How the U.S. Supreme Court ruling may impact PA gun policy

PENNSYLVANIA — After the United States Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a New York state law requiring “just cause” to obtain a gun license violates the U.S. Constitution, questions swirl about the how and to what extent the decision would affect states other than New York.

In a 6-3 decision, judges struck down New York’s law, finding that state’s process of requiring applicants to demonstrate a specific need to carry a firearm outside the home violates the Second and 14th Amendments.

Discussions now revolve around the seven US states that still require some type of good cause or justifiable need in their porting license application processes, and how that decision might affect those statuses.

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Most states in the country, including Pennsylvania, have what are called “must issue” laws regarding the issuance of gun licenses. But the remaining states are known as “licensable” jurisdictions, meaning that government authorities — such as police, sheriffs and judges — have wide discretion in determining who is able to obtain a permit for carry a gun outside the home for self-protection.

Joshua Prince, a Pennsylvania gun law attorney, posted a blog post minutes after the New York ruling was released, calling it a “monumental decision.”

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The blog post, which gives a history of the court case and its intricacies, can be read here.

So far, it’s unclear how this Supreme Court decision would affect states that already have “must enact” laws regarding the issuance of carrier licenses.

Prince, however, told Patch that he thinks the decision could very well result in the overturning of several gun laws in Pennsylvania.

Prince said Pennsylvania’s “must issue” law for gun licenses would likely remain in effect because most people are generally able to obtain a license in that state. But he envisions other aspects of the law – such as a provision giving the government a month and a half to review license applications – could possibly be overturned in light of the US Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Furthermore, I think there is currently a question as to whether the PA Licensing Act is constitutional insofar as it grants the issuing authority up to 45 days to issue the license,” Prince wrote in email comments to Patch. “I suspect that will be challenged in the near future.”

Prince said he also expects the ban on openly carrying firearms in the city of Philadelphia without a license to be struck down as unconstitutional in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Currently, the open carry of a firearm is legal in all 67 counties of Pennsylvania; however, a license is required to open and conceal carry in Philadelphia. In the other 66 counties, a license is only needed for concealed carry, not for open carry.

Prince also said the Supreme Court’s decision could eventually have an effect on the litigation he is currently involved in in Pennsylvania. One case involves what he calls the state’s “extremely draconian” restrictions on transporting weapons in the absence of a transport license. The other case challenges a Pennsylvania law that bars individuals from obtaining transportation licenses if they have convictions that could have (but were not) punishable by more than a year in prison.

Meanwhile, as the New York case made its way through the federal court system, some states began enacting what are often referred to as “constitutional porting” laws, which allow law-abiding citizens to carry their firearms without a licence.

Currently, more than half of the country is a constitutional jurisdiction, as 25 states have so far passed such laws, according to the United States Concealed Carry Association.

Pennsylvania had previously attempted to join the constitutional porting group, with the House and Senate passing legislation that would eliminate the need for a porting license in the Commonwealth.

The bill never became law, however, as it was later opposed by Governor Tom Wolf.

Patch previously led a series examining the topic of constitutional porting in Pennsylvania.

Just this week, it was reported that members of the Pennsylvania House were trying to push the constitutional postponement through the constitutional amendment process in Pennsylvania rather than the legislative process.

It’s slightly different in that a constitutional amendment would have to go through both houses of the General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions and then be approved by voters at the polls.

Gun law challenges are also playing out in the Pennsylvania court system.

Last month, a state appeals court struck down gun laws that had been passed by the city of Pittsburgh.

The judges in this case, as they have in previous cases, ruled that local communities in Pennsylvania are not allowed to pass their own gun regulations because of state preemption, which leaves firearms legislation to the sole authority of the General Assembly.

Prince was also involved in the Pittsburgh case.

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