Man who took gun to polling place will have day in court
By JIM HOOK Senior writer
A Chambersburg man who went to the polls on Election Day while wearing a handgun has appealed the revocation of his permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Gregory R. Rotz of 1508 Guilford Station Road is to have his day in Franklin County Court on Jan. 8.
"I think the whole sequence of events is unnecessary," Rotz said. "I'm only looking forward to (my day in court) in the respect that it's the only means I have to right a wrong."
Rotz walked up to the New Franklin voting precinct on Nov. 6 wearing his gun in a side holster, according to Franklin County Sheriff Robert Wollyung. A constable cautioned him not to be armed around the polling place.
"He was cautioned it was best to leave (the gun) outside," Wollyung said. "Instead of taking the easy way out, he has to take the arrogant stand."
"My actions were within the law," Rotz said. "I carry my firearm every day. I believe first and foremost it's my responsibility to protect myself and my family."
Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of the online discussion forum OpenCarry.org, today called for a criminal probe into an "apparent conspiracy" between Wollyung and the constable to deny Rotz's "voting and gun rights."
Discussions on OpenCarry.org focus on the open carrying of guns. The forum's motto is "a right unexercised is a right lost." The 3-year-old group has more than 3,500 members, an estimated 200 from Pennsylvania.
Members donated money for Rotz's legal fees, according to Stollenwerk.
"Let's hope Sheriff Wollyung has plenty of gun lockers ready on Jan. 8 at the Chambersburg courthouse," Stollenwerk said. "Pennsylvania gun owners are very interested in Rotz's case and some may decide to drop by to sit in on Rotz's hearing."
Sheriff's Department employees check courthouse visitors at a metal detector. Guns are not permitted in the courthouse.
Franklin County President Judge John R. Walker is scheduled to hear the case at 2 p.m. Jan. 8 in Courtroom One.
The case "may speak as to how broad the sheriff's discretion is," Rotz said. "I did not break a law. I have not been charged with any crime."
"I'm sure the court is going to agree with him," Wollyung said.
Wollyung notified Rotz in a letter dated Nov. 7 that Rotz was required to surrender his license to carry a firearm, according to court documents.
Wollyung referred to a section of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code: A license shall not be issued to, or be held by, a person "whose character and reputation is such that the individual would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety."
The right to carry a firearm is not the right to annoy, harass, intimidate or alarm others, Wollyung said.
"I personally believe he violated the spirit of the law, if not the law itself," Wollyung said.
Rotz denies he did anything to call into question his character or reputation or to demonstrate he would endanger public safety, according to a court petition filed Nov. 21 by Steve Rice, a Gettysburg attorney representing Rotz.
Wollyung failed to adequately investigate the incident and abused his discretion in revoking Rotz's license, according to Rice.
In Pennsylvania, the county sheriff's office issues permits to carry concealed weapons. Nearly 8,000 people in Franklin County have the five-year permit, according to Wollyung. His office issues almost 2,000 a year. The permit fee is $30.
When a person applies for a permit, his office has 45 days in which to conduct an investigation, including a check of criminal, military and mental health data bases.
The incident at the polling place is a matter of common sense, according to Wollyung, who was preparing his official response Wednesday to Rotz's petition.
"You can't treat your privilege of being able to carry a firearm as a bully threat," Wollyung said. "There are some places you don't carry a firearm -- bars and churches. It's common sense. Would I walk into a bank with a gun showing? I don't think so. I wouldn't walk into a big crowd with a gun showing, if I wasn't a police officer."
Federal law prohibits carrying a gun into a post office.
Pennsylvania law allows a person to carry a handgun in the open, but once the person carrying the gun gets into a vehicle, the gun is considered a concealed weapon, Wollyung said. A permit is then required.
State law prohibits constables and other law enforcement officers from wearing weapons at polling places during an election.
The constable at New Franklin, whom Wollyung declined to identify, was aware of the law, Wollyung said.
The constable asked other authorities whether Rotz could carry a weapon, according to Wollyung and Rotz. Rotz declined the constable's suggestion to leave his gun in his vehicle. Rotz voted wearing his side arm.
"I think the election board was aware of what was going on and was concerned," Wollyung said.
The three members of the county election board did not return telephone calls on Wednesday.
Wollyung said he heard about the incident election night as election officials delivered ballots to the county Administrative Annex on North Second Street.
He suggested that the election board post signs at polling places on Election Day prohibiting entry to people wearing firearms.
Rotz said that would present another problem: Pennsylvania law precludes any municipality from enacting laws regarding the use and carrying of firearms.