Gun-law loophole makes city more dangerous

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, right, talks with officers at the scene where three were shot dead in a grocery store. (Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer)

More than a year after it became a hot campaign issue in the race for Pennsylvania governor, it’s even more critical that Harrisburg lawmakers close the so-called Florida loophole that lets Philadelphia gun owners skirt the city’s strict handgun-carrying rules.

With a renewed push in Congress to nationalize concealed-weapon permits so that any state-issued handgun permit would be valid across the country, the public-safety stakes could loom even larger.

As many as 900 city residents — more per capita than in any other among the nation’s 10 largest cities — are now packing heat in Philadelphia by virtue of mail-order permits issued by Florida.

Many of these armed city residents live in high-crime areas already awash in handguns. One man armed with a Florida permit faces murder charges for the fall 2010 killing of a would-be thief in Hunting Park, and other permit holders have been suspected by police of drug dealing.

Not surprisingly, these gun owners often fail to pass muster with the Police Department, which has discretion under state law to deny permits on the basis of character. But Florida applies different criteria, issuing these gun owners permits as long as they provide fingerprints and proof of firearms training.

That’s a huge loophole that state officials still need to close, even though Gov. Corbett and the Republican-controlled legislature have more or less shrugged it off as a nonissue.

As Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey told a U.S. House hearing on the proposed National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011, granting any state with weaker permit rules reciprocity “undermines the traditional authority of state and local governments to protect their citizens.”

The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which includes Mayor Nutter, has produced bipartisan polling showing substantial public support for retaining local control of concealed-carry laws. That’s a powerful argument for state lawmakers to resurrect a legislative proposal that would bar any Pennsylvanian from obtaining an out-of-state gun permit if he or she has been refused an in-state license.

Corbett and legislators earlier this year put the public at greater risk by expanding gun owners’ self-defense rights under the so-called castle doctrine. The least they could do now is restore local control over who gets to carry a weapon legally in Pennsylvania — by closing the Florida loophole and, thus, making Philadelphia’s streets that much safer.