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Pennsylvanians’ right to bear arms not a hassle-free zone

Seminar highlights laws, permit rules

Carrying a gun for self-protection in Pennsylvania is an unjustified hassle, according to the speaker at a recent seminar hosted by State Rep. Lou Schmitt in Altoona.

The Pennsylvania Constitution states: “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned,” and yet there are a network of laws that make the exercise of that right difficult, according to Kim Stolfer, president of McDonald-based political action committee Firearms Owners Against Crime.

“What does ‘shall not be questioned’ mean?” Stolfer asked the about 250 attendees at the Altoona Grand Hotel.

Pennsylvania is the 11th most firearm-restrictive state in the nation — not at all “gun-friendly,” Stolfer said.

The laws make it almost impossible for some Pennsylvania citizens to own a gun, he said.

“Probably one of you can’t own a firearm right now,” he told attendees. “You should all be mad.”

Laws designed to punish gun possession clear the way for loss of freedom, he said.

Passed by gun opponents, the restrictions essentially tell gun owners “they don’t trust you to exercise (your) rights,” Stolfer said.

“It has nothing to do with making us safer,” he said. “It’s (about) control.”

Those same gun control advocates have an entirely different approach when it comes to First Amendment rights, he said.

“The laws are very Draconian,” Stolfer said.

Gun owners caught in violations tend to say, “I never thought this would happen to me,” he said, “on their way to jail.”

Must carry receipts

Among troublesome provisions is a requirement in the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act of 1995 requiring concealed-carry permit holders to keep their receipts with them and that makes them liable for a third-degree felony the moment their five-year permits expire without having been renewed or canceled, according to Stolfer.

Another requires applicants for concealed-carry permits who are denied to challenge those denials within 90 days or be denied for life, Stolfer said.

Despite that provision, half of permit denials are done improperly, analysis has shown, he said.

Another provision makes denials automatic if a background check churns away for 15 days without producing a definitive result and the applicant doesn’t challenge the lack of approval, he said.

Yet another prohibits granting concealed-carry permits to those whose “character and reputation” make them likely to “act in a manner dangerous to public safety,” Stolfer said.

“We should not empower government to do this,” he said.

Recently proposed red flag laws also threaten concealed-carry rights by clearing the way for anyone to make claims against anyone else, according to Stolfer.

One can’t carry on federal property, court property, state parks — or on private property, when correctly instructed not to do so, he said.

That correct instruction includes a sign visible from 10 feet or a verbal request not to carry, he said. If such a request is made, it’s necessary to leave the premises immediately, he said. Otherwise, the weapon holder is liable to be charged with defiant trespass, he said.

And yet, everyone has the right to use deadly force in their own homes, he said.

They also have a right to stand their ground, if they’re in a place they have a right to be, he said.

“You don’t have a duty to retreat” — although the use of a firearm must be in response to seeing “a weapon capable of inflicting serious bodily harm,” he said.

Conversely, “if you started it, you lose these protections,” he said.

He showed several security-footage videos in which gun holders used their weapons in response to robberies or attacks on themselves or others, with sequences that were swift and confusing, leading Stolfer to note how quickly decisions needed to be made and executed.

In one video, a recommendation was made to carry concealed weapons with a chambered round, ready to use in an emergency, because otherwise, it may take too long.

Asked after the presentation whether it’s best to shoot to wound or kill, Stolfer suggested the questioner consider the difficulty of aiming for someone’s leg as a threat unfolds.

While he doesn’t support laws that require training in the use of weapons as a precondition to obtaining concealed-carry permits, he recommends such training be undertaken voluntarily.

Few rules on open carry

Restrictions on the carrying of concealed weapons, while generally allowing open carry without restrictions, are not designed by gun control advocates for actual safety but to “make others feel safer,” Stolfer said.

He took off his sports jacket, exposing a holstered gun at his waist, then hung the jacket over the gun, so the gun was out of sight.

“Feel safer?” he asked, sarcastically.

Open carry is generally legal, without the restrictions that limit concealed carry, but it’s problematic, because it invites trouble, according to Stolfer.

“It makes you an immediate target,” especially for questioning by law enforcement, he said.

“I’m not a fan” of open carry, said Blair County Sheriff Jim Ott, who spoke at Stolfer’s invitation about the process of obtaining concealed-carry permits from his office.

“If there’s a gun in play, I don’t want them (to know) until it’s time,” Ott said.

Despite the general lack of restrictions on open carry, it ends when a gun enters a car, as the car is considered concealment, Stolfer said.

No license is needed for a gun in one’s house or in one’s fixed place of business, he said.

Transporting such a weapon from one of those places to another place can be a problem, however, he said.

It’s OK if you take the gun — minus a concealed carry license — directly from your home to a gun range or to a dealer or for hunting, but you can’t make a stop for gas or a coffee, Stolfer said.

Firearms are for protection of oneself and others, but they shouldn’t be for intimidation, Stolfer said.

“It’s a tool of last resort,” he said. “Period.”

If a problem “is not life or death, call a police officer,” he said.

Afterward, Edwin Figart of Claysburg was thankful to learn about “the glitches in the law,” which he saw as “designed to trip people up.”

“They’ve made it incredibly complicated,” he said.

When he was growing up in the 1960s, kids would come to school with guns on racks in the back of their trucks, and there was no problem, he said.

Now, with anti-gun activists, things are different, he said.

“I believe in self-protection,” Figart said. “I’ve been attacked and beaten, and it didn’t feel good.”

“Everybody’s got a right to defend themselves,” he said. “There are a lot of nut cases.”

Figart blamed Democrats for “opening this country up,” he said. “Turning it into a hellhole.”

Despite the difficulties, Pennsylvania has 1.2 million concealed carry license holders, the second most to Florida, according to gunsto carry.com.

“If you choose to carry, do it carefully, safely and legally,” Schmitt said after the presentation. “It can be very confusing.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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