Foster Township resident Thomas F. Braddock Jr. made a second unsuccessful attempt on Monday to obtain a permit for a fully automatic machine gun now that Luzerne County has a new interim sheriff.
Brian Szumski, who was appointed interim sheriff last month, told Braddock he is not approving Class III permits as a temporary sheriff and would leave such decisions up to the permanent sheriff, whether that is him or someone else.
Prior Interim Sheriff John Robshaw also had refused Braddock’s permit request for a Class III permit in April, saying that sheriff approval is discretionary and he disagreed with allowing civilians to acquire automatic guns. The permits also allow the purchase of weapon silencers and short-barrel shotguns and rifles, and Robshaw said he didn’t want to be held responsible if one of these weapons is involved in a crime.
Szumski said he currently agrees with Robshaw’s philosophical stance against such permits but does not know if he would change his opinion if he became permanent sheriff.
Braddock’s request for a Class III permit is the third received since Szumski became interim sheriff.
The federal form to transfer Class III weapons from dealers to individuals requires the “chief law enforcement officer” in that jurisdiction to certify he or she has no information indicating the applicant will use the transferred item for an illegal purpose. The chief law enforcement officer is typically the county sheriff in Pennsylvania, though police chiefs also could qualify.
Braddock wants to buy an automatic machine gun as an investment and to enhance his gun collection.
He believes sheriffs should set aside personal opinions about civilians and automatic weapons and approve Class III permits if there are no issues with background checks or information on permit applications.
Braddock said his gun collection is secure, and he has no criminal record. He is a retired Army National Guard major with 27 years of service and worked 20 years with the federal government, including 13 years for the federal Bureau of Prisons, he said.
Prior Luzerne County sheriffs before home rule have approved Class III requests after conducting background checks, according to local gun dealers.
Braddock was respectful to Szumski but questioned why the county is still relying on temporary sheriffs since the elected sheriff office was eliminated with the January 2012 implementation of home rule. Robshaw had served as interim from February 2012 until he was appointed 911 executive director Sept. 9.
The sheriff’s department is in the county Judicial Services and Records Division under home rule. Joan Hoggarth, who became division head in May, recently said she is still seeking and reviewing applications for sheriff and expects to fill the position within two months.
Szumski asked Braddock on Monday if he had contacted his police chief, but Braddock said his township doesn’t have a municipal police force.
Szumski also suggested Braddock consider another option that does not require local chief law enforcement officer approval: creation of a special gun trust to assume ownership of Class III weapons.
Sheriffs in two neighboring counties expressed differing views on Class III permits when the issue came up here earlier this year.
Lackawanna County Sheriff John Szymanski said he has taken the same stance as Robshaw since the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives does its own extensive background checks and ultimately decides if these transfers are approved, which made Szymanski question why county sheriffs are drawn into the process.
Monroe County Sheriff Todd Martin said he believes the sign-off is required as an extra precaution to make the federal bureau aware of any local law enforcement concerns about applicants. Martin said he embraced the opportunity to keep track of and evaluate applicants seeking Class III weapons and considered it part of his job.