HARRISBURG - The Rendell administration will review whether there is a better time to shut down the state's criminal-background check system to avoid conflict with the start of hunting season.
At a news conference yesterday, Gov. Rendell said the four-day period between Sept. 2 and Sept. 6 was chosen to take the system off-line - which will prevent people from buying guns - because research showed it has been a slack time for firearms purchases, which require the mandated computerized background check. The system's database is being upgraded to include criminal history and other records from before 1981.
Neither the state police nor anyone in his administration considered whether the shutdown would affect hunters, Rendell said. He called that an oversight. This year, hunting season for doves and early Canada geese begins Sept. 1, and some hunters may want to purchase shotguns that weekend.
"Those of us in the administration who worked on this probably made a mistake by not asking hunting and sportsmen's groups for their input, because had we asked, we would have found out that the days we chose were right at the beginning of hunting season," he said.
The governor said he had assembled an ad-hoc committee that would meet Monday to determine whether there was a better time to upgrade the system, which he said could not be done incrementally. Rendell expects to know by Tuesday whether he can change the dates.
"Let me be clear: There never really is a good time to do this," Rendell said, but he stressed the shutdown was necessary for public safety. The system is used not just for background checks on gun purchasers, but for making similar checks on public schoolteachers and others who work with children.
Rendell also criticized one lawmaker who had called the pending shutdown an attempt by "liberals from Philadelphia" to do back-door gun control.
"It's all just a bunch of hogwash," the governor said. "It's the worst kind of political grandstanding to play the Philadelphia card, the P card, or the L card – the liberal card."
He added: "Do the people who make this contention believe that it is liberal to get information that a teacher applicant has a background of being a sexual predator and keep him out of that job? Is that liberal? We use this system to protect people. . . . It's not liberal in any way, shape or form."
Rendell was responding to comments made earlier in the week by Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R., Jefferson), whose north-central and northwest district is one of the state's most rural.
In a statement, Scarnati wrote: "This is a slap in the face to the law-abiding citizens of the commonwealth who wish to purchase a gun during this time. . . . I am concerned that this is just another attempt by liberals from Philadelphia to limit the rights of gun owners and those who wish to become a gun owner."
Rendell said yesterday that Scarnati was "stretching the envelope" with his characterizations.
He said the decision to shut the system down in the first week of September was based on data compiled by the state police. Police looked at the average volume of gun sales in September for the last six years and found that the average number of requests for guns was 385 for the Monday of the first week of the month - but that it jumped to more than 900 for the Monday in the second, third and fourth weeks of September.
"When you have nothing else to say, bash Philadelphia," the governor said. "When you have nothing else to say, say it's a liberal conspiracy."