NE lawmakers applaud closing loophole

— At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Kath­leen Kane re­works Pennsylvania’s fire­arms re­cipro­city pact with the Sun­shine State.

Some an­tique guns hand craf­ted in the late 19th cen­tury at the Phil­adelphia Gun Show on Sat­urday, Janu­ary 26, 2013. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

State law­makers from the North­east are un­an­im­ous in sup­port of state At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Kath­leen Kane’s move last week to close the so-called Flor­ida loop­hole.

The loop­hole en­abled Pennsylvania res­id­ent gun own­ers to cir­cum­vent the state’s con­cealed-carry per­mit pro­cess by ob­tain­ing less-strin­gent mail-or­der per­mits from Flor­ida.

Kane an­nounced on Fri­day that she had re­worked Pennsylvania’s “fire­arm re­cipro­city agree­ment” with Flor­ida so that Pennsylvania res­id­ents who hold Flor­ida gun per­mits — but do not hold per­mits is­sued by their home state — will not be able to carry con­cealed hand­guns leg­ally in pub­lic in Pennsylvania.

About 4,000 Pennsylvania res­id­ents, 900 of whom reside in Phil­adelphia, hold Flor­ida con­cealed-carry per­mits but do not have Pennsylvania per­mits, said Kane, who used her ad­min­is­trat­ive powers to make the policy change just 24 days in­to her first term in of­fice.

Kane, a Demo­crat from Lack­awanna County, is the first mem­ber of her party to hold the at­tor­ney gen­er­al’s of­fice and the first wo­man elec­ted to that of­fice.

Eight North­east Phil­adelphia-based state law­makers con­tac­ted by the Times, in­clud­ing the area’s lone Re­pub­lic­an, con­sider Kane’s move a wise one, al­though they main­tain some­times di­ver­gent in­di­vidu­al views of the broad­er gun con­trol is­sue.

“It re­mains to be seen how ef­fect­ively it’s go­ing to work,” said Sen. Mike Stack (D-5th dist.), who holds a Pennsylvania con­cealed-carry per­mit.

Dur­ing Fri­day’s news con­fer­ence, Kane and May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter framed the policy change as a pub­lic safety meas­ure, not­ing that one Flor­ida per­mit-hold­er now faces murder charges here in the 2010 shoot­ing death of a sus­pec­ted thief, while oth­er Flor­ida per­mit-hold­ers are sus­pec­ted drug deal­ers.

Some loc­al law­makers view the meas­ure as more sym­bol­ic than sub­stant­ive.

“It’s a small meas­ure. I don’t think it’s go­ing to drastic­ally af­fect vi­ol­ence in Phil­adelphia. But if it saves one life, it’s worth it,” said Rep. Kev­in Boyle (D-172nd dist.).

“It will at least bring the crime down some­what,” said Rep. James Clay (D-179th dist.). “[But] it’s not the people with le­git­im­ate guns, it’s the people with the street guns who are des­troy­ing the neigh­bor­hood.”

Un­der the new policy, Flor­ida per­mit-hold­ers will have un­til June 8 to ob­tain Pennsylvania per­mits. After that, Pennsylvania au­thor­it­ies will not re­cog­nize Flor­ida per­mits. The new policy has dis­pens­a­tions for per­mit-hold­ers with dual res­id­ency.

Pennsylvania has re­cipro­city agree­ments with oth­er states, but Flor­ida had be­come the most com­mon source for out-of-state con­cealed-carry per­mits, Kane said. The at­tor­ney gen­er­al did not de­tail any policy changes re­gard­ing oth­er states.

State Rep. John Taylor (R-177th dist.), the lone Re­pub­lic­an among Phil­adelphia’s House con­tin­gent, blamed city of­fi­cials in part for caus­ing per­mit ap­plic­ants to look else­where in the first place. In Pennsylvania, loc­al au­thor­it­ies over­see the per­mit­ting pro­cess. In Phil­adelphia, au­thor­it­ies have made it harder to get a per­mit than it is in oth­er counties, Taylor con­tends.

“We want to make sure the abil­ity to get a per­mit is not any more oner­ous in Phil­adelphia than it is in any oth­er county,” Taylor said.

Yet, he ac­know­ledged more could be done in the ef­fort to re­duce gun vi­ol­ence.

“It’s an open dia­logue in the le­gis­lature. I think there’s a lot of com­mon sense things we can do,” said Taylor, who pro­poses man­dat­ory pris­on time for those who carry guns without re­quired per­mits.

Stack pro­poses tough­er back­ground checks with more thor­ough men­tal health eval­u­ations, along with tough­er pen­al­ties against those who sell or trans­fer guns il­leg­ally, also known as “straw pur­chasers.”

State Rep. John Sabat­ina Jr. (D-174th dist.) is a former city pro­sec­utor and sup­ports man­dat­ory re­port­ing for lost or stolen guns so that a leg­al gun own­er should have to ac­count for his or her miss­ing gun.

“I think the low­est-hanging fruit is the lost and stolen gun le­gis­la­tion,” Sabat­ina said. “From my ex­per­i­ence in the DA’s of­fice, that’s the ex­cuse the straw pur­chasers use: ‘It was stolen five years ago.’ ”

Rep. Ed Neilson (D-169th dist.) knows many law-abid­ing gun own­ers in his dis­trict who fear they might have to sac­ri­fice their weapons un­der pro­posed laws.

“People are afraid of los­ing their guns,” Neilson said. “They sup­port the Second Amend­ment but they’re for some change. A lot of laws are out­dated and have to be brought up to the times. Nobody’s go­ing to take your guns. I’m a gun own­er and it’s not about that.”

Neilson would like to see more pub­lic in­vest­ment in men­tal health and anti-vi­ol­ence pro­grams.

“We have to be real­ist­ic. This isn’t a pan­acea that’s go­ing to solve all of our prob­lems,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170th dist.). “It’s a small step in the right dir­ec­tion.”

Law­makers from the North­east also re­cog­nize that statewide polit­ics make any gun con­trol le­gis­la­tion a tough sell in Har­ris­burg. Kane’s meas­ure didn’t re­quire the sup­port of law­makers or Gov. Tom Corbett, a Re­pub­lic­an, but oth­ers prob­ably will.

“It is still a tre­mend­ously up­hill battle to get any­thing done through the Pennsylvania le­gis­lature,” said Rep. Mark Co­hen (D-202nd dist.), who was first elec­ted in 1974 and is the longest-serving House mem­ber or sen­at­or in Har­ris­burg.

“I’m not sure what else the AG’s of­fice can do and I don’t know what the le­gis­lature can do be­cause of [its] com­pos­i­tion, the rur­al le­gis­lat­ors from both parties. The prob­lem of get­ting these [gun con­trol meas­ures] through has not been with the Phil­adelphia del­eg­a­tion.”

“I think people in the North­east want sens­ible gun con­trol,” Stack said. “For the oth­er side, ‘gun con­trol’ is a dirty word.” •• 

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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