Friday, June 10, 2022

Philly Cops Handing Out Gun Permits Like Candy

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

In the wake of the mass shootings on South Street, a self-described "heartbroken but angry" Mayor Kenney blamed Republicans in the state legislature, as well as the national government, for the gun violence that's plaguing his city.

"The unfettered access to guns is a problem," the buckpassing Kenney told 6ABC. "And in this state, when it's easier to get a gun than a driver's license, either the state legislature or the national government needs to do something similar to what Canada has done in banning guns."

"This is a national problem," Kenney insisted. "If we had some kind of regulations that would slow down the access to guns, we would certainly do it."

That's not true, Mr. Mayor. Because just six miles northeast of City Hall, over at the Police Department's Gun Permit Unit at 660 East Erie Avenue, they're handing out gun permits like candy.

Before the pandemic, it used to take up to 40 days to obtain a license to carry a concealed firearm. That's because the Gun Permit Unit used to require applicants to come into the office and fill out a three-page questionnaire during a face-to-face interview. An applicant was also required to provide proof of residency, have their fingerprints taken, and then submit to a background check conducted by detectives in the unit. All of this had be done before the city would issue anyone a license to carry a concealed firearm.

But in January 2021, facing a daily backlog of some 800 to 1,000 applicants, the Police Department under Danielle Outlaw, Kenney's handpicked police commissioner, dropped every one of those local safeguards mentioned above.

Instead, the Kenney administration, which had previously been challenged in court by two gun owner groups, rolled over and implemented a shorter questionnaire that could be filled out online. The city also decided to pass the buck on background checks to the state for a far less thorough review. As a result, where it used to take up to 40 days to get a license to carry, now it takes just a week.

Since the city made the process faster and easier -- but not safer -- the number of gun permit applications has skyrocketed. And so has the number of new gun permits issued.

In 2020, the Gun Permit Unit received 11,073 applications, and approved 7,555 new licenses to carry concealed firearms.

Last year, the police received a total of 70,789 applications for a license to carry, an increase of 639%! And last year, the Gun Permit Unit approved 52,905 new licenses to carry, an increase of more than 700%!

So the Kenney administration decided to accommodate gun owners at the expense of public safety. And, in the opinion of a former senior attorney in the city Law Department who used to handle gun legislation, the Philly P.D. is not only shirking its responsibilities, it's also breaking the law. 

At the Gun Permit Unit, in the middle of a historic epidemic of gun violence, the epic giveaway continues. As of May 31st, the Gun Permit Unit has received 27,790 applications so far this year, and has handed out 23,528 new licenses to carry concealed firearms.

In his remarks about the South Street shootings, Mayor Kenney praised the police for taking some 6,000 illegal guns off the street last year.

But in past 17 months, Kenney and Outlaw's Police Department has issued a total of 76,433 new licenses to carry firearms! This in a city that last year set all-time records for homicides, shootings and carjackings!

In the shooting on South Street, one of the alleged participants, Micah Towns, 23, had a gun permit issued by the Philadelphia police. I asked when Towns obtained that permit, and Police Officer Eric McLaurin responded, "We have received no information pertaining to your request at this time."

According to police, during the melee on South Stret, Gregory Jackson shot Towns and Towns responded by firing back at Jackson, killing him. 

The shootings, which cops say involved multiple gunmen, resulted in three people being killed and 11 others being wounded.

In a telephone interview, Corporal Jasmine Reilly, a spokesperson for the Police Department, blamed the candy-store giveaway of gun permits on the city's voluntary response to being sued by gun owners.

In 2020, the Gun Owners of America [GOA], as well as the Firearms Policy Coalition, sued the city, claiming that because of Covid,  Philadelphia had delayed applications for gun permits way beyond the state's 45 day legal window. In some cases, the gun groups charged, the city had made applicants wait up to 18 months to obtain a license to carry a concealed firearm.

Andrew Austin, a lawyer who represented the Gun Owners of America in its suit against the city, told the Washington Free Beacon on Dec. 9, 2020 that Philadelphia officials decided to open up email applications because they were struggling to meet a self-imposed deadline that the city had given a state court for reopening in-person applications at the Gun Permit Unit. 

