Pennsylvania officials closed a gun-law loophole on Friday that allowed residents to get concealed-carry permits online from Florida -- sometimes after their applications were rejected at home.
Both states deny carry permits to convicted felons. However, Pennsylvania also has a morals clause that lets police reject suspects under criminal investigation or people with long arrest records. Rather than appeal, an increasing number in recent years turned to what new Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane called "the Florida loophole."
"If you cannot get a permit in Pennsylvania, then you should not have a gun in Pennsylvania," Kane, the first Democrat elected to the post, said in the announcement at a recreation center in crime-plagued North Philadelphia.
While the tweak won't match the impact of a one-a-month purchase limit or other reforms long sought by Philadelphia officials, the gesture suggests that gun-control advocates have a new ally at the statehouse in Kane, who took office just weeks ago.
She was flanked by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Council President Darrell Clarke and Police Chief Charles Ramsey, whose efforts to limit gun sales in the city sometimes dubbed "Kill-a-delphia" have been rebuffed by courts or state lawmakers.
Kane worked with Florida officials to amend a 2001 reciprocity agreement designed to let gun owners legally carry weapons when they travel. About 4,000 Florida permits have been issued since 2001, many to inner-city Philadelphians.
Officials blame at least one 2010 murder on the loophole, that of a teen shot 13 times by 28-year-old Marqus G. Hill, who obtained a Florida permit after his Pennsylvania concealed-carry permit was revoked.
The police commissioner called Kane's measure "a bold step'' that will save lives by reducing the number of straw purchasers who buy guns for other people. Several people are shot on an average day in Philadelphia, he said, scarring families and leaving neighborhoods strewn with crime scene tape and blood-stained sidewalks.
"Some child has to walk past that to go to school, and then we wonder why they can't learn," Ramsey said. "If you don't think you're going to live to 18, why would you even bother to go to school and pay attention? It has such a ripple effect."
Randy Santucci, president of Unified Sportsmen of Pa., said most criminals don't get carry permits, be it from Florida or elsewhere.
"We're closing a loophole that's going to have near-zero impact," he said. "I would bet that most criminals out there today ... are using illegal firearms. And 100 percent didn't care enough to go get a permit."
The Philadelphia-based group Mothers in Charge, whose members have lost children to violence, cheered the announcement while acknowledging its limited scope. One mother, Stacie Wilkins, 49, called the progress "baby steps," but one that might avoid a Second Amendment challenge.
"Without these guns, our babies wouldn't be murdered today," said her friend, Stephanie Mobley, 51.
Both women had sons allegedly killed by 16-year-old gunmen. While juvenile shooters are presumably too young to have gotten Florida permits, officials argued that the permits helped put more guns on city streets.
Pennsylvania will still honor Florida permits held by Florida residents, and residents of 27 other states, under the reciprocity agreements.