IN DEPTH: Many locals are seeking the legalities of concealed carry

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
The seats were filled within a week-and a half, as Rep. Paul Schemel’s office took registrations for a concealed carry seminar. His goal was to educate the public on Pennsylvania’s firearm laws. An attorney specializing in the topic conducted the program.

A capacity crowd attended a concealed carry seminar March 19 at Greencastle Sportsmans Association. The event was hosted by Rep. Paul Schemel. Since it was so popular, he may hold another session next year.

“People have rights and responsibilities as a gun owner,” Schemel told the 300 men, women and a few children. “Today is to learn how to be safe with the weapon, and to know the law.”

Featured speaker Matt Menges, an attorney with Trinity Law in York, had been conducting such presentations for three years. A former police officer in Ocean City, Md., Menges said he carried a weapon most of the time, and a gun was visible on his hip.

Pennsylvania State Police trooper Ed Asbury was also on hand as a community services officer. He told the audience he assumed they were the good guys, and law abiding.

“I knew that was the case when I walked in the room and saw three tables of donuts.”

The refreshments had been provided by the Sportsmans Association.

Asbury explained that during any contact with police, if the officer became aware that a firearm was involved, the situation elevated. He referenced the recently-adopted law in West Virginia. The legislature overturned the governor’s veto, so on June  5 anyone over the age of 21 who can legally possess a firearm will be able to conceal carry without a permit.

“It’s scary,” he said. “There are people with no education and no idea when to use them.”

While citizens in Pennsylvania were not required to announce they had a handgun on their person, if asked, they had to produce the license.

Asbury encouraged the audience to be cooperative when dealing with law enforcement.

“You set the tone for the interaction.”

Firearm laws

Attendees received a 139-page manual on Pennsylvania laws as they related to firearms. Menges covered some of the topics uppermost in people’s minds. He cited the Uniform Firearms Act of 1995, which opened with Article 1 of the state constitution: “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the state shall not be questioned.”

The majority of the audience already had a concealed carry license, and others came to gather information before they applied for one, as indicated through a show of hands.

Though no license was needed for open carry, Menges didn’t see the value of displaying a gun in public.

“It’s not a good idea, because if a bad guy sees you, you become his intended target,” he said.

In addition, police likely would want to check if the person was allowed to possess a weapon. And once the person entered a vehicle without a license, a crime was committed. The Pennsylvania license to carry firearms applied to concealing on the person, and to place in a vehicle.

People needed to be aware of the federal, state and municipal laws, and if one was unintentionally violated, or if a person was unlawfully charged, defense in court would be very expensive.

“I am generally an advocate of concealed carry,” Menges said. “But use common sense. Some places, where you can’t carry, you could get away with it, but just don’t.”

Franklin County

Approximately 15,000 active licenses to carry firearms exist in Franklin County. Sheriff James W. Brown, contacted later, said his office processed about 3,000 applications per year.

Requirements for people seeking a license were: be at least 21 years old, a resident of the county, and pass the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS). The fee was $5 down, and $15 when the license was approved. Brown said a clerk ran the PICS check, and he reviewed the results before approving “the vast majority.” He had 45 days to do so.

As a way for citizens to be knowledgeable about the law, he recommended they read Chapter 61 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. It contained the Uniform Firearms Act.

Caution about concealed carry was urged on two fronts.

Brown said, “If you are not willing to use deadly force, why do you have a gun? It is a big decision and responsibility.”

Menges told the seminar group, “My general rule is simple. Don’t take your firearm out of your holster until you need it to save your life.”

People were at the Sportsman Club for various reasons. A 51-year-old woman wanted to learn more about the law. She received her carry permit six months ago, having lost her sense of safety when her home was broken into. She would put a pistol on her ankle when she was hiking or by herself.

A 33-year-old man did not carry often, but put the gun on his waist when he did. He was intrigued to learn how some laws were interpreted, and to find out 32 states had reciprocity agreements with Pennsylvania. Another man, 60, had the license but not yet carried a weapon. He knew, now, that he was legally protected if his gun was in his vehicle. He said he had no personal reason to carry a weapon now. “I am not afraid at home or outside,” he said. “If I was, I hope I will respond properly.”

Citizens posed questions to Matthew Menges, a lawyer who practiced in firearms rights and other areas.

Q - Is open carry allowed at polling places?

A - Yes. If you are working there, I recommended concealed carry.

Q - The holster sticks out of my clothing. Is that still concealed carry?

A - If a state allows open carry, that’s OK.

Q - Can you conceal carry in private clubs?

A - You have to be a member, so you are subject to their rules. If the rules are silent, you can carry.

Q - When I go into Maryland, I forget about my concealed carry. What do I do if I am pulled over?

A - You should have stopped before entering the state, and unloaded, since they don’t recognize Pennsylvania law. Otherwise, there has to be criminal intent to be charged with a crime. If you are stopped, you have the Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate yourself. I suggest you exercise that right.

Q - Is concealed carry necessary on your own property?

A - Technically yes, although no one may ever prosecute you if you don’t have the license.

Q - How about concealed carry while out for dinner and a drink?

A - Guns and alcohol don’t mix, period. But there is no law against it.

Q&A with an expert