License requests leap
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 by BERNIE O'HARE TYLER MARTIN and CHRIS PARKER Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News
In his Jan. 10 report to Northampton County Council, Executive John Stoffa described a disturbing increase in the number of gun permits, also known as Licenses to Carry Firearms, issued in 2012. Stoffa told Council that 4,627 gun permits were issued in 2012, a 70 percent increase over 2011.
A new daily record - 87 permits in one day - has also been set.
When someone applies for a gun permit, the sheriff only has 45 days to conduct a background check. Sheriff Randy Miller is using two full-time civilians, two full-time deputies and one part-timer to keep up with the applications.
Miller told council that the county can only charge $20 for a gun permit, which has a five-year life. Stoffa pointed out that a dog license is more expensive.
Doing the math, it cost Northampton County approximately $250,000, in salaries and benefits, to pay for the cost of processing this mandated services, from which the county brought in $92,540.
County Chief Deputy Wes Haverkamp said there has been a 300 percent increase in the purchase of firearm permits in Lehigh County.
He said the increase in demand for permits has slowed the sheriff office's computer system dramatically. Haverkamp said it used to take a couple of seconds to get in the licensing computer system but it now takes up to a half hour.
"We have boxes of them (permit requests), it is the same way across the state," Haverkamp said. "We are having the same situation with the purchase of firearms in Pennsylvania as well."
In addition to the $20 fee, a license applicant needs two references who live in that issuing county. Applying for a LTCF must be done in person and a valid state-issued ID is required.
Around the state
Gun sales in Pennsylvania appear to be surging in the wake of the Dec. 14 mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, and ahead of proposed laws that would restrict firearm ownership.
Sales are so brisk the Pennsylvania Instant Checks System, the electronic unit that does background checks, had slowed because of the volume of requests.
The spike in gun sales was clear in the days following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 children and six adults died. On Friday, Dec. 14, the day of the shootings, the PICS unit handled 4,338 requests for clearance to transfer ownership of firearms. Six days later, the requests were up to 6,081 a day, according to Pennsylvania state police.
Requests for carry permits also rose, from 1,174 to 1,460 for the same time period.
"From December 1-20, the PICS unit handled 89,178 requests," said Trooper Adam Reed, coordinator of the Public Information Office for the Pa. State Police. "These requests are for both license to carry requests as well as firearm transfer requests. Specifically, 66,486 of those were purchase transfer requests and 16,982 were license to carry concealed requests."
The recent spike is riding a trend: Gun sales and carry permits have been rising for years.
In 2010, there were 496,720 firearms purchased/transferred in Pennsylvania. In 2011, that number rose by about 22 percent, to 606,924. By Dec. 20, 2012, the PICS unit had logged 664,522 purchase/transfer requests, an increase of about 33.7 percent over 2011, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
As the numbers of gun sales go up, the numbers of carry permits is also rising. According to Pennsylvania State Police, permit applications increased by 64.3 percent from 86,706 to 142,477 between 2000 and 2010. In 2011, 167,656 carry permits were issued. By Dec. 20, 2012, PICS had logged 258,684 carry permit applications.
The numbers of murders committed using guns hasn't changed much in Pennsylvania over the past six years. In 2011, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the state had 636 murders, of which 470 involved firearms. In 2004, it had 632 murders, 449 of which involved guns.
Those who favor stricter gun control point to the Sandy Hook, Aurora, Illinois, and other recent mass shootings as reasons to make it harder to for people to buy and keep guns. The push for more restrictive gun laws starts at the top: President Barack Obama in December established a task force, overseen by Vice-President Joe Biden, that would develop "concrete proposals" by the end of this month to "reduce gun violence."
Closer to home, state lawmakers have offered a slew of new laws, even though Pennsylvania already has fairly strict gun laws.
Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, proposes legislation that would "address public safety and gun ownership accountability through registration of firearms in the Commonwealth. Currently, the Uniform Firearms Act does not require registration of all firearms."
Sen. LeAnna Washington, D-Montgomery/ Philadelphia, says she plans to introduce legislation "amending the firearms law to include recreational centers, parks and playgrounds as prohibited areas one may carry a firearm, and increase the penalty from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony."
Sen. Lawrence Farnese, D-Philadelphia, proposes enacting a "strict assault weapons ban in Pennsylvania, modeled after the federal ban in effect from 1994 to 2004. This would include a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines."
But at least one lawmaker believes more rules won't necessarily curb gun violence.
Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Bucks/Montgomery, who noted that "Ironically, Connecticut has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. But those laws did not prevent the Sandy Hook school tragedy," wants to get at the root cause of gun violence.
He proposes to "establish a Task Force on the Prevention of Violence to study the underlying causes of mass shootings and other violent crimes. There are some common themes in many of these cases; mental illness and a history of being bullied are often involved. So, in addition to looking at the gun regulation proposals that are being introduced, I believe that we must look at proposals to strengthen our mental health laws so that people receive treatment before they commit criminal acts and we must see if there is more that we can do to combat bullying including cyberbullying."