Austin said the city's lawyers could see the writing on the wall.

"They were going to lose," Austin told the Free Beacon. "I think what they wanted to do was just avoid [the judge] entering a judgment for GOA."

So the city voluntarily went to a shorter online application, but at the expense of public safety. In doing so, Philadelphia may have broken state law.

City Vs. State

"We used to have a bunch of questions that the PPD would ask in addition to whatever the state would ask," Corporal Reilly said. "But the PPD got sued over it. And the state said you can't do that."

So out went the Police Department's traditional requirement that any applicant for a gun permit would have to submit to being fingerprinted, as well as to having a background check done by a Philadelphia detective.

"Fingerprinting, that's something the PPD came up with," Reilly said. Now, "the state does the background checks," she said, while acknowledging that the state uses a shorter questionnaire.

"Without knowing what the questions are, you would lose something along the way," Cpl. Reilly said about the shorter state questionnaire.

"It's unfortunate on our end," she said. "Those would be additional safeguards," she said of the questions that the Philly cops used to ask that the state doesn't.

The city's questionnaire used to have some 25 questions, many of which the state's shorter form, with a dozen questions, doesn't bother to ask.

Such as:

-- The city used to ask for the names of an applicant's parents, where the applicant was previously employed, the name of the employer, and whether the applicant had a card for medical marijuana.

-- The city used to ask if an applicant had ever been arrested, whether they'd ever been enrolled in an alternative program to jail, and whether they had ever been accused of domestic violence, and if so, what was the name of their spouse. 

-- The city used to ask if an applicant had ever been treated for mental health issues, and if so, the name of the person who treated them. 

-- While the state form asks if an applicant was ever convicted of a crime, the city form used to ask if the applicant had ever been arrested or charged with a crime, or had a crime that they had been found guilty of expunged from their record.

-- The city also used to ask if the applicant had ever had a license to carry revoked or confiscated.

-- The city also used to ask if the applicant had ever had a lawsuit or a civil complaint filed against them.

-- The city also used to ask married women if they had ever gone under any previous name.

But, thanks to new system that uses the shorter online state form, "We can't ask those questions now," Cpl. Reilly said.

Another safeguard that went out the window, according to police sources, was proof of residency. Cops in the Gun Permit Unit were previously required to make sure that the applicant's address on their driver's license matched the address on their application for a gun permit, but the cops no longer do that.

In response, Cpl. Reilly said she was not aware that the Gun Permit Unit no longer required proof of residence.

During the pandemic, Cpl. Reilly said, with the restrictions imposed by social distancing, requiring people to personally come into the office to be fingerprinted in order to get a gun permit posed a hardship on applicants, as well as police.

With Covid and all of it's accompanying restrictions, Reilly said, "We had to limit the amount of people that could come in throughout the day."

With all of the local safeguards that have been dropped, and the accompanying proliferation of new gun permits, I asked Corporal Reilly if she could understand why residents might feel less safe.

"I totally get that," she responded.

I asked Corporal Reilly to refer me to somebody in the city's law department who could explain why the city appeared to have caved to gun owners. But over two days, Cpl. Reilly said, no one in the law department was available to comment.

A spokesperson for Mayor Kenney also did not respond to a request for comment.

The City Rolls Over

In the absence of official comment, I asked Mark Zecca, a retired senior attorney in the city Law Department who has previously represented the city on gun issues, for his take on how the city was handling new gun permit applications.

Zecca, who, although he retired from the city is still practicing law, immediately sent me the licensing section of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act of 1995. The section states that the local authority, which Zecca defined as the police commissioner in Philadelphia, had, in Zecca's words, a "key role under that section to reject:"

An individual whose character and reputation is such that the individual would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety.

That's what the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act says in section (e) (1) (i).

"Deferring to the State on this seems to make no sense to me and is contrary to this State law," Zecca wrote in an email. If gun owners were unhappy enough to sue over a backlog of gun permit applications, Zecca wrote, "the answer to that would be to clear up the backlog, not to abdicate the required review." 

"If there was any lawsuit that asked the City to drop the required steps, then the City should definitely have fought that," Zecca wrote.

