Sheriffs can deny concealed-weapon permits in Pennsylvania based on an applicant's character and reputation, but assessing such broad qualities is a challenge, said county interim Sheriff John Robshaw.
Like most if not all of its counterparts in the state, the Luzerne County Sheriff's Office seeks applicants' response to the following question on permit applications:
• Is your character and reputation such that you would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety?
• Are you an individual who is a habitual drunkard, or who is addicted to or an unlawful user of marijuana or a stimulant, depressant or narcotic drug?
Robshaw, who also is the county's security director, said he has never encountered an applicant who answered yes to either question.
He said there's value to asking the questions because the form says applicants could be charged with knowingly making false statements if it's later determined they were lying. He hasn't pursued that charge against any applicants.
Counties statewide, including Luzerne County, have been inundated with an increase in permit seekers in recent months – an increase attributed to a fear that federal officials will pass measures making it more difficult or even impossible to obtain permits.
Robshaw's office revokes several permits per month based on information supplied by other law-enforcement agencies, including intelligence about gang and crime activity.
Once an application is issued and information turns up that a person is of dubious character, we may evaluate the situation, he said.
For example, the office revoked the permit of someone caught discharging a gun in a residential area and a person who threatened to hurt someone.
He also recently received a report from Philadelphia police on a permit holder involved in a drug transaction and pulled that permit. The permit application also seeks two non-family references.
Robshaw said his office checks references if questions arise about an applicant. However, he questions what relevant and useful information can be obtained through these references.
Applicants typically list friends and allies who would provide positive comments about their character and reputation, he said.
The primary screening comes from the required background check, Robshaw said.
All county sheriff departments must run concealed-weapon applications through the Pennsylvania State Police Instant Check System, known as PICS, said Trooper Adam Reed.
Reed said the system determines if applicants have something in their record precluding them from a permit, including:
• Conviction on more than 35 criminal offenses.
• An active protection-from-abuse order.
• Involuntary mental-health commitment.
The concealed-weapon permits, which cost $20 and are valid for five years, allow guns to be carried inside clothing, bags and vehicle glove compartments and trunks when permit holders leave home.
Concealed guns are prohibited in schools, on many government properties and in some other places.
Robshaw noticed more traffic after last month's school-shooting massacre in Connecticut, which sparked a national gun-violence debate and talk of regulation changes.
The county issued 5,216 concealed-weapon permits in 2011 – a 2,326 increase from 2010. Another 6,978 permits were approved last year, he said.
An estimated 20,500 county residents – or more than 8 percent of its adult population – have concealed-weapon permits, officials say.