Measures being debated would force Pa. to use national system

Last updated: March 19. 2014 11:20PM - 4254 Views
By - tkellar@timesleader.com

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HARRISBURG — Major changes have been proposed to the way Pennsylvania handles background checks for gun purchases.

House bills 921 and 2011 were sent before State House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. HB 921 would eliminate the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS), which provides background checks on individuals to determine if they are eligible to acquire a gun or a license to carry one.

Instead, the state would use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which also determines if someone is eligible to purchase a gun.

State Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Butler Township, sits on the House Judiciary Committee. She said eliminating PICS would save the state up to $3 million, as well as provide “uniformity.” She also said the elimination of PICS would eliminate 80 jobs from the Pennsylvania State Police.

While the two systems serve the same function, their scope sets them apart.

“The PICS does query NICS, as well as several additional databases — in that a sense, they are complementary, with PICS being somewhat more robust,” said Maria Finn, press secretary for the state police.

Finn explained PICS has access to protection from abuse (PFA) orders, as well as juvenile records, which Finn said are not accepted by the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Finn said neither is incorporated in NICS checks.

Toohil said NICS could also not catch domestic cases, something that concerned legislators and resulted in the bill not being voted on. Shira Goodman, executive director for CeaseFire PA, believes that eliminating PICS would put the lives of citizens in danger.

“It’s very important that it works a complementary system to the NICS system, but not get rid of it,” Goodman said.

Firearms Owners Against Crime claims in a news release that PICS adds “unnecessary layers of technological complication to the firearms purchase process.” The organization also claims that eliminating PICS could save millions of dollars in fees for citizens, and that NICS can be used at no charge to gun owners.

Goodman is not convinced by the potential to save money.

“Clearly, we’re in an economy where the state wants to save money,” she said. “But I don’t think we save money with something that’s working well to keep people safe.”

The House Judiciary Committee approved House Bill 2011. Toohil, who supported the bill, said it is a preemption bill that would make gun laws the same throughout the state. The bill would also enable people to to challenge a law a municipality has in place.

“If you have a lot of local illegal ordinances, then it’s going to keep you from exercising the Second Amendment,” Toohil said.

Goodman said Bill 2011 is “a way to punish towns,” and vowed to continue the fight against it.

“Though we are disappointed that this bill is being considered, her group will continue to fight it,” Goodman said. “This is the worst kind of special-interest legislation, and it is a slap in the face to mayors, town councils and cities that are working hard to fight gun violence.”

Though she voted in favor of the bill, Toohil said she is going to create an amendment that would give municipalities facing litigation 90 days to rescind a questionable ordinance.

Toohil said HB 2011 would now go through appropriations and then onto the House floor for an official vote. She said legislators would continue to examine HB 921.

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