"Gun violence is such a crisis in Philadelphia that the proper review of these licenses is essential," he wrote. According to the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, "The Philadelphia Police Department has a legal duty to evaluate whether the applicant would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety," Zecca wrote.

"The investigatory process is very important," Zecca wrote. "We have seen with the recent South Street shooting where a gun permit was issued in Delaware County to one shooter who should not have had a permit."

"The Philly Police Department was known to find things that properly disqualified a person," Zecca wrote. "Such as whether the person had committed acts for which they had received Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition [ARD [and so no conviction]," Zecca wrote. But an applicant's actions "might show they should not have a gun," Zecca wrote. "And the permit would be refused on the basis of those actions."

Zecca took a dim view of the city's decision to stop conducting background checks on applicants for gun permits.

"I don’t believe that kicking this to the State," Zecca wrote, "could possibly be as thorough."

"And in Philly, we need that thoroughness," Zecca wrote. "Allowing laxity here seems to be contrary to everything the Mayor and [City] Council are saying about the need to fight gun violence."

"So bottom line is —  Philly should not have an unreasonable backlog" of gun permit applications," Zecca said. Instead, he said, "It should assign staff to the process. This process is very important." 

But Zecca added, "There is no excuse for not doing the proper thorough review. The City should not allow the threat of lawsuits to prevent the proper thorough review. And the State government does not have the authority to tell the City to do otherwise."

 "I find it hard to believe that anyone in authority in the State Government told the City to skip the steps in the law," Zecca concluded. "And that law requires an essential judgment call by the [Police] Commissioner, which must be preceded by a certain amount of investigation" by the Police Department.

In the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, it actually states that the sheriff, or in a first-class city like Philadelphia, the police commissioner, has a duty to:

(1) investigate the applicant's record of criminal conviction;

(2) investigate whether or not the applicant is under indictment for or has ever been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment exceeding one year;

(3) investigate whether the applicant's character and reputation are such that the applicant will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety;

(4) investigate whether the applicant would be precluded from receiving a license . . . relating to persons not to possess, use, manufacture, control, sell or transfer firearms); and

(5) conduct a criminal background, juvenile delinquency and mental health check following the procedures set forth in section 6111 (relating to sale or transfer of firearms), receive a unique approval number for that inquiry and record the date and number on the application.

After he looked at that section of the law, Zecca wrote, "I think the City is violating State law if the City is not properly conducting the full investigation that the Statute describes."

What Happened At The Gun Permit Unit During The Pandemic

During the pandemic in 2020, the Gun Permit Unit was shut down for several months. When it finally reopened in January of 2021, there was a big backlog. According to police sources, Chief Inspector Frank Vallore Jr., who did not respond to a request for comment, ordered that backlog to be disposed of ASAP.

The Gun Permit Unit responding by going to two shifts, and expanding its office hours.

Before the pandemic, the Gun Permit Unit used to open at 8 a.m., accept in-office applications until 1 p.m., and then close the office at 4 p.m.

When the unit went to two shifts, the Gun Permit Unit accepted applicants until 8 p.m., and closed at 10 p.m.

When the cops stopped doing background checks, staffers at the Gun Permit Unit were upset.

"Everybody was like, this is crazy," one police source said.

At one point, the cops in the Gun Permit Unit were asked to put their badge numbers and initials on all applications that they processed, but some officers, citing the relaxed standards, refused to do it. 

Customers seeking new gun licenses, however, were happy about the new way of doing business.

As one customer put it, "Hold up, so y'all just giving them away, huh?"

Or as one cop quipped, "Free turkeys!"

Before the pandemic, the Gun Permit Unit used to run applications and fingerprints through the Pennsylvania State Police and the National Criminal Information Center [FBI] databases searching for criminal records, mental health problems or protection from abuse orders. 

But at the Gun Permit Unit, they got rid of their fingerprinting machine last year because it was no longer needed.

Today, police sources say, after you fill out your online questionnaire, all you need to do is show up at the Gun Permit Unit with a $20 fee and an ID to get your gun permit. 

When somebody fills out an application for a gun permit, the cops at the Gun Permit Unit now check to see if the applicant has answered every question, and has included a copy of their driver's license.

