“Gun loophole closed by Pa. Attorney General” was the subject line of many emails which hit my inbox this morning, as friends and associates forwarded the latest news surrounding concealed carry legislation and the state of Pennsylvania. As you might imagine, I read with interest the details of the latest action from Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office. You will not be surprised, I presume, that my initial reaction was one of skepticism, given the use of a particular buzz word in that headline.
“Loopholes” tend to be quite the political hot button. Whether you’re talking about tax policy, immigration, drug laws, or even firearms… one person’s “loophole” is often similarly viewed as someone else’s hoop through which they have been forced to jump in order to achieve some necessary end.
Citizens concerned with tax-dodging corporations speak of loopholes and fiscal havens in the Caribbean, even while Fortune 500 firms pay heaps of money to accountants for navigating the waters of the tax code. Isolationist politicians rail at the podium about foreigners “gaming the system” in order to exploit easy avenues to citizenship while at the same time reform-minded activists share stories of the epic struggle that other immigrants go through in their attempt to become Americans. Drug warriors decry medical marijuana laws as loopholes that users can jump through in their pursuit of the ills of intoxication while progressive doctors bemoan the struggle they face in an attempt to offer medicinal THC in a legal manner. And, yes, those of us who are no stranger to the debate surrounding guns face similar lexical doublespeak, on both sides of the issue.
My first post to this blog was one that has seemed to appeal to a surprisingly wide audience. People on both sides of this dialectic have written to me and been thankful for the effort I put into keeping the words as level-headed and emotion-free as possible. I will endeavor to continue that trend with this post, as well… although some in the gun control camp will surely notice a bit more of my personal views leaking out (it is harder to avoid since this post includes anecdotes from my own personal life) but I would urge those readers especially to continue on, so that they might reply to me after taking a look at the entirety of what I wish to ask.
Our new Attorney General
From the above-linked article…
The Florida gun loophole, which allowed Philadelphia gun owners to skirt the city’s strict handgun-carrying rules, was closed today by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane. Florida gun permit holders in Pennsylvania now must be legal residents of Florida.
“This is a significant step toward making Philadelphia, and the entire Commonwealth, safer for all residents,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “Modification of the firearm reciprocity agreement with Florida will ensure that all citizens with Concealed Carry Permits in Pennsylvania have met the standards set forth by our great state.”
Florida gun permit owners in Pennsylvania have 120 days under the agreement to obtain a Commonwealth-issued concealed carry permit.
Attorney General Kane’s recent actions do not come as a surprise to those of us who have been following Pennsylvania politics lately, but they are a bit disheartening, at least to me. Cut to: three months ago.
I was very pleased at the particularly clean campaign that both sides ran in the Kane/Freed AG’s race, and was fully prepared to vote for Ms. Kane on the 6th of November. In spite of those who felt she lacked experience — a charge that I did not believe was fully valid — she was far and away the better candidate as far as individual liberty is concerned. David Freed’s support of Pennsylvania’s VoterID law, his awful stance on women’s rights and marriage rights, as well as his party-line statements on the Drug War were all ways in which his platform was not in line with my own views.
However, Sunday evening — less than 48 hours before voters were headed to the polls — Kathleen Kane’s campaign released a very pointed TV spot attacking the current firearm laws and policies of the state of Pennsylvania. I found this shocking. I believe that at the time the political landscape of PA had Ms. Kane ahead by something like 8 or 9 percentage points. I sat and wrote a long, distraught letter to her campaign, expressing my sadness for being reduced to casting a 3rd party vote. (Although in the end, I was perfectly fine with my choice to vote for Marakay Rogers.)
Still, in spite of her last minute campaigning, many of us in Pennsylvania are rather surprised at this move from the Attorney General. For now, I’ll put on hold any discussion of the fact that what Ms. Kane’s office has done may not even be legal, and simply focus on why this whole matter seems to be primarily an issue of politicians attempting to put forth solutions in the absence of a problem.
The Florida loophole
Right off the bat, let me state plainly and clearly that I am not a fan of the current patchwork that is the Concealed Carry system in the United States. One of the fundamental aspects of our nation is that citizens have the freedom to travel state to state, anywhere within our borders, and encounter equal treatment under the law. Obtaining your driver’s license in Iowa means that you can drive a car in Michigan. Getting married in Nevada means that you’re recognized as married in Kansas (some exceptions have arisen due to legislative upheaval over LGBT unions as that issue started making headlines in recent years). And committing a crime in Oregon means that you can be arrested in Kentucky. Yes, where your feet are currently planted on the ground means you might face different speed limits, tax brackets, or prison time in the above examples… but you can usually be assured that who you are and what you’ve achieved as a citizen will follow you across state lines.
The matter of firearm possession and carry is not treated this way in the United States. And, due respect to my states’ rights supporting friends, I would be in favor of some degree of normalization of our policies if it were to allow citizens greater flexibility and freedom from encumbrance as they seek to obey our nation’s gun laws. As the system stands right now, even the most dedicated citizens — who take the time to remain abreast of current legislation and stay informed about reciprocity agreements — can find themselves in danger of failing to comply with this policy or that policy.
