Good News in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has denied appeal on FOAC et al. v. Lower Merion Township, basically upholding the ruling in Commonwealth Court that their ordinance banning firearms and discharge in township parks was illegal.

Our current preemption law usually works when we can take these ordinances to court, but getting them there is difficult.

Also from Josh Prince: “It is time for the citizens of Pennsylvania to stop paying millions of dollars, each year, for a broken and duplicative system, when the FBI offer NICS to us for free.” PICS is awful. At some point I’d like to see a bill in Congress to eliminate POC states. That way there’s only one entity to keep an eye on. POC state agencies have gotten away with a lot worse malfeasance than the FBI, and the FBI does a much better job with uptime on NICS than the PSP does with PICS, which is very outage prone for as much as it’s costing taxpayers.

14 thoughts on “Good News in Pennsylvania”

  1. It is sobering to consider that it was an essentially similar state supreme court decision 53 years ago, that inspired me to successfully challenge my arrest and conviction in Middletown Township, Bucks County the following year; and yet my late friend Bill Duff had to challenge Northampton Township, Bucks County, all the way to the state supreme court about 20 years after that. (Sad that he didn’t live to see the issue actually resolved in Pennsylvania; it has just made repeated trips to the supreme court, always with no practical effect.)

    Law is only eyewash for the masses.

  2. Yup, and as a recent example of the shenanigans they pull, in Oregon, which is one of these POC states as well, the powers that be have decided to stop allowing the sale of Mossberg Shockwave and Remington TAC-14.

    Of course the background check law doesn’t permit this, but until someone with deep enough pockets to sue we’re up a creek.

  3. “PICS is awful.”

    Funny, the NRA crowed about the codification of PICS in Pennsylvania as one of their great triumphs of the year, in the October 1995 issue of the NRA member magazines. In fact, it was one of the features they used to get us to support the comprehensive gun control package that got such huge bipartisan support that year. It was part of the package.

    Maybe we should have suspected that something included in an overall gun control bill, wouldn’t turn out to be all that pro-gun? Who’da suspected?

    1. The story I’ve heard is that there were a lot of issues with NICS early on, which is why so many states have POC systems — 20 years on, NICS has come a long way towards living up to it’s name, but state POC systems tend to remain due to the amount of political capital required to change the status quo.

      In other words, “Did a NICS POC system make sense in 1998” and “Does a NICS POC system make sense in 2017” are potentially very different questions. Given what I’ve heard on the former, and what I’ve seen on the latter, my answers are “Probably.” and “In some ways yes, at least in PA.” respectively.

  4. “PICS is awful.”

    When people who hate the PSP talk about killing PICS and handing our rights over to the Feds, think about the fact that the phrase “making a federal case out of it” is NOT synonymous with “resolving the problem quickly and efficiently”.

    In the case at that link, the poster had to involve the gun shop, the sheriff, a clerk in some other city, his Federal Congressman, and the FBI. If any of them didn’t like guns, looked down on you rednecks who cling to your guns and Bibles, and declined to help one of the little people arm himself, his story would have had a different outcome.


    As you say, read the whole thing. The NICS appeal he’s referring to there took over 2 years. That’s the kind of change replacing PICS with NICS would bring.

    1. “That’s the kind of change replacing PICS with NICS would bring.”

      At the same time, there is something to be said for taking away the Pennsylvania State Polices’ Firearms Registry.

      It would be interesting if there was some objective way to weight and quantify these things in terms of the most good for the most gun owners, to argue which is “better.”

      1. It’s like you didn’t read the other two (2) paragraphs at the link I provided or something. Here’s one (1) of them:

        If you hate the Record of Sale Database, then work to kill that. Don’t try to deceive the firearms community by lumping the RSD in with PICS. We can kill the RSD and not replace it with anything, but if we kill PICS then we have no option but to allow the FBI NICS to control all gun sales at every FFL in PA.

        1. “If you hate the Record of Sale Database, then work to kill that.”

          I resisted commenting that FOAC tried that to no avail, taking it all the way to the state supreme court, which said the PSP registry was just ducky as long as they resisted calling it a registry.

          So, that’s been tried; now what? Wait for a sufficient turnover in the state supreme court to hope for a better result next time? Hope that someone can establish standing when that time comes?

          When the legislation creating PICS was in the works, more than one person predicted that the vaunted ban on the PSP using it as a de facto registry would never be enforced. They were of course called radicals and paranoid, and the law was passed with the unswerving support of the NRA and the majority of Republicans in the General Assembly.