If applicants meet those two requirements, the cops send the application on to the state, where they tap into the Pennsylvania Instant Check System [PICS] used by firearms dealers to verify who can legally buy a firearm.

The applications usually come back from Harrisburg in a day, often in a matter of hours. It the applicant gets through PICS, then, at the Gun Permit Unit, the application is considered approved. 

And, in addition to a huge increase in volume, gun permit applications in Philadelphia are being approved at increasingly higher rates.

In 2020, out of 11,073 applications, 7,555 were approved, or 68%.

In 2021, out of 70,789 applications, 52,905 were approved, or nearly 75%.

In the first five months of this year, out of 27,790 applications, 23,528 were approved, or nearly 85%. 

Meanwhile, gun violence in the city continues unabated.

Last year, the city recorded 562 murders. As of yesterday, with 222 murders, the city is just 6% off its record pace of last year. At this rate, the city will rack up 528 murders this year. But with a long hot summer ahead, Philadelphia could easily set a new record for dead bodies. 

Last year, the city also set another all-time record with 1,835 non-fatal shootings. As of Wednesday, the city had 790 nonfatal shootings. 

Last year, the city also set a record of 847 carjackings. And last month, Steve Keeley of Fox 29 was reporting that with 546 carjackings so far this year, the city was way ahead of last year's pace. 

In response to the South Street shootings, Mayor Kenney, whose spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment for this story, told reporters that the city is "doing everything it can" to fight gun violence.

But the river of new gun permits flowing out of his own police department says otherwise.

If the city was "doing everything it can" to fight gun violence, it would have stood up to the gun lobby in court. And at the Gun Permit Unit, they'd still be doing background checks, fingerprinting applicants, checking for proof of residency, and making those applicants answer questions on the city's longer, three-page form during a face-to-face interview. 

Instead, the hypocritical Kenney administration has rolled over. And, in a city already under siege, Philadelphia has eliminated all of its previous local safeguards, and opened the floodgates for more guns on the street.

And, despite all the mayor's evasive rhetoric, it's not the Republicans in the state Legislature who are responsible for this disaster, or the national government.

No, the responsible parties are Mayor Kenney and his hand-picked identity politics hire of a police commissioner, who's been a complete failure since the day Kenney appointed her.

27 comments

  1. I saw people posting and bragging about their permits on tiktok and Instagram and I know they are gang bangers!!!! I was wondering how in the hell did they get a license to carry!!! #kiladelphia at its finest!

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  2. Kenney, save whats left of your political career now by admitting you made a mistake on Outlaw and fire her!!!

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  3. It really seems like these people are doing everything possible to create the most gun crime and inflate the statistics. Then after enabling it all, they cry outrage and want to take legal weapons from good citizens. Sick.

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  4. I've been to the unprofessional gun permit unit before and I was appalled at who represented them as a Sergeant. Very rude and unprofessional and dresses unprofessional. The tall white man must be a supervisor too, with glasses is rude as well, they yell at people about parking and standing in that line. I have never been addressed in such rude manner in my life. However getting a permit was way easier then I ever imagined lately! Years ago I would be in that place for hrs when it was on Springgarden. Now it's in and out, place always smells like weed too and kinda filthy.

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  5. Don’t forget that many of these “responsible” gun owners promptly report a firearm stolen soon after they have obtained their permit thus keeping a fresh supply of illegal firearms in our fair city…

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  6. BULLSHIT!! Here’s the STAT you have not reported: what proportion of the murders are committed by actors who are LTCF under the “new protocol of “free turkey giveaway” relative to the old scheme where the Unit arbitrarily refused to provide LTCF’s to otherwise fully qualified citizens?

    And amongst the killers, how many are deterred by virtue of the requirement to acquire an LTCF? Isn’t Murder already illegal? You know damn well, Sir, that in what’s left of the USA in PA, one can still walk into a Sheriff’s Department, apply in the presence of a Deputy, have the background check carried out in his/her presence, picture taken, and walk out with a LTCF. Check the Murder rate amongst those individuals in those counties and compare it to the rate in Philadelphia County.

