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Unfamiliarity With The Law Causes Problem For Citizen

A YouTube posting of a man hassled by city cops for openly carrying a gun has made waves far and wide.

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.

Ed Jaffe March 30, 2011 at 11:26 PM
Laws should be so simple that everyone can understand them: judges, lawmakers, police and citizens alike. Unfortunately, in this upside-down world with so many laws that the books fill entire libraries, responsible law-abiding citizens can't expect the police to know every nuance of the law, even though we as lawful citizens are required to. Sam Wolanyk makes this point in the story of his false arrest, for which he was paid $35K plus legal fees by the City of San Diego. http://www.responsiblecitizensofcalifornia.org/profiles/blogs/the-story-of-my-false-arrest
Yih-Chau Chang March 30, 2011 at 11:33 PM
It is time for mandatory education of all law enforcement personnel on their State's Open Carry laws. http://www.examiner.com/gun-rights-in-oakland/the-time-has-come-for-a-national-open-carry-education-campaign
Jim Lamont March 31, 2011 at 01:17 AM
No one knows what police officers go through during the course of protecting us in this violent city. Although the officer may have not been up on the laws of carrying a gun, He was well within his rights to question Fiorino, maybe not to the extent that he carried it out though. It's a tough job in this city, with so many officers getting killed. This is one dangerous city. I don't or can't blame the Sargent.
Sam Wolanyk March 31, 2011 at 01:46 PM
I'm pretty sick of hearing that police have a tough job. It's not as if they're forced to be cops. If you can't handle your job while not trampling the citizenry who hired you, then please, don't tell me how tough you've got it...QUIT.
Sam Wolanyk March 31, 2011 at 01:50 PM
As for mark fiorino- the only thing these punks understand is force. Since it's illegal for YOU to point your gun at THEM, you'll have to file a lawsuit to get them straightened out. I'm speaking from experience.
Rick Roth March 31, 2011 at 01:54 PM
Philly cops,one of the reasons I stay out of the city.Their disrespect for this man is unbelieveable,their language & behavior is so unprofessional that all involved should face departmental punishment of some kind, & they obviously need some kind of training. If we used this kind of language where I work we would be fired in a heartbeat.
MKEgal March 31, 2011 at 04:05 PM
"Although the officer may have not been up on the laws of carrying a gun, He was well within his rights to question Fiorino" No, he most certainly was _not_ acting within the law when he pointed his gun at a citizen who was not breaking the law. The officer had no reasonable articulable suspicion (RAS) of a crime, which is required before an officer can detain someone. (Someone is detained when a reasonable person in the same situation would feel that s/he is not free to leave. Like, oh, say, having an officer screaming & cursing & pointing a gun at you.) The peaceful exercise of a constitutionally-protected right cannot be a crime, and cannot be twisted to be evidence of a crime. Remaining silent when questioned by police, voting, carrying a holstered pistol, going to church... these are your rights, and the police can't detain, harass, arrest, or threaten you for doing any of that. What the officer could have done, staying within the law, was to _ask_ Mr. Fiorino to have a _consensual_ conversation. As long as Mr. Fiorino remained free to walk away at any time, that's legal. He can consent to speak to police, but can't be forced to do it. I'm looking forward to hearing the outcome of the federal civil rights lawsuit that's surely being prepared right now. Wonder how badly the officers will get spanked.
MKEgal March 31, 2011 at 04:10 PM
Actually, it is legal to resist the unlawful actions of criminals, even those in uniform. When they act outside the law, the police have no special status or protection. Is it a good idea to shoot officers who are threatening your life when you've done nothing wrong? No, but it's legal. If you survive the encounter you shouldn't be convicted of any wrongdoing. Much better off trying to play the submissive serf these officers expected to find, then after the encounter post the video & get the best constitutional law / civil rights attorney you can find.
