Thursday, May 27, 2021

Pennsylvania House copies Texas on 'Constitutional Carry'

Pennsylvania’s House Republicans gave a first approval to a bill that would end the state’s longstanding requirement of a separate license for all handgun owners to carry a concealed weapon on their person or in a car, reported

Rep. Aaron Bernstine’s bill passed it’s first test on a 14-11 vote in the House Judiciary Committee, with 14 of the 15 Republican members voting yes, and all 10 Democrats plus Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery County, voting no.

The Pennsylvania measure, in some ways, mirrors a bill that just was signed into law in Texas, which became the 21st state in the nation to adopt the so-called “constitutional carry” language earlier Tuesday. Supporters use the term constitutional carry because they argue that it’s just as much a fundamental right to bear arms as it is to own them.

But in some ways, the change to the Pennsylvania law is a smaller step.

Unlike in some states, where a permit to carry carries requirements for training, a written exam and a shooting proficiency test, all Pennsylvanians need to get the permit is to have a clean background check, two character references and $20 for the application fee.

As such, Bernstine argued Tuesday, the current requirement only creates unnecessary hoops for law-abiding citizens, who already have to pass a background check when they purchase their gun.

“This is not going to affect non-law abiding citizens because, to be honest with you, they just don’t care about the law anyway,” the Lawrence County Republican.

That argument carried little weight with gun control advocates on the committee, who expressed concern about relaxing any gun regulations at a time when gun homicides in some of the state’s urban areas is on the increase.

The a spate of gun violence in Philadelphia this weekend pushed the city’s homicide count as of Monday morning to 185 victims, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. That was more than 30% higher than at this time last year, and 2020 was a year when the city’s police reported more known shooting victims than at any time since it started keeping separate records on that in 2007.

Stephens, the lone Republican dissenter Tuesday, said he believed there were easier ways to make the permit requirement less-onerous for handgun owners, like requiring the state to notify permit holders that it’s time to renew their five-year permits, just like the state Department of Transportation does now for vehicle registrations and driver’s license renewals.

Stephens said he was especially concerned about seeing an explosion in the number of people who would might decide to carry guns in their cars.

Other Democrats said they see nothing particularly burdensome about the permit requirement, noting that about 1.3 million state residents have the permits now.

“We can have a right that is protected, but that is also protected in a way that is responsible and respectful of others’ rights,” said Rep. Joe Hohenstein, a Philadelphia Democrat.

House Judiciary staff said the bill is opposed by the state District Attorneys Association and the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, while the municipal police officers union and county sheriffs’ are neutral.

Bernstine has bigger things to worry about, however.

If his bill would eventually get through the full House and the state Senate, it would almost certainly face a veto by Gov. Tom Wolf.

In a statement Tuesday night, Wolf’s Press Secretary Lyndsay Kensinger said “The governor urges the General Assembly to join him in prioritizing addressing gun violence; specifically, take up safe storage legislation to reduce the number of shootings by people who should not have access to guns, including accidental shootings by children; to tighten reporting requirements for lost or stolen guns; to swiftly pass the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, also known as the red flag law; and to pursue state-level universal background checks on all gun purchases.”

Pennsylvanians are already generally allowed to openly carry loaded firearms, although the law is silent on it. Only in Philadelphia is a permit required for that.

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