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Up on arms Brubaker talks about gun control
MELINDA S. ELMER Record Express Correspondent
, Staff Writer
"I put my left hand on a Bible and raised my right hand and swore to uphold the constitutions of the state of Pennsylvania and the United States," Sen. Mike Brubaker told a group of about 50 people at a forum on gun laws hosted by Coleman Memorial Chapel in Brickerville last Thursday.
Pointing to a large colorful poster showing the pertinent portions of both, Brubaker read, "’The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.’ That’s pretty clear. Shall not be questioned." (PA Constitution, Section 21. Right to Bear Arms).
Brubaker also read the more familiar Second Amendment of the United States Constitution:
"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."
The senator stated that he is a gun owner who enjoys hunting and fishing. The vast majority of those present seemed to support the right to keep and bear arms, and was not in favor of any curtailment of those rights.
Brubaker started off the evening’s conversation by asking if everyone was aware of "The Florida Loophole." Only a few were.
Pennsylvania law says that a person needs a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Florida law is similar. Pennsylvania and Florida have a reciprocity agreement, meaning that a permit issued in one state will be honored by the other state. Apparently, there have been cases of people in the Philadelphia area being denied a concealed carry permit, going to Florida and being granted a permit, and then using the Florida permit to carry a concealed weapon in Pennsylvania.
About 4,000 PA residents have permits that were issued in Florida.
Brubaker reported that PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane has closed the Florida loophole; people denied a concealed carry permit in PA can no longer use a Florida permit in Pennsylvania. News sources state that it is unclear whether or not Kane can legally make that move without legislative approval.
Jim Brewer told the crowd that he is "one of the 4,000" who has a Florida concealed carry permit. He said he is an NRA (National Rifle Association) certified handgun instructor and is also certified in Pennsylvania. In Florida, he had to complete an 8-10 hour gun safety class and be fingerprinted to have all the police background checks before he could get a concealed carry permit. He believes that Florida has more stringent regulations than Pennsylvania regarding who may carry a concealed weapon.
"I don’t think it’s possible to get a permit in Florida if you couldn’t get one in Pennsylvania," he said.
Brubaker asked Brewer if he felt that he was disadvantaged in any way by Kane’s decision. Brewer replied that he was not.
"It’s just the principle of it," he said.
Another person presented the hypothetical scenario of a person hiking the Appalachian Trail who felt the need for a weapon for protection. That person would need a permit or agreement of reciprocity for each of the states the trail traverses. The big question was, "If the federal government says I have the right to carry a gun, how can local municipalities say I can’t?"
Brubaker replied that he is not a gun law expert, but that he and his staff would try to find answers to everyone’s questions and get them to Pastor Hobbs at Coleman Chapel.
Brubaker believes that a person who is denied a concealed carry permit in Pennsylvania should not be able to go to another state, get a permit, bring it back to Pennsylvania and carry the concealed weapon.
Laws regarding openly carrying a firearm also vary from state to state. The opencarry.org website reports "Pennsylvania is a traditional open carry state … You must have a permit to open carry in the city of Philadelphia and … you must have a permit to open carry in a vehicle. However, PA recognizes the permits of all 50 states for open/concealed carry in vehicles."
"We should do a New York thing," said someone from the audience. "The New Era should print a county-by-county list of everyone granted a concealment permit."
Someone else said that had been done about 25 years ago when the permits were first issued.
Brubaker also brought up the "Castle Doctrine," recently changed by the PA General Assembly. The law previously stated that a person had the right to defend his home (castle) with lethal force, but also had the duty to retreat. After one had retreated as far as possible and the aggressor continued to attack, one could respond with lethal force.
The law has been changed to state that law-abiding citizens may use deadly force against an attacker in his home or anyplace he has the legal right to be, such as in his car, on his lawn or even in a public park. The attacker can make no civil lawsuits against the alleged victim or his family.
Former District Judge Dan Garrett said the burden of proof is on the victim to prove that the aggressor was an attacker, and noted that a person who is stealing items from your house is not your attacker. "You better have $75,000 in a bank account if you choose to use deadly force against someone," he said.
Dave Busey from Elstonville asked how the Castle Doctrine interacts with the Good Samaritan Law. The Good Sam Law helps people who try to aide someone in need. For instance, a person who gives first aide in an emergency cannot be sued for failing to do the right thing or failing to do enough to help. Busey’s question was, "What if the person I am trying to help thinks I am attacking him?"
Although there was no clear answer to how the two laws interact, an audience member did note that a Good Samaritan must obtain permission before lending aide.
Brubaker went on to mention that there are numerous pieces of legislation in the PA General Assembly that would affect assault weapons. In the 1990s, the majority in the federal government voted for a 10-year ban on assault weapons. That time has expired and the law is no longer valid. An attempt led by Sen. Bob Casey to restore portions of the bill did not have enough votes to pass.
Brubaker said, "The number one consideration for me is the Constitution. That is really strong language. For me to vote for a ban, I’d need to see really specific information on the reduction of the number of murders."
He went on to say that convicted felons give up their rights to own firearms, unless the conviction is expunged, which is very rare. He also said that he is unsure where we get the numbers for the number of rounds allowed in an ammunition clip.
Another person questioned why, if assault weapons are so bad, it is OK for the Obama administration to send 2,000 weapons to Mexico, where they end up in the hands of the drug cartels and a U.S. border guard gets killed with one of those weapons. He believes U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is playing "the fast and the furious" with the law, and that we don’t need any more events like the one in Newtown, Conn.