          It was, after all, “anti-crime.”

          1. “They tried this thing in the courts once and it didn’t work out, so we might as well give the Feds veto power over our gun rights for years at a time to really stick it to the PSP!”

            Thankfully the folks pushing Castle Doctrine weren’t so anxious to roll over. With a D governor, there’s not much point pushing the RoS database issue legislatively right now. But I’m sure he’d be open to screwing us by turning gun sales over to the Feds (whether he knows it or not). Local control is actually a good thing sometimes, you know? Especially when the other option is a 2-year appeal when the Feds screw up. When the state screws up, the appeal is what, a few weeks?

            Sebastian, comrade wetherman, and others: Be careful what you wish for. PICS and RoS database are two separate things and should be considered separately.

            1. It’s not quite that simple….

              The issue is how edge cases are treated by FBI/NICS vs PCP/PICS. To put it simply:

              Under NICS, the current policy is to do actual work during the first 30 days after a check is initiated. If there is no firm answer back at that point, they pretty much stop looking. In effect, this is a soft denial (it isn’t actually a denial, but it isn’t an approval either) which should be appealed. In turn, they’re currently something like 15 months behind on appeals — The appeals they’re actively working on today are those filed 15 months ago, and there no statutory mandate to process appeals in a timely manner.

              Under PICS, the PSP has a firm statutory time limit (~15 days) to return a final answer on a check. Once they give a final answer that isn’t approved (i.e. either “Denied” or “Undetermined”), you can file an appeal. From there, you have a firm time window to file your appeal (30 days); If you file within this window, PCP has a statutory obligation to process your appeal in a timely manner: They will note receipt of your appeal within 5 (business?) days of receiving it, and the process should be complete within 60 days of their receipt.

              On the one hand, the appeal process in PA appears to be SIGNIFICANTLY better than the federal appeal process. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that PICS issues denials in cases where NICS would not, which could tend to tilt the balance in favor of NICS. Without hard data, it’s kind of hard to really know which would be better on average.

    2. I regret following your link; I’m not a fan of Phil Kline’s PAFOA persona, and being in agreement with him on an issue makes me feel kind of dirty.

  5. Careful what you wish for. Here in NV, Bloomberg spent $20M barely passing an initiative to criminalize private firearms transfers. The language specified that the background checks had to go through NICS. Since NV is a POC state, the FBI refused to do the checks on the sensible grounds that NV doesn’t determine FBI budget priorities. So the initiative is unenforceable and void. It is unclear whether Bloomberg’s minions wrote the initiative this way to avoid a fiscal note or whether they were just in a NY state of mind. Anyway, the thing is dead because of POC.

    1. I’m not really sure that particular argument is valid anywhere outside of NV at this point:

      Bloomberg and his minions may be dumb at times, but that’s a case where they’re unlikely to make the same mistake again.

  6. I think it’s worth noting that PICS has been moving to reduce downtime.

    Here’s a list of things that could prevent/delay performing a background check when I started my current job a few years ago:

    * Heavy call volume could make PICS almost entirely unreachable. Once you have enough dealers waiting on hold for operators to process checks, it becomes nearly impossible to successfully get into the automated PICS system.

    * PICS/PCP could go down.

    * NICS could go down.

    * PennDOT could go down.


    * The introduction of the web-based ePICS system has greatly streamlined the background check process. For the most part, it has diverted enough dealers away from phone checks that the logjam problem referenced above appears to have been eliminated.

    * PICS can still go down, but the technology upgrades they did within the last year appear to have greatly reduced downtime. Lately, I’ve seen a lot fewer PICS/PCP outages, and the ones I’ve seen tended to be pretty short.

    * NICS can still go down too, but their recent system upgrades seem to have similarly reduced the frequency and severity of downtime.

    * PennDOT can still go down, but the last several PennDOT outages I’ve seen have not shut down the e-PICS system: Instead of taking PICS down and waiting for PennDOT, PCP has opted to leave PICS up and allow dealers to manually key in the info that PICS usually pulls from PennDOT’s records. In other words, while PennDOT used to be a significant source of PICS downtime, the last few PennDOT outages I have seen did not appear to result in PICS downtime.

    TLDR: 1-3 years ago, there were a lot of instances where PICS would go down, but NICS would still be functional, but it appears that this has largely been remedied. PICS still has slightly more downtime than NICS alone, but PCP appears to be reducing the gap significantly, while both FBI and PCP have done a lot of work to reduce downtime globally.

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