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Pennsylvania legislators ready for Vermont Carry! (Yeah, right. . .)

by Andy Barniskis

May 30, 2002 -- Pennsylvania's gun owners' and self-defense advocates' hearts should have leapt with joy following the release of Gun Owners of America's Candidate Survey results in the middle of May, just before the primary election. Not only did 26 incumbent state legislators achieve perfect pro-gun scores, but 43 incumbents (38 in the House and 5 in the Senate) responded "Yes" to the question whether they would support "Vermont Carry" legislation, removing the requirement for citizens to obtain a permit before carrying a concealed weapon.

It should be emphasized that these were incumbents, most of them comfortably ensconced in safe seats, and not desperate challengers who might be inclined to promise anything and everything to everybody, in their attempts to get their feet into the capitol door. To add a bit more perspective, it should be pointed out that Pennsylvania's General Assembly consists of 203 House members and 50 Senate members, so those respondents who indicated they would support Vermont Carry represented nearly one in five members in the House, and one in ten in the Senate. Not a slam-dunk for passage of a bill, surely, but certainly enough to put the issue on the political map for the future, if that many legislators were to co-sponsor a bill.

However, I have not heard any hearts leaping, and I for one do not plan to shred my concealed carry permit in expectation of it not being needed after Vermont Carry is passed early in the next session. I would be astonished to see Vermont Carry legislation so much as introduced, even as one of those not-intended-to-go-anywhere, constituent-placating, legislative-eyewash bills, of which over a thousand are introduced in each session. 

The reason is that in Pennsylvania, as in most states, gun-rights activists have become accustomed to playing at a charade that supports their subcultures and self-images, but seldom accomplishes much. As constituents, gun owners have shown they don't expect much in the way of placating. 

Senator Doaks will say he supports Vermont Carry, on a questionnaire only gun rights activists will see, and gun rights activists will dutifully crow about Senator Doaks as a "friend of gun owners." After he's reelected, Senator Doaks will invite some of them into his office for coffee, not to mention commiseration over the way every initiative he said he'd support is "not politically feasible at this time." He will, however, resist nine out of the ten anti-gun provisions in Senator Dumass's bill -- thanks of course to activists having "educated" him on firearms issues, he'll tell them. The activists will go away claiming another victory, while the accumulation of those tenth provisions from every Dumass bill slowly eats their rights away. Somehow, recovering our lost rights never becomes politically feasible, at any time, no matter what the responses to questionnaires may say.

My career has been good enough to me that I can afford to buy my own coffee, and I see no virtue in driving 120 miles to the capitol to be lied to to my face, rather than remotely. So, it's been a few years since I've bothered to engage in the gun rights charade of talking to state legislators directly. But when I used to do such things, I was often advised by some of the hardest of hard-line, pro-gun politicos that Vermont Carry was absolutely, positively, not a politically feasible issue in Pennsylvania. Ask them for anything -- for example, how's about some nice increased, mandatory penalties for gun law violators? -- but please, don't ask them to embarrass themselves and fight their party leadership by supporting something as unreasonable as Vermont Carry legislation. An insider like you should know you just don't put your political friends on the spot that way!

It is interesting to wonder why the same political principles don't seem to apply in the anti-gun camp. As we have seen year after year, while many anti-gun proposals have proven too unreasonable to be politically feasible in our state -- so far -- there never has been a lack of sponsors or co-sponsors for them, and their supporters in the legislature never show the slightest embarrassment. Bury their bills in one session, and they introduce them again in the first week of the next session. Only pro-gun legislators appear embarrassed by what they tell us they believe in.

Even though it's been a few years since I've subjected myself to the legislators' song and dance, my activist associates who still do, advise me that their shtick hasn't changed very much. Perhaps that's because our poor, closeted, gun rights supporting friends in the legislature don't realize how their numbers have proliferated! With Gun Owners of America having located 38 sworn supporters of Vermont Carry in the House of Representatives alone, the next session of the General Assembly should provide a great opportunity to field that issue for the first time. Perhaps we should all check the list of Vermont Carry supporters provided by Gun Owners of America in their Candidates Survey, and if our representative or senator has claimed support for the issue, call that to the attention of their local media and the 42 other supporters in the General Assembly. Then, ask each supporter when (not if) he intends to introduce the legislation for which he is guaranteed dozens of cosponsors.

The Candidate Survey for Pennsylvania can be found at Check out whether your legislator answered "Yes" too Question 14, and then act accordingly.

And if you don't live in Pennsylvania -- I'll bet you have just as much food for fun in your state! 

Andy Barniskis is Legislative Chairman of the Bucks County Sportsmen's Coalition in Southeastern Pennsylvania.