MKEgal March 31, 2011 at 04:16 PM
“An illegal arrest is an assault and battery. The person so attempted to be restrained of his liberty has the same right to use force in defending himself as he would in repelling any other assault and battery.” (State v. Robinson, 145 ME. 77, 72 ATL. 260) “Each person has the right to resist an unlawful arrest. In such a case, the person attempting the arrest stands in the position of a wrongdoer and may be resisted by the use of force, as in self-defense.” (State v. Mobley, 240 N.C. 476, 83 S.E. 2D 100) "There can be no sanction or penalty imposed upon one because of this exercise of constitutional rights." (Sherer v. Cullen, 481 F 946) "The Claim and exercise of a Constitutional Right cannot be converted into a crime." (Miller v. U.S. , 230 F 2d 486. 489)
Al April 01, 2011 at 03:39 AM
I'm glad someone is writing about this outrageous incident. I was dismayed at the conduct of the PPD officers, especially the first one on the scene. I continually argue with cops that open carry is not prohibited in PA and Philadelphia, even cited MPOETC training, year and page number, but to no avail. It's one thing to not know the law, it's another to have the law explained to them, proved in writing, and purposefully violate it. Maybe there should be law prohibiting cops who don't know the law from being cops. How can you enforce laws if you don't what they are?
Rick Roth April 01, 2011 at 12:05 PM
Some of the thugs in Philly that call themselves cops, like the sgt. 1st on the scene, don't seem to care what the law is,only what they may want it to be,& enjoy pushing people around
L April 01, 2011 at 02:02 PM
Interesting article, makes for a good debate. What I find interesting is that this person just happened to record the conversation on that particular day. There is no video posted so, for all we know he was not just openly carrying, he could have looked or been threatening in some way that caught the attention of the police. Just a different take on the incident.
Donna April 01, 2011 at 09:04 PM
Give me a break. It's Philadelphia. You don't walk down the street w/open carry in a city where so many of our Officers are freaking Killed by crazy idiots every day. EVERY surrounding county has officers who would respond the same way. Anyone who has lived here for more than a minute knows that you don't open carry. And, as an aside, open carry is stupid. Someone who is intent on killing you shouldn't know you have a weapon until you have used it to defend yourself. The guy is an idiot.
Rick Roth April 02, 2011 at 03:13 AM
Open carry is a very good way to discourage the wrong kind of people from making you their target
jedi5 April 05, 2011 at 02:47 AM
http://paopencarry.org/ open carry in pennsylvania is legal except for in a city of the first class, Philadelphia. You need a concealed carry permit, to CONCEALED CARRY a firearm anywhere in PA. You can OPEN CARRY anywhere in PA EXCEPT for Philadelphia(city of the first class). The article is wrong, the cop is right. horrible journalism.
jedi5 April 05, 2011 at 02:52 AM
THE ACTUAL LAW § 6108. Carrying firearms on public streets or public property in Philadelphia. No person shall carry a firearm, rifle or shotgun at any time upon the public streets or upon any public property in a city of the first class unless: 1. such person is licensed to carry a firearm; or 2. such person is exempt from licensing under section 6106(b) of this title (relating to firearms not to be carried without a license).
Rick Roth April 05, 2011 at 12:20 PM
He has a license to carry
Jon Campisi April 05, 2011 at 12:22 PM
Thanks for your feedback, jedi5, but, with all due respect, I believe you're mistaken, and here's why ... you are correct in citing the law, however, notice that while 6108 gives exemptions to carrying in a City of the First Class (the only one in PA is Philly)– i.e. as long as you're licensed, you can carry in Philly– it doesn't address MODE of carry. And since a PA License To Carry Firearms says nothing about a weapon having to be concealed, that essentially makes open carry in Philly de facto legal. Some argue on this point, but many, like myself, take this mean open carry in Philly is legit. When having this debate, some I know like to offer $100,000 to the person who can locate the word "Concealed" on a Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms (LTCF). I don't have that kind of money, so I'll clear steer of the bet, but nevertheless, it's important to note that Pennsylvania issues LTCFs, NOT CFLs (Concealed Firearm Licenses) or CCPs (Concealed Carry Permits) like many other states do. You are correct in that one needs a license TO conceal in Philly, or anywhere in the commonwealth for that matter, but because one has a license doesn't mean they automatically MUST conceal, since MODE of carry isn't addressed in the state law. To offer up an analogy: if you ride a bicycle, and then get a driver's license, you can now drive a motor vehicle; it doesn't mean you can no longer ride a bicycle. A LTCF enables you to conceal carry; it doesn't demand it.
