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Gun checks start off well

July 14, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Two weeks after instant background checks for handgun purchases went into effect in Pennsylvania, the Franklin County Sheriff's Office and area gun dealers reported no problems with the system.

"It works," Sheriff Robert Wollyung said Monday of the Pennsylvania Instant Check System, or PICS. At the same time, Wollyung said, "It's a little early to evaluate it."

He said his office processed 47 applications for licenses to carry firearms since PICS went into effect on July 1. None was denied by Pennsylvania State Police, or delayed for further checks.

"It usually takes up to five minutes per application," Wollyung said. He said PICS replaces a five-day waiting period to buy or get a license to carry a handgun that was mandated by federal law.

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"We've dealt with it every day. We haven't had any declined yet that I'm aware of," said John Matthews, a gun shop clerk at Shoemaker's Sporting Goods in Chambersburg.

Matthews said a couple of buyers had purchases delayed, but were able to buy handguns. Matthews wasn't sure why, but said a couple of system malfunctions may have caused the problems.

"I was impressed by how well it went," said Bill Zeger, one of the owners of the Keystone Country Store in Fort Loudon, Pa. His store has used the system every day with no rejections or delays in getting through.

Last week Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Paul J. Evanko said 5,066 background checks had been conducted during the first week of July, but figures were not available on how many were denied.

Gun dealers and sheriffs call a toll-free number, punch in an identification number, password and the buyer's or applicant's driver's license number.

Wollyung said state police check state, federal and other computer databases for warrants, protection-from-abuse orders, criminal charges or convictions.

Wollyung said convicted felons cannot get a handgun or permit. In some misdemeanor cases, such as third-offense convictions for driving under the influence, a permit also can be denied, he said.

Denise Urbanek, a clerk at Herold's Gun Shoppe in Waynesboro, Pa., said the store hasn't sold any pistols since the instant checks started. She said it probably won't save dealers any time, "since you still have to follow up with the paperwork."

Dealers will use PICS a lot more after Dec. 1. That's when state law will require background checks for the purchase of rifles and shotguns.

"It does worry me a bit when they put the long gun system in," Zeger said. He hopes the state is ready when hunting season and Christmas come around so dealers don't find themselves on hold for extended periods.

"We do a lot of business at Christmastime," he said.

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