    Bottom line: getting an LTCF with its insipid requirements - as shown in Constitutional Carry States - does not deter the already illegal conduct of Murder. To believe your analysis of the issue, Sir, one would have to buy the following: Gangbanger A says to Gangbanger B: “you can’t kill that guy, you don’t have a LTCF!!.” Or alternatively, “you gotta get a LTCF to kill that guy, because then you can then claim self-defense and Uncle Larry will have to walk you.”

    Last thing I’d add is this: Would that the Right to Vote underwent the scrutiny required of the Right to Defend Oneself from unlawful attack.

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    1. I understand that some guns rights folks are upset by this story, including a few of my friends.

      Here's my point -- this seems like the wrong time to dump all of the local safeguards that have been in place for decades. If gun permits are really easy to get, doesn't it stand to reason that a few dirt balls will take advantage of the opportunity? Or maybe a lot of dirt balls?

      Cops have told me about gang bangers bragging on social media about how easy it is to get a permit. Also, I am really tired of our pathetic, pandering mayor always blaming everybody else for the gun violence here in Philadelphia, and the rest of the media, led by the Inquirer, letting him get away with it.

      I'd like to make three points about Kenney:

      A. He's been in charge here for the past seven years.
      B. He's too much of a coward to criticize D.A. Krasner, who is the person most responsible for the gun violence.
      C. Kenney is the guy who replaced a police commissioner who knew what he was doing, Richard Ross, with somebody who doesn't have a clue.

      So sorry if this story upsets you. But sometimes the truth can be ugly. It's just another example of how incredibly bad the leadership in this town is.

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    2. BTW, the cops won't say when Micah Towns got his gun permit; is that because he was one of the beneficiaries of the free turkey giveaway?

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  7. State law prohibits the city from sneaking in extra questions on the license application and then using that as a reason to deny. What type of crook voluntarily registers with the police for anything anyway? A felony criminal conviction, involuntary committment, etc. will still result in a denial, as it should. The say-so of a bureaucrat does not.

    In any case, Philadelphia now does what the rest of the state has more or less been doing since 1995 for licenses to carry. Did we see an explosion of assault and murder in the rest of the state as a result after 1995? If no, then this isn't an issue.

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    1. In the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, it actually states that the sheriff, or in a first-class city like Philadelphia, the police commissioner, has a duty to:

      (1) investigate the applicant's record of criminal conviction;

      (2) investigate whether or not the applicant is under indictment for or has ever been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment exceeding one year;

      (3) investigate whether the applicant's character and reputation are such that the applicant will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety;

      (4) investigate whether the applicant would be precluded from receiving a license . . . relating to persons not to possess, use, manufacture, control, sell or transfer firearms); and

      (5) conduct a criminal background, juvenile delinquency and mental health check following the procedures set forth in section 6111 (relating to sale or transfer of firearms), receive a unique approval number for that inquiry and record the date and number on the application.

      After he looked at that section of the law, Zecca wrote, "I think the City is violating State law if the City is not properly conducting the full investigation that the Statute describes."

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    2. Apparently, you missed the section of the above blog post that says in a first class city such as Philadelphia, according to the state Uniform Firearms Act, the duty of weeding out "An individual whose character and reputation is such that the individual would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety" falls on the police commissioner.

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    3. Any such investigation would be limited to looking at public records, since the confidentiality provisions of the law prohibits the issuing authority from sharing the
      applicant's identity or any other information to anyone else, see 18 Pa.C.S.6111(i). So the questions asking about parents, spouses, employers, mental health treatment, etc. are still not
      allowed, if the intent is to talk to any of these people, which I suspect they are. "Good character" is also a very vague standard, hard to enforce, easy to include overt discrimination into, and so on. Getting rid of these questions were the correct thing to do.

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  8. On the one hand you want Krasner to follow the law and prosecute criminals to the full extent of the law. On the other hand you do not want the Police Department to follow state law when it comes to issuing LTCFs. Got it.

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    1. I'm in favor of a safe city. So yes, I'd like to see the D.A. actually prosecute criminals instead of giving them light sentences and letting them go. And yes, I'd like the PPD to follow its prior policies for doing background checks on applicants seeking licenses to carry because you may have noticed we have a gun violence problem here in Philly. No contradiction there.