The part of this whole matter that is truly frustrating to me, however, is the fact that this assorted patchwork of laws and policies has given rise to the notion that while some states have “sensible” polices concerning Concealed Carry, there are “other” states elsewhere with “dangerously lax” laws. And it is these troublemakers from (spoken in one’s best Homer Simpson voice) out of state who could undermine the gentile fabric of one’s own locality.
The example of Florida is perhaps the most common refrain in this type of discussion.
Florida issues Concealed Carry credentials* to both state residents and also to non-residents. The process is the same for both parties, and it can be completed without an in-person appearance in the Sunshine State. The ability of citizens to complete this process via the mail is distressing to some, but those concerned citizens may not be aware that the process involves the same background checks, photo ID, and criminal investigation that is performed in all other states. In fact, Florida actually requires more of their applicants than some other states… Pennsylvania included.
* one other aspect of the fifty States’ disparate gun laws is the lack of a single, agreed upon term with regard to what paperwork citizens obtain when they seek to bear arms outside their homes or places of business. Terms like Concealed Carry Weapon permit (CCW or CCP), License to Carry Firearms (LTCF), Concealed Weapon Permit (CWP), and a slew of others are all virtually interchangeable… but that does not make discussion any easier. While there are those who feel very strongly that certain terms are superior to others — whether it’s best to speak of firearms specifically or weapons in general, or whether it’s healthier to consider the state giving permission or licensing this process — I tend to side step the whole syntactical issue and speak in the most general words possible. And i’m not even touching the matter of concealed versus open carry.
For many years now, Pennsylvania has honored the Florida Concealed Carry credentials since their process for handling applications and checking backgrounds was found to be adequate and commensurate with the Keystone State’s own policies. There are a few important points that should be mentioned at this time…
- In many jurisdictions within Pennsylvania, applicants are similarly not required to appear in person and can handle the process through the mail.
- Among the other states of the Union, each one is free to make the determination as to whether they will accept out-of-state firearm credentials, such as Florida’s. Also, Kathleen Kane’s actions are not unprecedented… some other states will only honor permits if held by residents of the issuing state.
- The Florida process involves a mandatory training class and live-fire exercises to be completed in front of an authorized instructor. Pennsylvania has no such requirements.
- In both Pennsylvania and Florida, the applicant’s fingerprints and government-issued ID are used to establish identity and the resulting Concealed Carry credential bears a photograph of the individual.
- The Florida credential includes anti-tampering technology such as holographic elements. The Pennsylvania credential does not and is a simple laminated card.
- Whether an individual is in possession of a Pennsylvania-issued credential, a Florida-issued credential, or similar ID from any one of the other twenty-five states which Pennsylvania recognizes… they still must obey all laws and policies specific to this local jurisdiction, regardless of the laws in their home state.
- Both Florida and Pennsylvania are shall issue states, meaning that as long as the applicant does not fail to meet the necessary criteria, the state is obligated to grant their request in a timely manner.
Given the overwhelming similarity, then, between the PA and FL Concealed Carry credentials… why do we see this debate happening at all? Why would someone living in Pennsylvania opt to apply for a Florida Concealed Carry as opposed to the one available here? For most of us, it’s a matter of jumping through hoops.
My personal story
I obtained my Florida Concealed Carry credential when I was still a resident of New Jersey. I did this by attending a safety class, demonstrating competence with my firearm, and submitting all necessary paperwork and fingerprint cards (which were filled out by local police) to the proper offices in Florida. The process was rather effortless and not oppressively priced. The resulting ID issued to me was valid for use in 32 states. (Had I been a resident of Florida at the time, that number would have been 36.) I had to visit only one location (the local range where the class was offered allowed us to use their meeting room as we filled out the form and a police officer attended in order to process our fingerprint cards right there) and I spent little more than two weeks waiting for the final packet to arrive by mail. Since that time, I have renewed the permit through the mail and found things to be similarly straightforward.
When I moved to Pennsylvania, I sought to add the PA Concealed Carry credential to my wallet. The process for most Pennsylvanians is simple. Local Sheriff’s offices handle the paperwork (and can also fingerprint applicants) and since there is no training class or live fire requirement, little more is required short of a money order and passport-style photo. Philadelphia, however, is something rather different.
Here is where I would especially like my friends and associates who support tight gun controls to read my own anecdote carefully and then comment to me if they feel this is an appropriate way of handling the process.
Like all other applicants in Pennsylvania, I had to have my fingerprints taken. However, this must be done in-person at the Gun Permits & Tracking Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department and nowhere else. (This unit, along with the rest of the Philadelphia Police, will refuse to issue fingerprint cards for other purposes, however. In order to renew my Florida permit I was obliged to take a day off and drive to a County Courthouse hours away just to have the local Deputies there ink my hands.) After waiting through long lines and being given a somewhat dizzying array of conflicting information, I was sent home to await additional instructions which would arrive by mail. Just inside of the state-mandated 45-day deadline, I was called back to the Gun Permits Unit to spend another unproductive day away from work, sitting in a hallway with scores of other citizens who could have all been easily accomplishing the same thing via mail. Ultimately, after spending much more time on the process while being subjected to fewer checks and tests than other jurisdictions require, I was given my Pennsylvania Concealed Carry credential. (Accompanying it was a set of paperwork which specified a number of erroneous laws and incorrect advice concerning carry of firearms in Pennsylvania. When I pointed these errors out to the desk clerk who had processed my file that day, she merely shrugged and offered no verbal response other than to grunt and direct me to the exit door with her eyes.)