Brubaker said that he believes it is not OK to send weapons to Mexico, but said he needs a basis to vote to change the laws. "Even if an assault weapons ban had been in place, it would not have made a difference in Newtown. People would be allowed to keep the weapons they already own, and the shooter would have passed all the background checks." The weapon used in Newtown allegedly belonged to the shooter’s mother.
Another audience member stated that he has a son in the U.S. Army who has been to Iraq twice and to Afghanistan. He carried his own personal weapons there when he was in charge of a sniper unit. He was recently transferred to Massachusetts. To keep his guns, he must live in Vermont because he is not allowed to have them in Massachusetts.
Brubaker noted House Bill 357 and its partner, Senate Bill 505, which basically state that Pennsylvania makes its own gun laws and the federal government should stay out of the state’s business. The audience applauded.
The pace of the forum picked up from that point because the senator had another obligation later that evening. He mentioned a number of proposed laws, beginning with the Governor’s proposal to sell (privatize) the state-owned liquor stores. That action would produce "about $1 billion in short-term cash, and a portion of that would go to education, some to improving school safety."
He noted that the government will close this year with a $526 million deficit. There is no more state money to give to schools. "A portion of the state liquor store sales is the only place I know to find more money."
Brubaker asked, "What is the best method to improve school safety?"
One respondent said, "All we have to do to improve school safety and stop terrorists is look to Israel. They know how to do it. They have armed guards with protective gear. I support that 100%."
Someone else noted that teachers in Israel may carry firearms both openly and concealed. The Safe School Zones Act would need to be repealed to allow the Second Amendment to apply to school employees here.
"A person with ill intent wouldn’t know who’s armed. I’m a believer in the second amendment, and want it to be extended to teachers," another person said.
Another person suggested that the state consider armed senior citizens with an extensive background in gun use to volunteer to sit in the schools for four hours a day to protect their grandchildren. "Set the bar high. These would have to be people of sterling character and extreme skill."
Someone else agreed. "Paid people wouldn’t have the same heart. Volunteers are willing to sacrifice their lives for something. This would be easier on the taxpaying citizens."
Other proposed laws Brubaker mentioned included Senate Bill 431, which would set a mandatory minimum sentence for unlawful possession of a firearm; for instance, a one year sentence for unlawfully carrying a firearm on one’s person or in a vehicle.
Brubaker raised a hypothetical situation. A father comes home and inadvertently leaves his gun in his car’s glove box. His son later picks up the car keys and heads to the local mini market to buy a soda. The son is pulled over and the vehicle is searched. The son would face a mandatory one-year sentence for illegally carrying a concealed weapon, even though he did not know the gun was in the vehicle and he had absolutely no intention of using it.
"I don’t like mandatory minimums," Brubaker said.
Another bill would prohibit the possession of firearms by violent felons, including those accused of violent crimes. "That means they may not possess a gun even before the case goes to trial. That means the person is being treated as guilty until proven innocent, not innocent until proven guilty," Brubaker said.
Senate Bill 190 would limit access to firearms by mentally ill individuals who are involuntarily required to get treatment. It would change confidentiality laws, and these names would be placed on the FBI watch list.
Senate Bill 191 would limit the number of guns a person may purchase to one per month. Apparently some people are buying guns legally and then reselling them illegally on the street, and this bill attempts to limit that activity.
The Firearms Registration Act would require that all firearms be registered with the state police, including low-caliber long-barrel rifles such as .22s. Short-barreled guns (handguns) must be registered now.
"The question is, ‘Do you trust your government?’" Brubaker asked.
The audience shouted in unison, "No!"
Brubaker noted that one county in New York had printed a map of which homes owned guns and the value of those guns.
"Don’t guns have to be registered in Pennsylvania now?" was a question from the audience.
The only state-filed paperwork now required is a transfer form that must be filled out before selling a pistol. It was noted that President Obama supports gun registration.
Another bill would require that all gun owners purchase a minimum of $1 million firearm liability insurance. "If your gun is used to kill someone, that money would be used as retribution."
Brubaker does not support any of these bills. "I don’t support bills I don’t understand. The sponsors need to do their homework," he said.
Asked what the likelihood that these bills will pass is, the senator said, "Pennsylvania is a strong Second Amendment state. I envision none of these bills passing. ‘Til they go through the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Senate floor and then the House, the votes just are not there. I personally cannot vote to restrict rights without firm evidence for a reduction in the number of murders."
The evening ended with a rapid-fire session of audience comments.
"There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it." – William James.
"Powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved by the states, according to the US Constitution."
"There is no such thing as an assault weapon. People are the assault weapons."
"If we take the Bible out of schools, we will increase the number of students in jail more than we will educate students." – paraphrased from Fisher Ames. "Put the Bible back in schools."
"Why do we need to have this meeting? ‘The right of the citizens to bear arms … shall not be questioned’ and ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed’. It’s that clear."
Brubaker replied, "With those rights comes a very high, huge responsibility."
One person affirmed Brubaker, "I like your reasoned approach to gun control. I appreciate that."
Another person asked if the church could bring the senator back within the next six months to talk about Speedwell Forge Lake. That comment met with general approval, and the church is open to the idea.
Perhaps the best information to come out of the forum was, "Wasp spray will shoot about fifteen feet, and it’s legal."
More GUNS, page A23