By Peter Becker
An explosion of firearm permit applications has been occurring in Pike County since the Newtown school shootings in December. The majority of the applicants are from New York State, and the rush can be linked to fears that hallowed gun rights may be stripped away, said Sheriff Philip Beuki.
He addressed the media and public on Feb. 20 at the request of the Pike County Commissioners. He said gun sales in Pike County was up 400 to 500%. The Pike County Sheriff's Office started receiving 100 to 200 calls every day after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.
His office started issuing 400 to 500 pistol permits a week after Newtown. Lines formed down Broad Street, he said, noting this was the most activity in permit applications he has seen in 30 years.
This was never an issue before, the Sheriff said. Now, the stream from New York is staggering, he added.
Beuki stopped in a large store that sells firearms. "All 18 rows of ammunition were empty," Beuki said.
An avid sportsman who said he defends the Right to Bear Arms under the Second Amendment to the Constitution, Beuki blamed the "media hype" for spreading hysteria that weapons could be confiscated and rights taken away. "It's not going to happen," he said.
He asked how could these extreme gun control measures be taken when gun shops have been emptied of firearms and bullets by concerned citizens. Beuki said that "common sense laws" are needed.
New York residents have been applying for concealed weapon permits from the Pike County Sheriff's Office, beating Pennsylvania citizens "ten to one," the Sheriff reported.
He attributed this to the reciprocity laws with New York State. Anyone with a New York gun permit can come and apply for a Pennsylvania permit as well. They can't use their New York permit in Pennsylvania.
New Jersey has no such law; only a retired law enforcement officer in New Jersey can apply for a permit in Pennsylvania.
New York people can use Pennsylvania as a "stepping stone" to obtain a permit and then apply for a permit in any of the other approximately 20 states that also have reciprocity agreements.
Pennsylvania permit fees are also very attractive. State statute sets the fee at only $20.00 for a concealed weapon permit. The fee in New York is ten times higher ($200). Beuki said that the Pennsylvania Sheriff's Association has tried unsuccessfully to lobby for a higher permit fee. He said that the State Legislature wasn't likely to change that with so much pressure from other groups to keep the permit fee low.
He said that Pennsylvania should be proud of the process in place for background checks, adding there is still room for improvement. When someone applies for a firearm permit, the Sheriff's Office does a complete national and international check of juvenile and criminal records, as well as mental health records and protection from abuse (PFA) court records.
"We deny approximately 150 permits a year," Beuki said.
He urged gun owners to be responsible and make use of a secure gun safe where children and others not supposed to have the gun, won't be able to get it. His office issues free gun trigger locks with every permit.
Pushing the envelope
Pennsylvania also allows citizens who have a permit, to carry a firearm openly, rather than concealed. Still, common sense must rule, the Sheriff warmed. The public is not allowed to carry weapons on school property or in the courthouse, for example, and business owners have the right to prohibit the practice.
Some people, though, tend to "push the envelope" which he cautioned will only lead to stricter gun controls.
He spoke of a case in Lebanon County where a woman had a pistol in a holster at a soccer match, held in a public park. The crowd was outraged. The issue went to court, where the woman won. "It's a volatile discussion," he said. "You'll see people pushing it more."
Working with schools
Sheriff Beuki stated that his office works with local school districts in advising on security issues. Wallenpaupack Area School District is currently exploring whether to hire armed school resource officers. Delaware Valley School District has a successful security program with armed officers in place.
Beuki stated that only professionally trained and equipped officers should be placed in schools, who also work closely with the students' education. "I don't want just a gun walking down the hallway," he said.