Continuing the Local Gun Discussion . . . Supreme Court to Weigh in on Chicago’s Handgun Ban . . . Will High Court Uphold Federal Law Over State Law? What Does this Mean for Pennsylvania Gun Owners?

When I wrote Semi-Automatic Weapons in Valley Forge National Historical Park . . . Do You Feel Safer? a couple of days ago, I could never have forecasted the interest in the topic.  Although admittedly surprised by many of the responses (50 comments on this topic!), I was fascinated by the strong opinions of many in this community.  The ‘right to bear arms’ topic has opened up conversations (and debates) among family members and friends.  I had intended to move on from this topic but I received several emails over the weekend encouraging further discussion.  I feel strongly that we learn from each other by exchanging ideas and information.  The evolution of Community Matters as a new informal communication channel can help to educate us, if we are willing to listen to each other.  Although I would be the first one to encourage lively debate, I would ask that you be respectful with your comments.

Several people commented on the June 2008  Supreme Court decision which struck down a handgun ban in Washington, D.C., and declared that individuals have a constitutional right to possess firearms for self-defense and other purposes. The Washington, D.C. lawsuit marked the first time that the highest court ruled that US citizens have a right to own guns for self-defense. The Second Amendment to the Constitution speaks of the right to bear arms in the context of a “well-regulated militia.” 

Over the weekend, we were out to dinner with friends at Majolica www.majolicarestaurant.com in Phoenixville (highly recommend!) and  spent much of the evening discussing the Second Amendment law, the new federal park gun legislation and many comments and opinion that were shared on this blog. 

There is a new Second Amendment Supreme Court case which will look at the handgun law in the city of Chicago.  The Supreme Court argument starting tomorrow will decide whether the Second Amendment — like much of the rest of the Bill of Rights — applies to states as well as the federal government. It’s widely believed they will say it does.

This new Second Amendment Supreme Court lawsuit was filed by an elderly, African-American Chicago resident who said he wants to defend himself.  Otis McDonald, 76, is suing the city over its gun ban, says he keeps a 20-guage shotgun at home to protect himself from the neighborhood gangs. But even if the court strikes down handgun bans in Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, that are at issue in the argument to be heard Tuesday, it could signal that less severe rules or limits on guns are permissible. An interesting aside to this latest lawsuit is that Chicago is President Obama’s hometown. The US Supreme Court justices will be deciding whether the Second Amendment right of every US citizen to possess arms for self-defense should apply to local as well as federal laws. The latest high court lawsuit will look at Chicago’s 1982  ban on handguns; determining whether federal decisions should apply to local law.

On the eve of this latest Second Amendment case, I was interested in understanding what the Pennsylvania State laws were in regard to gun ownership, age, restrictions, etc.  Although I claimed to be naive on the subject of local gun ownership in my last post, I researched Pennsylvania’s current legislation.  The following is offered to those who are also uninformed on the subject of owning firearms in Pennsylvania.  I don’t recall anyone mentioning the ‘open carry’ policy. 

Would you rather people have their guns out in the open, or concealed?  Do you think that the open display of weapons would help (or hurt) possible incidents of violence?  I am curious how the police feel about the ‘open carry’ policy . . . wonder if they would rather know that a person is armed?

Owning Firearms in Pennsylvania

  1. Do I have to register my firearms in Pennsylvania?
    No, in fact in Pennsylvania it is actually illegal for any government or police agency to keep a registry of firearms per 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.4 (Registration of firearms). If you legally possess and bring your firearms into Pennsylvania or come into possession of the firearms legally, no further action is required.It should be noted however that all transfers of handguns in Pennsylvania are required to go through the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) and as such the Pennsylvania State Police keep a “Sales Database” of all handguns purchased within the Commonwealth. While almost any casual observer can see that this database clearly violates the spirit of 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.4 (Registration of firearms), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the Pennsylvania State Police that because the database is not a complete record of all handgun ownership (as people bringing handguns into the state do not have to register them), it does not.
  2. How old must one be to possess a firearm? Per 18 Pa.C.S. § 6110.1 (Possession of firearm by minor), the minimum age to possess a firearm is 18 with two exceptions:
    1. The minor is under the supervision of a parent, grandparent, legal guardian, or an adult acting with the expressed consent of the minor’s parent or legal guardian and involved in lawful activity.
    2. The minor is lawfully involved in hunting or trapping activities.

Is open carry legal in PA?

Answer: Yes, with some restrictions.

Anyone whom can legally own a firearm in the commonwealth can openly carry, on foot, with the exception of court facilities, federal buildings, motor vehicles and cities of the first class (Philadelphia)  While Pennsylvania has a specific law that requires a License To Carry Firearms for the concealed carry of a firearm, and the carry of firearms in vehicles, the law is silent on the legality of openly carrying a firearm in other situations; which if I understand the law makes it de-facto legal. 18 Pa.C.S. § 6108: Carrying firearms on public streets or public property in Philadelphia

  • No person shall carry a firearm, rifle or shotgun at any time upon the public streets or upon any public property in a city of the first class unless:

(1) such person is licensed to carry a firearm; or

(2) such person is exempt from licensing under section 6106(b) of this title (relating to firearms not to be carried without a license).

