo of her slain son during the State of the Union address. (AP)
Posted: February 14, 2013

For all the compelling pleas for gun-control legislation after the mass shooting at a New England elementary school - including the one at the emotional core of President Obama's State of the Union address this week - Harrisburg's first welcome response has been to shore up the firearms laws already on the books.

Newly minted state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane has moved to close a legal loophole that enabled gun owners to acquire handgun-carrying permits from other states even if they had been refused by local authorities. The loophole was exploited under Kane's predecessors, including Gov. Corbett.

Philadelphia in particular was plagued by the so-called Florida loophole, nicknamed for the Sunshine State's ready supply of mail-order gun permits. Given that the Police Department has the authority under state law to block permits for gun owners regarded as high-risk, more than 900 city residents had sought out-of-state permits to pack heat.

While the vast majority of the city's loophole-enabled gun-carriers caused no problems, one man armed with a Florida permit faced murder charges in the 2010 killing of a would-be thief, and other permit holders have been suspected of drug-dealing.

Beyond that, the loophole made a mockery of the long-established concept of local control of concealed-carry laws - or, as Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey described it to a congressional committee, the "traditional authority of state and local governments to protect their citizens."

Now Kane has reaffirmed that local authority. When the loophole is officially closed in several months, it should remove any doubts about which gun laws govern Pennsylvania residents. And in Philadelphia, the reform should bolster the Police Department's sensibly strict policies on who is allowed to carry a handgun.

Kane's gun-safety reform might even deserve a few huzzahs from Second Amendment purists. After all, gun-rights groups habitually respond to each and every new gun-control proposal with the argument that police just need to enforce existing gun laws. And that's certainly what the attorney general is doing.

Realistically, though, it would be naive to expect many Friends of Wayne (LaPierre) - much less his National Rifle Association - to suspend their advocacy of the widest possible access to concealed-carry gun permits. The NRA's plan, embodied in a House-approved measure in late 2011, was to force every state to honor the gun permits of any other state. The effect would have been a race to the bottom, with those states posting the most lenient permitting rules setting the standard for every American city trying to stem the scourge of gun violence.

Fortunately, Kane's reform sends a strong message that such gunslinging policies just aren't welcome 'round these parts anymore.

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