Stearns Bill (HR 822) would expand “Florida Loophole” to every state, undermining Pennsylvania law enforcement, and violating states' rights.
MEDIA ADVISORY: September 29, 2011
For more information contact Max Nacheman, CeaseFirePA Director
Email: email@example.com or call 215-923-3151
PENNSYLVANIA – This time last year, investigators were still piecing together the murder of Irving Santana, an unarmed Philadelphia teenager shot 13 times by Marqus Hill. A year later, at least one piece of the puzzle is clear: Marqus Hill took advantage of a loophole in Pennsylvania’s concealed carry law – an unintentional gap in our reciprocity agreement with Florida, allowing him to sidestep the authority of Pennsylvania law enforcement who had revoked his permit – and the ruling of a state judge who had denied his appeal to have it returned.
In the year since, the Pennsylvania Legislature has ignored reasonable suggestions to close the loophole – from Pennsylvania Sheriffs who administer concealed carry permits throughout most of the state, from Pennsylvania Prosecutors who seek justice for people who use or carry firearms illegally, and from Pennsylvania Police who are the first line of defense against threats like Hill, who would carry hidden, loaded, handguns despite Pennsylvania law enforcement prohibiting them from doing so.
This month, the vacuum of inaction was made wider by the United States Congress, which is considering legislation to make the deadly loophole worse by expanding it to every other state. The bill, HR 822, introduced by Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-Florida) – who hails from the same state that supplied Marqus Hill with a concealed carry permit – would expand reciprocity for concealed carry permits from only those states that a state chooses to recognize (as current law allows) – to all states. To date, Pennsylvania has negotiated reciprocity agreements with 25 other states – the rest have not met the standards set by our state authorities, or we have not met theirs. The proposed bill would make those agreements obsolete.
Hill’s PA permit was revoked in 2007 because of his involvement with a shooting. In 2008, after his appeal was denied, he attacked a police officer in the courtroom. But none of that information was available to the Florida Department of Agriculture when they reviewed Hill’s application in 2009, and shortly after, mailed him a concealed carry permit good for seven years, with the address of his Philadelphia residence printed on it.
Editorial boards across Pennsylvania are already speaking out against the proposed change to federal law. On Thursday the Pittsburgh Post Gazette pointed out the dangerous “race to the bottom” this change would incite:
“Supporters of the National Rifle Association have long repeated the slogan, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." If one takes the absurdist logic at face value, it follows that the nation should pay great attention to who can possess firearms... “That's exactly what the NRA-backed National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act doesn't do. In fact, HR 822 would do the reverse if enacted. It would force states like Pennsylvania to honor other states' permits to carry a concealed gun, even if those states have permit standards that are more lax.
“If HR 822 passed, the Florida loophole would become applicable to every state that allows such permits, which is almost all of them. It would be a gun-carrying race to the bottom, and Pennsylvania's idea of what is good for Pennsylvania would not count because of a federal mandate.” Read the full editorial.
And a week earlier, the Scranton Times called out the hypocrisy of so-called conservative members of Congress who routinely rely on the “States’ Rights” argument to back their own initiatives.
“Many House conservatives who profess undying devotion to the notion of states' rights apparently are using the concept for target practice... Sure, they're convinced that the federal government has no legitimate role in health care, education and a wide array of other matters. But when it comes to packing heat, the states need to get out of the way of the federal government... The National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act is not only is ill-advised and dangerous, but an attack on the very notion of states' rights.” Read the full editorial.
The proposed change to federal law was first considered in 2009 – before Marcus Hill had exposed the deadly consequences of the Florida Loophole. The bill was introduced as an amendment in the Senate by Senator John Thune (R- South Dakota). After hearing the opposition and concern of hundreds of Pennsylvania Mayors and Police Chiefs, former Senator Arlen Specter cast a decisive vote against the amendment, and blocked it from becoming law. Unfortunately, Senator Casey voted in favor of the Thune Amendment, disregarding the recommendations of his constituents and local law enforcement.
“It was a mistake in 2009 when Congress first considered this bill,” said CeaseFirePA Director Max Nacheman. “Now that we have seen the deadly consequences of allowing states to undermine one another’s concealed carry regulations it is unconscionable that Congress would consider this again. This isn’t a theoretical problem. Instead of pulling the rug out from underneath law enforcement, Congress should be giving them more tools, like an effective background check system – not taking them away.”
Though Florida is by far the most frequent supplier of concealed carry permits to prohibited Pennsylvania residents, other states have done so as well. Earlier this year, in Centre County, a man was caught carrying concealed firearm in Magisterial Court using a New Hampshire Permit, obtained after his PA permit had been revoked because of previous charges. In Philadelphia numerous instances have surfaced in which noted threats had been denied a Pennsylvania concealed carry permit, and later granted a permit by the state of Florida.
“The Stearns Bill will make it even harder for Pennsylvania police to protect our communities,” said CeaseFirePA President Phil Goldsmith. “We know the current system has problems – but this change would blow the Florida Loophole hole wide open. At least with the current state-run reciprocity system in place, our state government has the ability to determine with which states we will share reciprocity. The NRA-driven Stearn Bill would take that authority away from the states and place it in the hands of the Federal Government – a clear violation of States’ Rights.”
With more than 3,000 concealed carry permits issued to Pennsylvania residents by Florida alone –such incidents our bound to repeat themselves. Right now the loophole is limited to handful of states, including Florida, and could be remedied by the Pennsylvania Attorney General or Legislature. But if Congress makes deadly change the remaining states that have been determined to be unacceptable partners for reciprocity will automatically be able to grant concealed carry permits to Pennsylvania residents – despite the best efforts of Pennsylvania law enforcement to minimize the risk of hidden, loaded handguns, carried by known dangerous people.
CeaseFirePA is Pennsylvania’s leading gun violence prevention organization. Every year 1200 Pennsylvanians are shot and killed. CeaseFirePA is dedicated to reducing and preventing gun violence through education and advocacy in communities across Pennsylvania. For more information, please visit www.CeaseFirePA.org or call us at 215-923-3151.