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Demand high in Pa. to carry concealed guns

Natasha Lindstrom
| Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
A man in a shirt with the Constitution printed on it listens during the seminar on concealed-carry at Pittsburgh Technical College in North Fayette on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
A man in a shirt with the Constitution printed on it listens during the seminar on concealed-carry at Pittsburgh Technical College in North Fayette on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.
Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff Ryan Foster talks about concealed-carry permits at Pittsburgh Technical College in North Fayette on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff Ryan Foster talks about concealed-carry permits at Pittsburgh Technical College in North Fayette on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.
Heidi Helen Hudak, 56, of Imperial listens at a seminar on concealed-carry at Pittsburgh Technical College in North Fayette on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Heidi Helen Hudak, 56, of Imperial listens at a seminar on concealed-carry at Pittsburgh Technical College in North Fayette on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.

Dee Thielman knew exactly what to tell her husband to get her for Christmas last year.

“I want a gun,” the calm-mannered retiree from Moon recalled saying confidently to the military veteran who had been collecting firearms for years and had a concealed carry permit.

Rattled by what seemed like a barrage of violence reported by national news media and a recent local break-in, Thielman said she no longer felt safe in her own home.

“It used to be they broke into your house when you weren't there, and now they're breaking in while you're home,” said Thielman, hopeful that if they were both trained and armed, one of them could fend off an intruder.

Demand for gun ownership in America continues to climb. The nation's 14 million concealed-carry permit holders marks an all-time high, with women snapping up concealed carry permits at twice the rate of men between 2012 and 2016, the latest data from the Crime Prevention Research Center in Virginia show. Pennsylvania joins two states — Florida and Texas — in having more than 1 million concealed carry permit holders.

The number of concealed carry gun owners has spiked by 215 percent since 2007, the center found.

Thielman joined about 300 other Pittsburgh-area residents Saturday at Pittsburgh Technical Institute in North Fayette for a seminar on concealed carry hosted by state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Jefferson Hills, and Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Moon.

“The people that law enforcement have to worry about are not the people that are in this room today; these are constituents and citizens that are coming out specifically to learn about the law, so they can follow the law,” Reschenthaler said shortly after the three-hour event, which featured panelists from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Attorney General's Office and local law enforcement, in addition to a defense attorney and gun rights activist.

“What they're concerned about — and what I'm concerned about — is the fact that we have such a patchwork of different gun laws,” said Reschenthaler, who's pushing “pre-emption” legislation he says would simplify the legislative landscape around gun rules. “Different municipalities, different states all have different laws, and it makes it very difficult for law-abiding citizens.”

The seminar explained some of the complexities of and most frequently asked questions about Pennsylvania's gun laws, such as the definition of “concealed” — which Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Ilan Zur pointed out can vary, based on the facts of a case and a jury, meaning even a slight untucked shirt hanging over a holster could pose trouble for someone without a proper permit.

Pennsylvania Game Commission Officer Tom Kline reiterated that state transport of firearms law prohibits making stops along the way to a hunting trip to grab a burger, and cautioned gun owners against forgetting they have left a firearm under the driver's seat — negligence that poses a risk to an unpermitted spouse who gets behind the wheel.

Thielman said she purchased a gun and applied for a concealed carry permit for self-protection, not because of fears that gun rights would be furtherrestricted on political whim — though she has plenty of friends who did so for politically charged reasons.

In Allegheny County, requests for gun permits typically double in the immediate days following an incident of terrorism or mass shooting, said Deputy Sheriff Ryan Foster of the Allegheny County Sheriff's firearms division.

“When (President) Obama says something about guns,” Foster continued, “applications go from 100 a day up to 150, 180.”

Nationally the number of concealed carry permits has increased from 240,000 issued a year between 1999 and 2007 to 1.7 million this year.

“It doesn't surprise me a bit,” said Keith Colledge, 61, of North Fayette, who attended Saturday's seminar as a “refresher” course on state gun ownership rights and rules.

“Obama's been the greatest salesman for guns since Bill Clinton,” noting that a push to limit magazine sizes under the Clinton administration “is why I bought the gun I did.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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