SEVERAL Philadelphia gun owners with nonresident permits from Florida to carry a concealed weapon say that when state Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced Friday that she was closing the so-called Florida gun loophole she also should have promised to look at why so many Philadelphians sought permits from Florida in the first place.
"The only place that this seems to become an issue, which they are not saying, is in Philadelphia," said firearms instructor Richard Oliver. "It's just a Philly problem, because to get the Philadelphia permit is so crazy."
Randy Huggins, a bodyguard from West Philadelphia with a Florida permit, agreed.
"Leave the law-abiding citizens alone or at least understand why we're in the position we're in," he said. "What's Philadelphia doing that's making people run to Florida?"
The loophole allowed state residents who didn't have a permit from their own county or whose permit was denied or revoked to obtain one from Florida through the mail. Pennsylvania police had to honor the permits because of a reciprocity agreement.
Oliver, 44, owner of the Parapet Group, a security and firearms- training company in Northeast Philly, has taught the safety courses required for nonresident permits from other states for years.
He said that students have come to him for many reasons. Some already have Philly permits but also wanted the Florida one because it's recognized in more states.
Others have tried to get Philadelphia permits but were rejected by the Philadelphia Gun Permit Unit, which can deny permits based on "character or reputation" alone. Oliver said that some of his students who had no criminal convictions were denied permits anyway.
He added that Kane should have looked at the stringent requirements of Philadelphia's Gun Permit Unit as she was looking to close the Florida loophole.
"That would have been the most fair thing," he said. "Everyone would have applauded that, and it would have made her a legend."
Oliver, who has permits from Philadelphia, Florida, Utah and Virginia, said that the people who have Florida permits will not be driven to carry unlawfully because of the change in the law.
"They'll just leave the guns at home," he said. "It will not turn these people into criminals, but it will make them potential victims."
Oliver said that former students were calling him over the weekend to see what other permits they could get in light of the law change, which takes effect June 8. He believes that Kane will eventually go after similar reciprocal agreements with other states like Utah, New Hampshire and Virginia, but he said that those permits should still be honored here until she does, and that he'll keep teaching the safety classes for them.
"The demand is there and I want to satisfy it," he said.
Huggins, 42, the bodyguard from West Philly, said he believes that the law change is targeting legal gun owners and not criminals.
"Why make it harder for us?" he said. "Make it harder for the criminals. Leave us alone."
Robert Gibson, 33, of Northeast Philadelphia, said that he sat in jail for 35 days because he couldn't post $200,000 bail after being falsely arrested in the city last year while carrying a gun on a Florida permit.
He said that the case was eventually dropped but that he now has a civil suit against the city.
Gibson said that in light of the law change, he'll now try to get a gun permit from Philadelphia. He's cautiously optimistic about his chances.
"They have to give it to me," he said. "How can you judge someone's character? It's like judging a book by its cover."
As for Oliver, he said that he was impressed by one aspect of Kane's announcement:
"She's the first politician who made good on a campaign promise within 45 days in office," he said. "She kept her word."