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City scene: Everybody's got a gun

EVERY NOW and then, you run across a story that brings out the cynic in you, the cynic who shakes his head and mutters, "Only in Philadelphia." This might be one of those stories.

EVERY NOW and then, you run across a story that brings out the cynic in you, the cynic who shakes his head and mutters, "Only in Philadelphia."

This might be one of those stories.

A handful of warrant cops were out doing their usual thing on May 19 — pounding on doors, chasing down fleeing fugitives — when they came upon two guys who appeared to be urinating in a weed-strewn lot at 18th and Cumberland streets in North Philly.

Turns out the alleged tinkling twosome, Salim Wiggins and Raymond Stewart, were both off-duty Philadelphia Water Department employees.

Oh, and they were packing heat.

Police say Wiggins, 31, stammered, "My bad, officer," and took off running down nearby Cleveland Street.

The cops caught up with him quickly. After a brief struggle, they cuffed Wiggins and found that he was carrying a Smith & Wesson Sigma .40-caliber that had been stolen in 2004, according to law-enforcement records.

He was charged with receiving stolen property, possessing an instrument of crime, weapons violations and public urination.

Stewart, 31, was carrying a .40-caliber Glock 27 that he legally purchased several years ago. He also had a valid permit to carry from Florida, despite the 11 prior arrests — but no convictions — on his record for charges including aggravated assault and drug possession.

Stewart's permit was obtained through the so-called Florida loophole, a policy that's been driving local cops mad for years.

The loophole allows Pennsylvania residents to get a permit through the mail from Florida, where officials check to see only if an applicant has any criminal convictions before issuing a permit.

The Philadelphia Police Department can weigh an applicant's overall background — including arrest history — before deciding whether to issue a permit.

Stewart, who lives in Feltonville, said he figured he wouldn't be able to get a permit in Philly.

"They go by your character [here]. I have arrest charges," he told my colleague Barbara Laker.

"They arrest you for everything and judge you. I haven't been convicted of nothing."

The cops confiscated Stewart's gun and permit on May 19 because, according to court records, he was wanted on a traffic warrant in Florida and was in the presence of another man — Wiggins — who had a stolen gun.

Stewart also was charged with public urination, although he told Laker that he was merely looking for keys that he had dropped in the lot.

Stewart cried foul over the confiscation, and promised to sue to get his gun back.

The city should probably get ready now to write the man a check.

In 2007, cops arrested Stewart in Germantown while he was carrying the same Glock and the same Florida permit. He sued, and was awarded $10,000 in 2009.

Holly Dobrosky, the attorney who represented Stewart in that case, said that Philly cops "oftentimes create a false basis to justify taking away a gun and a gun permit."

Gun-control activists argue that too many firearms are on the streets — especially in Philadelphia, which seemingly can't go a day without a homicide or a handful of shootings — and that policies like the Florida loophole are just adding to the problem.

"This is the type of situation that makes the loophole such a big issue," said Max Nacheman, executive director of CeaseFirePA. "People who know they'd never be able to get one here can simply skip the process and go right to Florida. It's a major problem."

Stewart said he needs his gun for protection. In 2007, he said, he was shot in the shoulder by an unknown assailant, and a year later he was robbed.

"Don't you live in Philadelphia?" he said.