'Constitutional carry' in Pennsylvania challenged by gun control advocates

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch

A western Pennsylvania lawmaker wants the commonwealth to become a "constitutional carry" state.

That means lawful gun owners would be allowed to carry a handgun and other approved firearms — openly or concealed — without a permit, an idea that pits Second Amendment proponents against gun control advocates. 

Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny, spearheaded Constitutional carry. Jana Benscoter/photo

Legislation: Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny County, who spearheaded House Bill 170, said he'd like to see his legislation move out of the House Judiciary Committee for a full vote.

"This is a conservative state," Saccone said. "We should be able to get the votes to approve it." 

Saccone urged his colleagues to act in a December 2016 memo.

"If a citizen passes a criminal background check to purchase a new firearm, it is patently unjust and constitutionally questionable to add layers of bureaucratic regulations on those who are least likely to commit a crime just because the citizen prefers to carry his weapon concealed," he wrote.

Pennsylvania allows lawful gun owners to carry their weapons openly, but requires gun owners to have a permit to carry a concealed firearm. Gun owners in first-class cities like Philadelphia require a permit for open carry. 

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A second part of the legislation would allow lawful gun owners an option to purchase a permit that is not only valid throughout Pennsylvania but is also transferable to other states.

According to Saccone's memo, more than half of states nationwide recognize Pennsylvania's license to carry firearms. And up to 14 state legislatures have passed some form of constitutional carry. 

“I should be able to carry without a permit,” Saccone said. "That's my constitutional right."

Saccone filed to run against incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Casey earlier this year, but on Sunday, Oct. 8, he suspended his Senate campaign and announced he is running in the special election for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Tim Murphy.

Dangerous Idea: CeaseFirePA Executive Director Shira Goodman said she thinks Saccone's idea is "dangerous." 

CeaseFire PA Executive Director Shira Goodman submitted/photo

Local sheriffs hand out concealed-carry permits, Goodman explained. Deputies have a better grasp of who should be able to carry a concealed weapon or who should not, she said. 

Existing federal laws didn't trigger the attention of feds before the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas. Goodman said, there is no existing state or federal firearm registry. 

Constitutional carry, she said, wouldn't allow law enforcement to keep track of an individual amassing an arsenal like 64-year-old Steve Paddock did before killing 58 people in a shooting spree at a country music festival. 

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Nevada requires potential gun owners to go to the sheriff and demonstrate knowledge of handguns in order to receive a permit. Safety training also is another requirement, which is not required in Pennsylvania. 

Permit smokescreen: “It’s not about a piece of hardware,” Freedom Armory President Scott Morris said in reference to the Vegas shooting. “I don’t see any connection between concealed carry and anything that happened in Nevada.”

Scott Morris, owner of Freedom Armory, stands behind a counter at the gun shop near Glen Rock Friday, Oct. 6, 2017.  Bill Kalina photo

Morris said his business would not be affected if Pennsylvania became a constitutional-carry state. Retailers already are required to have a buyer fill out background check paperwork, he said. 

Morris agreed with Saccone that requiring a permit doesn't stop a mass shooting. Nevada is not a constitutional-carry state. 

"There are crazy comments about guns, when (the Vegas shooting) has nothing to do with guns," Morris said.