Semi-Automatic Weapons in Valley Forge National Historical Park . . . Do You Feel Safer?

This past week brought much discussion on Community Matters about sidewalks, trails and paths.  Several people suggested that if you want to walk or bicycle, why not just use the paths at Valley Forge National Historical Park.  With that in mind, I wrote the following post with the hope of engaging some lively discussion.

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The next time you decide to visit Valley Forge Park to enjoy a bicycle ride or an afternoon of sledding with the kids, are you going to feel safer? 

Did you know that as of this week, fellow visitors with proper gun permits can legally pack heat inside our national parks, including Valley Forge National Historical Park?

Yes, a law that took effect Monday lifted the long-standing ban on bringing guns into our national parks.  In Valley Forge National Historical Park, as we walk the trails and enjoy family picnics, tourists will be allowed to carry guns – handguns, rifles, shotguns and AK-47s. Now, as long as guns are allowed by state law, licensed gun owners can bring firearms on park property.  Guns will be allowed in all but about 20 of the park service’s 392 locations, including some of its most iconic parks: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite and Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as historic parks, including our own Valley Forge National Historical Park. Guns will not be allowed in visitor centers or rangers’ offices, because firearms are banned in federal buildings, but they could be carried into private lodges or concession stands, depending on state laws.

The new rule allows people to carry firearms, including semi-automatic weapons, in most national parks and wildlife refuges, so long as they follow the gun laws of the state. (That could get a little complicated, as more than 30 parks occupy land in multiple states.) The rule means people can now carry concealed weapons while camping in places like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.

I admit up front that I am one of the people with issues concerning the availability of guns in this country.  My stance on stricter gun control rules will certainly strike a chord among some of the readers. I know the argument that strict gun control does not reduce crime because it does not keep weapons out of the hands of criminals. Criminals do not abide by waiting periods or registration requirements. The only people affected by these so-called “gun control” measures are law-abiding citizens, who are rendered less able to resist crime. However almost daily, our world is filled with news of gun violence in this country . . . in shopping malls, on college campuses, office buildings.

Gun crimes in any setting are horrific. However, crimes committed on the grounds of an academic institution take on an almost macabre air because of the serene atmosphere associated with such places. Gun violence on school campuses is a stark reminder that guns cannot discriminate amongst their victims, nor can they discern the intentions of those who wield them. This is repeated so often that it may as well be a cliché. If events over the past decade are any indicator, no positive response seems forthcoming. Though it is a human who pulls the trigger, there is no violent crime without the proverbial smoking gun. National parks [Valley Forge National Historical Park] like our educational institutions, are places that enshrine the ideals of knowledge and tranquility . . . should we not feel beholden to preserve these places as a utopian ideal for the future?  Do we want to be remembered as the generation that put guns into paradise?

The way I see it there are two camps on this.  First, there are the people who will feel safer knowing that they can be armed in our national parks, just in case they run into troublesome people or dangerous wildlife.  The second group will feel more unsafe.  You willl never know who is armed, and anytime there is a confrontation, firearms bring a whole new sense of alarm into the equation.  Once you pull that trigger, there’s no taking it back.  From my vantage point, toting firearms into our national parks poses a serious threat to the public.  There, I said it. Personally, the next time I am walking in Valley Forge National Historical Park, I am not going to feel safer knowing that fellow visitors on the path may be legally packing a weapon.

The new law permitting licensed gun owners to bring firearms into national parks has come over the objections of gun-control advocates who fear it will lead to increased violence in national parks.  Responding to the new law, John Waterman, President, US Park Rangers Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police offered the following statement:

The Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police has opposed this ill-considered law from the beginning. The new law goes beyond concealed carry to include all guns anytime.  The chances of an inexperienced visitor who has not seen a bear or buffalo wandering through a campground, gets frightened and takes out the now readily available firearm and shoots blindly at an animal or a person in a misguided effort to “protect themselves” from a perceived threat is now increased.  Allowing untrained and unlicensed people carrying guns in National Parks is an invitation to disaster. It puts the safety of the public and rangers at increased risk and virtually invites the desecration of our natural and historic treasures. 

Pennsylvania has fairly loose restrictions on carrying guns.  As long as a person is legally entitled to own a firearm – for instance they must have no past felony convictions, mental-health commitments or protection-from-abuse order restrictions – there is little stop a person from carrying a gun in public. I am sure that there will be readers who completely disagree with my position on the danger of guns in Valley Forge National Historical Park.  In fact, I am certain that some people will suggest that their ‘right’ to carry a gun should not stop at the park entrance.