A police officer’s job is to uphold the law, correct?
But what happens when a cop doesn’t know the very law he’s supposed to uphold?
This problem may be going on in Philadelphia.
I recently corresponded with a Montgomery County man who found himself in a tizzy with Philly’s finest.
So, just what did Mark Fiorino do? He was openly carrying his firearm while walking the city streets.
Fiorino is a gun rights advocate who engages in the process of what’s known as “open carry,” or carrying one’s gun outside the clothing, in a fully visible way.
Fiorino says he prefers to carry this way for comfort.
Now, some may question Fiorino’s decision to carry an openly holstered handgun on his belt. I, however, am not here to discuss the merits of open versus concealed carry.
My aim is to raise awareness of the fact that in Pennsylvania, the law does, in fact, permit the open carrying of firearms–even in Philadelphia.
Many citizens may be surprised to find this out.
In fact, anywhere outside Philadelphia, one doesn’t even need a carry license to openly display their weapon; within city limits, however, a license is needed to carry this way.
Now granted, the sight of an openly carried gun is not that common.
But it’s somewhat disconcerting to learn that those paid to uphold the law would be unaware of the practice’s legality.
Fiorino was walking down the street one day mid-February when he heard someone call out in his direction. That’s when he turned to see a cop pointing a gun at him.
An audio clip of the incident was recently posted to Youtube, and can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-vUYeJXSrA&feature=related.
(Editor’s Note: The clip contains profane language).
It’s clear from the audiotape–the clip has generated a decent response, getting reposted to sites far and wide– that officers were less than pleased with the sight of an openly carried gun.
But here’s the problem: being displeased with the act, and believing it to be against the law are two very different things.
My question is this: why didn’t the cops in this situation know open carry is legal in Pennsylvania?
According to the Pennsylvania Municipal Police Officers' Education & Training Commission, all officers of the commonwealth are instructed on the legality of open carry.
(A friend of mine, a police officer in a nearby suburban municipality, confirmed officers are taught open carry is legal in Pennsylvania).
If the cops in this incident were aware of the practice’s legality, they most likely wouldn’t have held Fiorino at gunpoint.
One officer is heard on the tape saying guns have to be concealed in Philadelphia.
“I believe I’m right,” the cop, a sergeant, is heard repeating.
This is not true. Yes, you need a carry license to conceal, but because you have a license doesn’t mean you have to conceal. The word “concealed” is found nowhere on a Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms.
These police officers clearly weren’t up on their training. Why is it that I can look up the state statute with regard to carrying a firearm, but some police officers apparently have trouble with this?
If the police officers of our commonwealth don’t know the laws they are paid to uphold, it’s a serious problem in my opinion, and one that could have disastrous results.
Why is it that police tell civilians that ignorance of the law is no excuse when a law is broken, but in the same breath they seem to be insinuating that ignorance of the law is a defense on their part? There seems to be a double standard here.
But there’s more to this story than ignorance of the law. The professionalism, or lack thereof, on the part of the involved officers raises some issues.
The cops are heard on the audiotape cursing Fiorino and berating him during the encounter. Is that really necessary?
Fiorino is heard on the tape offering up his driver’s license and carry license from the get-go, a clear attempt to put officer’s minds at ease that he’s no criminal, and defuse the situation.
Still, he’s met with nastiness and hostility. Now, I wasn’t there, and can only go by what is heard on the tape.
Still, it leads me to question the decorum on the part of the police department. Do city officers really want to be perceived as unprofessional?
I know my fair share of city cops, and most are honest, nice, hardworking people, so it’s not Philly officers on the whole I have a problem with.
At the same time, courtesy and knowledge of the law are extremely important parts of being a police officer.
Actually, the latter is crucial.
I love our city. But I don’t love to hear of incidents like this, where a citizen has his rights trampled by unprofessional, at best, unqualified, at worse, public servants.
While Fiorino’s incident happened in Northeast Philadelphia, it could have easily been the Northwest, or any part of the city for that matter.
It remains to be seen if such a situation will be repeated, but given the apparent ignorance of the “open carry” law, it’s highly possible someone else can find themselves on the wrong side of a city cop’s service pistol.
Let’s hope a little education is in order.