Why would someone opt for Florida Concealed Carry credentials as opposed to the ones available through local channels? Some might call it seeking a loophole, but others could just as legitimately say that it’s simply appealing to jump through fewer hoops.
Do Florida’s laws make Pennsylvanians less safe?
So now we come to what I would hope might truly be the focus of most discussions surrounding this issue. Was it necessary for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office to change our state’s reciprocity agreement with Florida?
The original article linked above states that some 900 city residents have chosen to obtain Florida Concealed Carry credentials as opposed to Pennsylvania ones. The wording does not make it clear as to whether any of these 900 citizens, such as myself, are holders of both credentials… but even assuming that none of them are (where this data comes from was not specified) fewer than 1000 people in a city of 1.5 million is six-one-hundredths of a percent. Hardly a significant data point, I would say. If there had been a series of cases wherein these out-of-state credential holders were found to be committing crimes or otherwise circumventing public safety laws, that would be one thing. But there is no such data.
Then we come to the real problem line of the news piece, which — again — was inserted without comment or substantiation…
Many of the permit holders previously were denied carry privileges by Philadelphia Police, which has that discretion under state law.
I find that making such a claim while reporting this story is especially misleading, and I would hope to discuss it in greater detail with the piece’s author, Sam Wood, if he is willing. Pennsylvania, as was mentioned earlier, is a “shall issue” state. Unless an individual is disqualified under the law (for being a felon, subject to a restraining order, or other such considerations to which no person could legitimately object) the state is obligated to process and approve their application.
There has been some reporting of a little-known provision in Philadelphia’s gun policies concerning the “character and reputation” of the applicant. In short, the Gun Permits Unit of the Philly Police will occasionally deny someone’s application based on rather nebulous and hard-to-refute terms. The article linked here mentions situations such as unpaid parking tickets. Other news reports I have read focus on matters such as friends or family members of applicants who may have had trouble with the law. Unfortunately, with all due respect to police officers and the sense of intuition and judgement which they naturally hone and develop through years on the Job, factors such as these have no place being considered under Pennsylvania law.
In reporting the above-linked story, local journalist Stephanie Farr was able to locate and interview nine separate individuals who have been denied the right to carry a firearm by the police, in spite of their clean criminal records and Concealed Carry credentials from other states. Would it be too much to ask for other reporters who detailed the story of Kathleen Kane’s latest decision to unearth a handful of examples, as well? If not the press, what about the Attorney General’s office itself? Surely if this problem is such a pressing matter as to demand the new AG’s attention less than a month into the start of her term there must be some evidence of an actual problem.
Firearm ID and Voter ID
Am I making too much of a stretch to compare the issue of Concealed Carry credentials and the new policies toward them with the contentious issue of VoterID laws? Pennsylvania has seen both of these matters appear prominently in the news now. And yet, in each case, hard evidence and examples of people gaming the system are hard to come by.
For all the talk of voter fraud in recent years, virtually no cases of it actually happening have been proven. The NAACP says only 10 in-person voter fraud cases have been proven nationally since 2000, a statistic that usually appears just about here in any discussion of this issue. (Of course, that does not mean that there aren’t more shenanigans happening on Election Day. I was born in New Jersey and dated Chicagoan for two years… I know a little something about corrupt politics.)
Likewise, the lack of any specific examples of citizens “denied in PA” who then obtained out-of-state Concealed Carry credentials surely does not mean this is a nonexistent issue. And, I would grant that local authorities are in a better position to judge someone’s known associates and civic habits than a faceless office worker at the Florida Department of Agriculture (that state’s issuing body).
However, in both cases, the onus should be on the reform-minded officials to clearly demonstrate the scope and effects of any current problem that they seek to address. New legislation and additional regulation (much like firearms) should be implements of last resort, which can only legitimately be brought out and wielded when there is clear and imminent danger that must be countered.
In the case of citizens who simply wish to exercise their voting rights or citizens who have grown wearing of jumping through hoops in the course of exercising their 2nd Amendment rights, I fail to see any of our political leaders showing any evidence at all of wrongdoing or criminal behavior.
Deviant Ollam has been a legal resident of New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania during the course of his life and he currently holds Concealed Carry permits from the Keystone State, the Sunshine State, and others as well in an attempt to always stay abreast (if not out in front) of the the ever-changing laws surrounding the right to bear arms. He has carried firearms in 19 of the 37 states where he can do so legally, but never has a problem with leaving his pistol locked up at home when he visits his parents back in New Jersey for the occasional family dinner.