From the archives, 2006: In Pa., no jumping through hoops to get a gun

There it was, the gun of my dreams.

It was a sleek, black-and-silver Taurus PT-140 semiautomatic pistol with a 13-bullet clip. I had to have it.

The only question was: How long would it take to get it into my hands?

The answer: Not long at all, this being Pennsylvania, hog heaven for the pro-gun lobby.

Other states - New Jersey comes to mind - will make you jump through hoops to get a handgun.

Other states - Maryland is one - limit handgun purchases to one a month.

Other states - New York is one - allow their largest cities to pass their own regulations on gun purchases.

Not Pennsylvania.

We want you armed and dangerous as quickly as possible.

And, if you want to buy two or three or more guns at one time, not to worry. Come on down!

In my case, just 40 minutes elapsed from the time I walked into Lou's Pawn Shop 69th Street in Upper Darby to when I walked out with not one, but two, handguns.

I could have bought as many as I wanted, but I had a budget of $800. Pennsylvania law sets no limits on the number of guns a person can buy at one time.

To get the two guns I bought Thursday, all I had to do was make my selection, fill out two forms - one for the state, one for the feds - wait for George, the clerk, to make a quick call to a State Police hotline to check whether I had a criminal record, and I was out of there, armed to the teeth.

Those forms asked me to attest and aver (in a lot of words) that I was a U.S. citizen and that I did not have a criminal record. They also asked me to list my name, address, age, Social Security number, and the serial number on the guns I purchased.

There was one hitch. I filled out the state form using a pen with blue ink. George made me do it again.

"They require that you use black ink," he said, apologetically.

When I departed, I had a plastic shopping bag that contained not only my new 9mm semi, but also a novelty item: a Taurus snub-nosed revolver.

Normally, revolvers are simply too passé for the urban gun fancier.

But this one was special. It was designed to handle high-powered ammo - .357 Magnum or .38-special cartridges. It doesn't have much of a range, but a lot of impact if it hits something that is close by-say, a target or a teenage kid or a cop.

When I arrived at Lou's on Thursday, some of the employees were grousing about the demonstration held across the street the day before.

Anti-gun activists held a conference to announce that the tiny pawnshop was among the top 100 shops in America that sold the most guns later linked to crimes. In Lou's case, it was 441 guns over a four-year period.

This is a sign that the shop is a favorite among straw buyers - legit purchasers (i.e. folks without criminal records) who later sell the handguns on the street to would-be perps or kids with a yen for a handgun and the cash to pay for it.

If I knew the right customers, I could have taken the two handguns I bought and sold them within 24 hours at close to double the price: $800 out, $1,600 in. Not a bad profit margin.

And if the guns were later used in a crime and traced back to me (that is, if their serial numbers weren't obliterated), I could tell the police that they were stolen from the back of my car long ago.

Lou's has taken note of the brouhaha over straw buyers.

As part of the purchase process, George produced a sheet on Lou's letterhead that he asked me to initial and sign. It stated (a) that I was who I said I was (b) that I was not a straw buyer.

To George, it was just another bit of paperwork to process. He confessed skepticism about its usefulness.

"As if this is going to stop someone," he said.

He had a good point. If I wanted to resell those guns on the street, would that form stop me? Of course not.

You have to pinch supply. You have to set up speed bumps, a la New Jersey and New York, when it comes to handgun purchases.

One way to do that would be to limit handgun sales to one a month per customer.

This would cut down on the flow of handguns onto the street and hopefully result in fewer shootings.

A coalition called PATH (Pennsylvanians Against Trafficking Handguns), which held the demo outside Lou's, is pushing for passage of just such a bill in Harrisburg.

So far, PATH has had zero luck in getting it moved out of committee. Let New Jersey pass its 17-bill anti-violence package; we can't even take baby steps in this state.

For those of you fed up with this-excuse the expression-explosion of guns and violence on the streets, I urge you to contact your local state legislators and ask them to support PATH bills, House Bill 870 and Senate Bill 1002.

Postscript: I do not intend to fence my guns and I don't want them. I plan to turn them in to the police.

This article was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on May 21, 2006.