Jon Campisi April 05, 2011 at 12:24 PM
Oh, and that link you provided to paopencarry.org, says open carry in Philly is legal: Under the "Places Off Limits" section, it states: "Cities of the first class – UNLESS you hold a valid LTCF."
Bryan May 17, 2011 at 08:51 PM
Tired of hearing how horrible it is to be a cop. Go get a job babysitting or making burgers if you can take it. Badge carrying ignorant thugs were the nutjobs on the scene here. They should be arrested for treating an American this way. Who do they think they are?
Wendy Wilkins Valdez May 18, 2011 at 01:06 PM
Do they really want to be perceived as unprofessional? Apparently since the Phil. PD is in the news almost daily for a variety of crimes or trials for crimes committed by their officers. Thinking it's OK to murder a neighbor or a brother-in-law just because you're a cop and no one will touch you? Arranging to "enforce" payment on a default loan? Faking informant tips so you can rip off store owners? Stealing from drug dealers to either re-sell the product or keep the money? WHAT professionalism??? And, of course, now that they're aware of his having made their ignorance public, they've decided to charge HIM with a crime of reckless endangerment because their cop on the scene called for backup and the backup might have gotten hurt on the way to the scene. Give me a break!! They're pissed at being embarrassed yet again by their own actions!
Wendy Wilkins Valdez May 18, 2011 at 01:09 PM
BTW - I'm not saying they shouldn't verify that anyone seen with a gun has the proper documents to carry it. But, this man offered those documents and they continued to threaten him, refusing to look at them, all while HIS gun remained holstered and strapped, no threat to them whatsoever.
Wendy Wilkins Valdez May 18, 2011 at 01:13 PM
Your proof only proved you wrong. And, the officers' supervisors also told them they were wrong. Are you saying the officers' supervisors are wrong? Not horrible journalism at all. Factual journalism.
Wendy Wilkins Valdez May 18, 2011 at 01:16 PM
His gun was holstered with a strap over it. That is not a threat. But, people planning to make threats will stay away from someone with fire power. He wasn't any kind of threat to anyone. Had he been carrying the gun in his hand, your point would be valid. But, in a holster, strapped down - there was no threat being made by Mr Fiorino.
Bill May 18, 2011 at 02:11 PM
Here's the actual text you cite (Pay special attention to the ** section, which allows open carry in Philly when licensed): Open Carry - Yes, It's Legal In Pennsylvania, persons 18 years of age and older whom are not prohibited by law from owning firearms may openly carry a handgun in plain sight with no license except in vehicles*, cities of the first class** (Philadelphia) and where prohibited specifically by statute. Ref.: Title 18, ch.61, Subchapter A. Uniform Firearms Act & Commonwealth v. Ortiz * Open carry in a vehicle requires a valid PA License to Carry Firearms (LTCF) or a carry license from ANY other state. Ref: Title 18 §6106 ** Open carry in a city of the first class requires a valid PA LTCF or a carry license from a reciprocal state. Ref: Title 18 §6108, Title 18 §6 You and the Sgt. are both incorrect, and you should read more carefully the sources you cite...
Moe May 18, 2011 at 05:38 PM
If you want the facts about carrying a firearm in PA, here is a handy flyer: http://paopencarry.org/PennsylvaniaGunRights.pdf
Moe May 18, 2011 at 06:32 PM
In support of Mark's case, just a few bits from the PA's Constitution: Inherent Rights of Mankind Section 1. All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness. Security From Searches and Seizures Section 8. The people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions from unreasonable searches and seizures, and no warrant to search any place or to seize any person or things shall issue without describing them as nearly as may be, nor without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation subscribed by the affiant. Right to Bear Arms Section 21. The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned. I think that is pretty clear.

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