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Inquirer Editorial: Deciding who can be armed

States should set own rules

(Drawing by Barrie Maguire)
(Drawing by Barrie Maguire)Read more

The threat of gun violence to Philadelphia-area residents from the so-called Florida loophole could go national - unless U.S. senators such as Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey, and many others, do the right thing.

Under a bill just rammed through the U.S. House to a tune called by the National Rifle Association, every state that permits residents to carry concealed handguns would have to honor permits held by gun owners from other states.

That would scrap the long-established notion that states should have the right to shape their own approach as to who gets to carry a legal weapon. In Pennsylvania, for instance, police have the right to use discretion in denying a gun permit if, as in Philadelphia, they question an applicant's character.

In the landmark case establishing citizens' right to own firearms under the Constitution's Second Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court pointed to just such rules when it upheld the "ability to devise solutions to social problems that suit local needs and values" on firearms.

The NRA and its acolytes in Congress argue that this measure simply brings a degree of uniformity to concealed-carry permits in much the same way as one state honors another's drivers' licenses.

But the stakes are much higher, since making the right determination about who should - and should not - carry a gun is a potential matter of life and death to a degree unmatched by rules about who gets to slide behind the wheel of a vehicle.

As it happens, Philadelphia already is experiencing the problems that the effective nationalization of handgun-carrying permits would unleash. Because Pennsylvania has a reciprocity agreement with Florida on gun permits, Keystone State residents who have been turned down for gun permits locally are free to obtain them from Florida.

An estimated 900 city residents are now armed in Philadelphia with such mail-order permits from the Sunshine State, and some clearly turned to Florida after being denied permits here. How much worse would the situation be if the Florida loophole were expanded to include every state that applied different standards to gun permitting?

In fact, that's why law enforcement officials are outspoken on the House bill. As Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey told a House committee, in comments on the proposed Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, weaker permit rules undermine state and local authorities' ability "to protect their citizens."

For more than 100 local religious leaders allied under the Heeding God's Call gun-safety organization - who planned to deliver a signed plea for Sen. Casey's support - the scourge of gun violence is day-in, day-out evidence that the nation must not loosen gun permit regulations.

Along with CeaseFirePA and Mayor Nutter, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the faith leaders are looking to Casey and others for leadership in defeating the House bill if it comes up in the Senate or is grafted onto other legislation. While Casey is still undeclared, his voice and vote could be the deciding factor in an effort that, undoubtedly, will save lives.