Case draws fire from gun-rights advocates
By JOHN LATIMER
Lebanon Daily News
Across Pennsylvania, open-carry advocates — those who support the right to openly carry a holstered firearm — are paying close attention to Lebanon after a woman’s concealed-weapon license was revoked for wearing a loaded handgun on her hip at her daughter’s soccer game.
Lebanon County Sheriff Mike DeLeo revoked Meleanie Hain’s license this week after he received complaints from a parent who attended a game played by 4- and 5-year-olds on Sept. 11 at Optimist Park.
DeLeo’s action will not prevent the Lebanon woman from carrying a gun in the open, but she will not be allowed to wear it concealed on her body or carry it in her vehicle.
Hain has hired Allentown attorney Robert Magee, who has filed an appeal in Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas arguing DeLeo had no just cause for taking away Hain’s permit. The appeal further charges that DeLeo acted illegally and “abused his discretion and the authority granted to him” under the Uniform Firearms Act of 1995.
Attorney George Christianson is the solicitor for the sheriff’s office. Yesterday, he said he had neither seen the appeal nor talked in detail with DeLeo about the matter.
“From the little I know, I think he is well within his purview to do it,” Christianson said.
Rich Banks, for one, believes Hain and others like her are victims of people’s ignorance of Pennsylvania’s gun laws. A staff member of the Pennsylvania Firearms Owners Association and a licensed gunsmith, Banks has started PaOpenCarry.org to help educate residents about gun owners’ rights to carry firearms.
“Gun laws in Pennsylvania are not really well understood, because there is a lack of information,” he said.
What happened to Hain is not commonplace but occurs occasionally, Banks said. In January, he said, a Franklin County judge restored a man’s concealed-weapons permit when it was taken by a sheriff after the man wore his holstered gun into a polling place.
And Banks himself is involved in a federal civil-rights case, suing police in Dickson City for taking away his gun after he and several others wore their weapons openly at a restaurant in the town about 10 miles north of Scranton. The gun was eventually returned and all charges dropped.
What some don’t understand, including some law-enforcement officials, claims Banks, is that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to wear a firearm openly. The concealed-weapons permit is a state law that gives a gun owner the privilege to hide his or her firearm, he said.
“Open-carry is the constitutional form of protection that has been upheld many times by the Supreme Court,” he said.
Banks’ Web site was inspired by OpenCarry.org, which was co-founded by Lancaster County native Mike Stollenwerk. It focuses on national gun-owners’ rights and is working to get open-carry bans lifted in six states, including Texas, Florida and Oklahoma.
“Only six states ban open-carry,” said Stollenwerk, a retired Army lieutenant colonel living in Virginia. “In the rest of the country, the typical rule is you can open-carry. And of those (other 44 states), only 15 require a license to do so.”
Pennsylvania does not require an open-carry license, Stollenwerk explained.
“Pennsylvania’s gun laws are normal, I guess you could say,” he said. “You need a license to conceal, and the minimum age for that is 21. At 18 you can own a gun, and you can open-carry.”
Banks said he has openly carried his weapon for years but understands why parents were upset when they saw Hain with her gun because it is not something seen every day.
However, Banks said, guns have been “demonized” in the media over the years, and there is an unfair stigma attached to guns and their owners. He noted that one in 20 Pennsylvanians owns a concealed-weapons license, according to state-police statistics.
“Open-carry is normal for a lot of us,” he said. “The only difference between me and others who possess a firearm is I’m not hiding mine. ... We believe that open-carry will bring firearms back into view and bring it back into normalcy. Good guys carry their guns openly; bad guys hide them.”