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    2. Ok so you want Philadelphia to violate state law (UFA) and court orders to issue LTCFs. I got it. In the interest of fairness and I don't know if you could even obtain the following information. How many gun crimes have been committed by LTCF holders vs. Non LTCF holders? I believe a future article with this information would be very interesting. I doubt you would do it because those kind of stats may run contrary to your narrative in this article.

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    3. So you're OK with giving out more than 700% more licenses to carry at the same time we're setting records for murders, nonfatal shootings and carjackings. That's OK with you, right? Because you assume everybody getting a license is on the up and up? Makes perfect sense.

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    4. Tell me genius how many gun crimes are being committed by LTCF holders vs. Non LTCF holders? Do some research before you pop off.

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    5. Ralph Cipriano here. I'm going to try one last time to explain my position.

      We already have one experiment going on in town right now. It's called Larry Krasner. He fails to prosecute violent crime, he won't prosecute prostitution, drug possession or retail theft under $500. The result -- all-time highs for murders, nonfatal shootings & carjackings.

      Now the PPD is conducting a second experiment. They've changed the way they've done business on evaluating applications for new licenses to carry firearms.

      They've dumped all their former methods of vetting applicants for gun permits, with background checks, fingerprints, proof of residency. The result -- a more than 700% increase last year in the number of new licenses to carry issued by the PPD.

      You want to wait until the results from that experiment are in so we can see how many crimes are committed by people with licensed guns and people without licenses. My position is we've got enough experiments going on in town and it doesn't take a genius to figure out if you're giving out gun permits to 85% of the people who show up, a few bad apples might take advantage of that.

      If you can't figure that out you're blind. I merely pointed out what's going on, which is a pretty big change in the way the city handles gun permits. If you can't handle that go read the Inquirer.

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  9. Sorry I don't read that far left rag. I'm saying get the stats. Gun crimes by LTCF holders vs. Non LTCF holders. If you did I think you would find a very small percentage of LTCF holders committing gun crimes. Sorry Ralph, Philadelphia is part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Therefore, Philadelphia must comply with state law when it comes to firearms and anything else whether you like it or not. Philadelphia dies not get to make its own gun laws. It's that simple.

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    1. This is getting painful. So how did Philadelphia get away with it for all those years running background checks, doing fingerprints, etc? Were they breaking the law?

      Why does the state law give the authority for ferreting out dangerous gun applicants to the Philadelphia Police Commissioner?

      So Mark Zecca doesn't know what he's talking about? And BTW, this was does in an instant, without any public discussion or study that I'm aware of, just for the sake of expediency. Obviously, you're OK with that?

      You don't see a potential for abuse here with this much looser system in place? You're OK with a 700% increase in the middle of a murder, shooting and carjacking epidemic?

      Can't say I agree on any of that.

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    2. Yes painful indeed. You are against guns, I get it. You are against law abiding citizens protecting themselves. I get it. And YES Philadelphia was breaking the law by requiring the extra steps to obtain a LTCF. The courts ruled that the extra steps were illegal and ordered Philadelphia to comply with state law. I've had a LTCF for decades. I have never committed a gun crime. Or any crime(s) for that matter. A person who commits a gun crime is still charged even if they have a LTCF. Krasner usually drops/withdraws UFA charges for carrying w/o a LTCF anyway. People are arming themselves bc of Krasner's soft on crime policies. You and I will have to agree to disagree. Have a great day.

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    3. No you don't get it at all. I am not against guns. I certainly understand people wanting to arm themselves because our insane DA has made the city infinitely more dangerous. I am just against making wholesale changes like this in an expedient way, without any public discussion of any kind or apparently no study of any kind either. I see a process that can be exploited. You see what you want to see, somebody out to oppress your rights to carry a gun. That's not reality but apparently it's your reality.

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  10. I'd be having a better day if you weren't so dense.

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    1. Either way. Philadelphia was in violation of state law. The courts ordered the city to comply with state law. Seems like you are too dense to understand that. Have a better day.

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    2. From what the lawyers for the gun groups had to say, the city voluntarily chose to fold its tent, rather than fight on the solid ground former city solicitor Zecca says they had. Seems you're too dense to understand that. Have a more perceptive day.

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