Nonresidents face gun hurdles

Residents from 28 states with a valid permit are legally allowed to carry a concealed firearm in Pennsylvania, but they can’t purchase a handgun here.

“According to federal law, an out-of-state resident cannot purchase a handgun in Pennsylvania,” said Trooper Adam Reed, a state police public information officer.

Residents of other states attempting to purchase a rifle or shotgun in Pennsylvania also might run into difficulties, Reed said.

If non-Pennsylvania residents attempt to purchase a firearm that is banned in their home state, firearms sellers are not permitted to complete the sale, Reed said.

“It has to be lawful [to purchase and possess the firearm] in the state of the buyer’s residence,” Reed said.

The firearm’s dealer is responsible for ensuring compliance and verifying the sale is legal in both states, Reed said.

Firearms retailers in Pennsylvania use the Pennsylvania Instant Check System, which scans an applicant’s valid Pennsylvania driver’s license for all necessary information.

The automated system flags any non-Pennsylvania ID and requires a trained operator to handle the background check request, Reed said.

An individual’s Social Security number and other identifying information is run through the PICS system, which cross-checks information against a national background check database, Reed said.

If a wanted felon attempts to lie on the background check and purchase a firearm, police are alerted.

Retailers that fail to properly verify the legality of sales to out-of-state residents could face penalties under the federal gun control act, Reed said.

And anyone knowingly selling a firearm to an individual intent on committing a crime – whether the buyer is a Pennsylvania resident or not – would be held liable for any crimes committed with that weapon, Reed said.

Under the Uniform Firearms Act, Pennsylvania has written reciprocity agreements for concealed-carry firearms with 18 states and statutory reciprocity without formal written agreement in another 10 states.

The agreement means an individual with a valid concealed-carry permit or license issued in their home state is legally allowed to conceal carry within the commonwealth.

But for Pennsylvania residents previously denied a concealed-carry permit, obtaining one from another state was as simple as logging online and applying.

Dubbed the “Florida loophole,” part of the reciprocity agreement between the two states meant Pennsylvania residents could apply online for a Florida concealed-carry permit. Once obtained, the permit was valid in Pennsylvania.

But the loophole was closed by Attorney General Kathleen Kane last week after modifying the reciprocity agreement.

Florida concealed-carry permits in Pennsylvania are now only honored for individuals who can prove their permanent or dual residency in Florida.

All Pennsylvanians with a Florida concealed-carry permit – about 4,000 individuals – need to obtain a Pennsylvania concealed-carry permit by June 8, Kane said.

Previously, residents did not have to show up in person to obtain the Florida permit, Reed said. The Florida permits were available online and heavily sought by Philadelphia residents, where the application process is much stricter and more people are denied concealed-carry permits, Reed said.

Closing the loophole means only Pennsylvania residents approved by the state will be allowed to legally conceal carry, he said.

“It may very well prohibit those who can’t lawfully get the permit here in Pennsylvania from having them,” Reed said.

Out-of-state residents must carry their permit or license to carry a concealed weapon on their person at all times if they are in possession of a firearm, Holly Garner, Blair County chief sheriff’s deputy, said. Those individuals must produce their license or permit if requested by law enforcement.

Similarly, Pennsylvanians’ concealed-carry permits are honored in those 28 states, including Florida.

The vast majority of all concealed-carry applicants in Blair County are residents, many of whom are individuals renewing their permits, Holly Garner, chief sheriff’s deputy, said.

Between November 2010 and November 2012, the Blair County Sheriff’s Office processed 6,400 concealed-carry applications, Garner said, about 99 percent of which were from Pennsylvania residents.

That number jumped to 7,100 in January, with an additional 200 applications still waiting to be processed, Garner said.

Heavy demand has strained the PICS in recent weeks in the wake of mass shootings and a rush to purchase firearms out of fears of new laws restricting what’s available.

In late January, state police announced they had fixed a glitch that prevented county sheriffs from uploading photographs of concealed-carry applicants to PICS.

“Harrisburg is working out the glitches, and we’re trying to accommodate and process our permits in a timely manner,” Garner said.

The PICS process normally takes only a few minutes to complete, but retailers and law enforcement have reported extended waiting times because of high demand.

Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.