Pennsylvania Licensing Scheme Slams Door On Gun Owners

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posted on November 13, 2015
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In the birthplace of America’s Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, two Philadelphia state senators are pushing a bill to make it illegal for you to possess, use, manufacture, control, sell or transfer any handgun unless and until you get a government-issued license. 

Senate Bill 1029, which was introduced in October by Democrat Pennsylvania state senators Art Haywood and Vincent Hughes and quickly sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, would establish a so-called “Firearm Eligibility License.” Without the license, handgun possession would be illegal in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

To obtain this “Firearm Eligibility License” allowing you to exercise your Second Amendment right to own a gun, SB 1029 sets out a wide variety of requirements you would have to meet in its 20 pages of legalese. 

First, you would have to be a Pennsylvania resident over the age of 18. You would have to take 16 hours worth of training in Pennsylvania firearms law, home firearm safety and firearms operations. In addition to the fees for training, you would have to pay $50 for the license, and $30 every five years thereafter to renew it. Approval of the license could take up to 45 days, and the license could be revoked at any time by the issuing authorities. 

Without the license, handgun possession would be illegal in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Worse yet, there is no grandfather clause. Since the law would take effect 60 days after passage and the issuing authority can take up to 45 days to issue a license, anyone who currently owns handguns in the state could quickly find themselves in violation of the law if they aren’t able to comply due to the tight timing window. 

In other words, liberty would be transformed into license. So much for the Constitution’s right to keep and bear arms. So much for Article I Section 21 of Pennsylvania’s constitution, which reads, “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defence of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.” 

As the constitutional scholar Stephen Halbrook points out in his excellent book, The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms, Pennsylvania was the first state to adopt a formal guarantee of the right of the people to bear arms. A New Jersey law similar to the Pennsylvania proposal may have been directly responsible for Carol Bowne’s murder.

What’s more, Pennsylvania was the first state to so explicitly spell out that one of the primary purposes of that right was for self-defense. As the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 set out in its Declaration of Rights, “[T]he people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves, and the state ...” 

Contrast that proud history with the claims of SB 1029 sponsor Haywood. On Facebook, Haywood claimed: “No statement in the Second Amendment is related to individual self-defense ... At the time the Second Amendment was written, the primary collective security concerns were slave insurrections ...”

Haywood even went so far as to suggest the Supreme Court’s Heller decision—which shut down the D.C. handgun ban and said that D.C. resident Dick Heller had a right to a firearm in his home for self-defense—was comparable to a case upholding forced segregation: “Heller in due time will be overturned, as was Plessy v. Ferguson,” Haywood wrote. 

If Haywood wants to talk about the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court purely in terms of race, maybe he should look up its shameful Dred Scott v. Sandford decision of 1857, which found that even freed black slaves could not be citizens, because that “would give to persons of the Negro race ... the right ... to keep and carry arms wherever they went.” 

Here’s the truth: When the state erects roadblocks to the exercise of fundamental rights—whether it’s a Jim Crow poll tax on voting, or prior restraint on free speech, or gun control laws that keep victims disarmed and defenseless against lawless predators—then freedom delayed can be the same as freedom denied

Look at the tragic story of Carol Bowne, 39, of Berlin Township, N.J. 

Last April, after an ex-boyfriend had repeatedly threatened her, Carol Bowne installed security cameras outside her house. She went to the police. And she applied for a permit to purchase a handgun to protect herself. 

New Jersey has a “permit to purchase” law for handguns similar to the law now proposed for Pennsylvania. And that law may be directly responsible for Bowne’s murder. New Jersey has a “permit to purchase” law for handguns similar to the law now proposed for Pennsylvania. And that law may be directly responsible for Bowne’s murder. 

Because more than six weeks later, while the local police sat on her handgun application—even when New Jersey law requires applications to be processed within 30 days—Bowne was disarmed and defenseless against her former boyfriend, a 45-year-old ex-con with a kidnapping conviction named Michael Eitel, who stabbed her to death in her own driveway.

Think about what that means. It means that not only did the authorities fail to protect Carol Bowne, they also refused to allow Carol Bowne to protect herself. New Jersey’s labyrinthine “permit to purchase” process didn’t disarm or disable Michael Eitel. All it did was guarantee that he would meet zero resistance when he went to Bowne’s home with murder on his mind. 

That’s not just wrong on a practical, pragmatic level. It’s also morally wrong.

Yet it’s exactly what Pennsylvania senators Haywood and Hughes want to impose upon residents of the commonwealth. In fact, their plan is substantially worse: Where New Jersey allows a delay of 30 days—which local authorities routinely ignore—their plan for Pennsylvania allows delays of 45 days. Where New Jersey requires a permit to purchase a handgun, the Haywood-Hughes bill requires a license even to own or “control” one.

And although Pennsylvania has a long tradition of gun ownership and respect for the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, the fact is that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has expressed support for a wide variety of anti-gun laws—from outright bans on conventional semi-automatic firearms, to arbitrary limits on ammunition magazine capacity—and supports most of Michael Bloomberg’s radical anti-gun agenda.

In the wake of tragedy, as we’ve seen in New York and Colorado, bad things can happen fast.

Use Your Power!

Pennsylvania residents, urge your state senator and house member to oppose SB 1029 and its pointless, prior-restraint restrictions on your right to keep and bear arms. Criminals don’t apply for licenses to own guns—and you shouldn’t be forced to ask for permission, pay fees and wait for weeks to exercise your fundamental, God-given birthright to protect yourself and your family from those criminals. To identify your lawmakers, click here.

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