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Westmoreland sheriff schedules discussion of gun rights

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Westmoreland County Sheriff Jon Held said his customers come bearing questions.

Many are concerned about the national debate over their right to keep and bear arms.

So Held decided to hold a public forum on the issue.

Applications for concealed-weapon permits at his office reach about 100 a day. People standing in line and speaking to office employees on the telephone want to talk about the Second Amendment.

“Their main issue is any proposed legislation that would be in violation of the Constitution,” Held said.

Held said a town hall-style meeting to be held Wednesday is designed to give gun owners an outlet to share their concerns about proposed legislation to make firearm laws more stringent.

That debate heightened when a gunman with mental problems killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school on Dec. 14.

Held said local state legislators and county commissioners have been invited to the forum at Westmoreland County Community College's campus near Youngwood. All have said they would at least send an aide to get feedback from the public.

Held said he will outline policies and procedures the sheriff's office must follow when issuing a license to carry a concealed weapon.

On Jan. 16, President Obama outlined a plan to reduce gun violence.

It would require that background checks be made during all gun purchases. It would ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds, increase school security and try to improve mental health treatment.

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Held's office fielded as many as 150 permit applications daily. It usually handles about 50.

The statewide computer system for gun licenses malfunctioned and went down from Monday through Thursday.

Employees accepted between 400 and 500 applications and are calling people back to complete the process.

About 90 people were turned away from a satellite office Tuesday.

The Fayette County sheriff's office turned away 100 permit applicants between Monday and Thursday.

During a seven-week period beginning Dec. 17, the sheriff issued 741 permits.

About 265 permits are issued in an average month.

“We've seen huge increases,” Sheriff Gary D. Brownfield said. “We went from five, six or seven a day to maybe as many as 70 per day.”

Throughout the uptick in business after the new gun laws were proposed, Held said callers wanted to speak to him about the issue.

The meeting will be simply informational, not political, Held said.

Staff writer Bob Stiles contributed. Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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