Tuesday January 8, 2008
Gregory Rotz of Chambersburg, Pa., shows the concealed weapons permit he won back Tuesday in an appeal in Franklin County Court. (Photo credit: Don Aines / )

There is no law against carrying a firearm into most public places in Pennsylvania, even polling places. On Tuesday Franklin County Judge John Walker returned a concealed weapons permit to Gregory Rotz, ruling the Chambersburg, Pa., man violated no law.

Pa. judge returns gun permit but wants firearms banned from polling places

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. — Franklin County Judge John R. Walker followed the law Tuesday in returning a concealed weapons permit to Gregory Rotz, but the judge said he would prefer the state ban firearms from polling places.

“Personally, I’m going to contact my legislator and see if they can write a law because, if you have people walking around voting places with firearms, you are beginning to look like a Third World country down in Venezuela or somewhere,” the judge said after ordering the return to Rotz of the permit, which had been revoked by former Sheriff Robert Wollyung.

During a brief hearing, Walker ruled Rotz violated no law and should have his permit returned.

“Give it to him now, Mr. Redding,” Walker told Patrick Redding, the solicitor for the Sheriff’s Office.

Many of the approximately 50 people in the courtroom, mostly Second Amendment rights supporters, applauded as Redding handed the permit to Rotz’s attorney, Steve Rice. A number of the spectators came armed and checked their handguns with sheriff’s deputies before entering the courthouse.

Approximately 6,000 people have concealed weapons permits in Franklin County, according to the Sheriff’s Office. A permit is needed in Pennsylvania to carry a concealed weapon, but not to carry one openly, said Sheriff Dane Anthony, who was on his second day on the job.

Carrying a weapon in a vehicle is considered concealing it, which is one reason many people get the permits, Anthony said.

Wollyung ordered the permit revoked after Rotz, 36, showed up at the New Franklin Community Center to vote in the Nov. 6 election, although Rotz was never charged with violating any law.

“I went to the polling place to vote, and I had my firearm with me as I do everyday,” Rotz said after winning his appeal. A constable at the center confronted him and delayed his voting until county officials told the constable “that it was not illegal for me to take my firearm into the polling place,” Rotz said.

“He had it in plain view, the people that were at the polls were scared ... I asked him to step outside,” said Constable Gerald Spielman, who was at the courthouse Tuesday. “I asked him to step outside and I checked with the courthouse,” Spielman said.

“I had no choice but to let him go into vote” once he learned there was no law forbidding firearms in a polling place.

Rotz said the Friday after the election, he received the first of two letters, as required by law, notifying him of the revocation.

The hearing attracted people from across Pennsylvania and at least one from Virginia who came to support Rotz. The Sheriff’s Office said 15 handguns were handed over to deputies, with the owners ejecting clips and emptying cylinders.

“I don’t believe in open carry. I think it’s a tactical disadvantage” to allow others to know you are armed, said Douglas Boldt of Erie, Pa., vice president of the 6,000-member Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association. Despite that difference in philosophy, Boldt said Wollyung had no right to revoke the permit.

“He has a God-given right to protect himself,” said Boldt, who left his Heckler & Koch P7M8 in his vehicle.

“I support Mr. Greg Rotz. Enforce the law, not personal opinion” read the badges of many of those who attended. There were men from Pittsburgh, McKees Rocks, Johnstown, McDonald, Boiling Springs and Newville, Pa., as well as Mike Stollenwerk from Virginia, co-founder of OpenCarry.Org, a national Second Amendment rights organization.

If a person can lose a concealed weapon permit without having broken a law, he said, “then we’ve got a problem.”

A number of state and borough police officers were in the courtroom, some not in uniform, though it was unclear whether they were attending as citizens or to bolster security. There were four or five deputies at a time in the courtroom.

“I would like to sincerely commend Mr. Rotz’s supporters for their professionalism and cooperation with my office,” Anthony said. A device called an unloading station was set up outside the building and the weapons were checked in at a table outside Anthony’s office. The supporters then re-entered the building through another entrance to go through the metal detector.

Rotz’s supporters headed off to a restaurant after the ruling, but Boldt suggested they also go to a local range.

“Who wants to go shooting?” he said.