Shooting straight

LEWISTOWN – “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

– Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The Second Amendment has been at the center of debate recently due to national tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Nationally, many citizens argue for their rights to own firearms but they might have a misconception of the laws in their respected states. Not every state has the same gun laws and these laws can be easily confused between states.

In Mifflin County, an expert on the topic is Sheriff Christopher Shade.

Shade says he has people in and out of his office regularly asking about licenses and what states recognize Pennsylvania gun licenses.

He said the most common thing he sees is people coming in to his office mistakenly asking to get a license to buy a gun.

“People come to the counter and say they need a license to buy a gun,” Shade said. “There is no such thing to buy a firearm. There is a license to carry a concealed weapon.”

Buying a firearm and getting a license to carry a concealed weapon are completely different.

According to the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, any individual or dealer selling a handgun is required to sell or transer it at a licensed dealer or the county sheriff’s office. Transfers of all firearms by a licensed dealer are subject to instant records checks of the purchaser.

The background check is all that is required to buy a firearm and Shade said it is quick and easy.

“It is checking criminal history, mental health history and military history,” Shade said. “Every time you buy a gun a background check is done on you. Just because you were approved yesterday doesn’t mean you were approved today.”

In Pennsylvania, anyone who has been convicted of a crime rated higher than a misdemeanor 2, meaning a misdemeandor 1 or a felony, cannot purchase a firearm, Shade added.

Shade said if a Pennsylvanian who was convicted of or pleaded guilty to a crime that could have carried a sentence of two or more years – even if time wasn’t served – that citizen cannot purchase a gun.

Also, any person who was dishonorably discharged from the military or charged with a domestic violence crime cannot purchase a firearm, Shade said.

While purchasing a firearm is fairly straightforward, the laws governing where a gun can be possessed and what a license to carry permits a holder to do can be confusing.

Any person carrying a handgun in any vehicle or concealed on or about his or her person is required to have a license to carry or a Sportsman’s Firearm Permit, which is good only for hunting, fishing, trapping and dog training, according to the NRA website.

However, the NRA said no license is required:

to carry a handgun in one’s home or fixed place of business;

when engaged in target shooting or while going to or from shooters’ places of assembly or target practice, provided the firearm is unloaded and the ammunition is carried in a seperate container;

for law enforcement personnel;

to carry an unloaded and securely wrapped firearm from place of purchase to one’s home or place of business, to or from a place of repair, or in moving from one place of abode or business to another, to recover stolen property or to a location to which the person has been directed to surrender firarms or back upon return of the surrendered firearm;

to carry a firearm in any vehicle when the person possesses a valid and lawfully issued license for that firearm which has been issued under the laws of the U.S. or any state;

to carry while lawfully hunting or fishing or going to the place of hunting or fishing, provided one has a hunting or fishing license and a Sportsman’s Firearm Permit;

by a person who has a lawfully issued license to carry a firearm and said license expired within six months prior to the date of arrest and that individual is otherwise eligible for renewal of that license;

by any person who is otherwise eligible to possess a firearm and who is driving a motor vehicle which is registered in the person’s name or the name of a spouse or parent and which contains a firearm for which a valid license has been issued to the spouse or parent owning the firearm.

An individual who is 21 years of age or older may apply for a license to carry firearms by submitting a completed application for Pennsylvania license to carry firearms to the sheriff of the county in which they reside.

And an application doesn’t require much.

“You need a valid Pennsylvania driver’s license and $20 cash,” Shade said.

The states surrounding Pennsylvania did not recognize Pennsylvania licenses until recent years.

West Virginia and Pennsylvania honor each others’ states gun licenses, something commonly referred to as a reciprocity agreement.

“The big thing is until a few years ago, you couldn’t leave Pa. carrying a concealed weapon.” Shade said, “The surrounding states would not recognize Pa.’s license to carry.”

States that recognize Pennsylvania permits are; Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Pennsylvania has reciprocity agreements with each of these states except for Vermont.

For more information about Pennsylvania gun laws, Shade directs citizens to the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s office or to the NRA website to check laws from Pennsylvania and other states.

The Mifflin County Sheriff’s office is located on the first floor of the Mifflin County Courthouse and is open from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. each Monday through Friday.