Concealed carry bill heads to governor

November 18, 2021 Cranberry Local News

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Constitutional carry is in Gov. Tom Wolf's hands, which are primed to toss the bill.

“This is a move to lower the bar for unvetted, permitless people to carry hidden weapons while they walk our streets and mingle in our communities and to dismantle the commonwealth's system for responsible gun ownership,” said Wolf in a statement Nov. 9, following the Senate's passing of the bill.

Originating in the Senate, the bill passed a House vote Tuesday, 107-92.

A representative from Wolf's office reaffirmed Wednesday that the governor intends to veto the bill, which would secure a Pennsylvanian citizen's right to carry a concealed gun without the need of a permit.

“We need to stop this nonsense — we should question why we would want anyone who hasn't undergone a background check to carry a concealed weapon,” Wolf said Nov. 9.

State Rep. Aaron Bernstine, R-10th, authored the companion bill. Bernstine said a concealed carry permit is a redundant function, pointing to the background check, which is the same check completed at the time of buying a gun.

Both background checks are completed by the state police, feature a nearly identical form and examine the same aspects of a person's criminal history, mental health and right to own a gun.

“It's a duplicative process when somebody has to go and file for a concealed carry,” Bernstine said.

Bernstine said the other argument in favor of constitutional carry relates to sheriffs' discretion in issuing permits. He said, currently, a sheriff could deny a permit for any reason, including personal or political reasons.

“That doesn't make sense for someone in Beaver County to be treated differently than those in Butler County and those in Lawrence County,” Bernstine said.

In the comment, Bernstine spoke generally and did not reference any particular sheriff.

Butler County Sheriff Michael Slupe said he generally supported constitutional carry and would be glad for its clearing of gray areas existing between open and concealed carry policy.

Currently, anyone can openly carry their gun in a public space as long as it is readily visible.

Concealment then can range from pockets to purses, and even cars. If someone takes a loaded gun in a car, it falls under the concealed carry designation and would require someone to have a permit.

“I hope the governor signs it,” Slupe said. “Apparently this is what Pennsylvania wants.”

In terms of his administration, Slupe said he expects to maintain about the same level of permits issued. Although constitutional carry would allow a resident to carry a concealed weapon freely in-state, that protection does not extend beyond state lines.

Many states have reciprocity agreements with Pennsylvania, allowing concealed carry permits from one to be acceptable in another. So, if a gun owner plans to carry in another state that has reciprocity, they would still need the permit from the sheriff's office.

“I don't see any real changes in our office with the way we handle stuff,” Slupe said.

Bernstine said constitutional carry in Pennsylvania has been in the works for more than 30 years.

“This is the furthest that it's gone so far,” he said. “We're really happy about that.”

Bernstine said when the bill came to the House, his Democratic colleagues bogged it down with a number of amendments and pursued a lengthy review process that lasted more than three hours Tuesday.

“We basically waited them out,” Bernstine said. “Once we got through that, we were able to see success.”

With Wolf's veto likely, he said the power of what's been accomplished will remain.

“Even if the governor vetoes it, it forced legislators to be accountable to their vote and let people know where they stand on this issue,” Bernstine said.

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Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger graduated with a degree in journalism in 2015 from Pitt-Johnstown. Previously working as a business reporter for the paper, he took over the crime beat at the Butler Eagle in 2021.