Joshua Rodriguez said he knows the laws.
On Nov. 8, Rodriguez, a resident of Roxborough, parked his car on the 4200 block of Main St. in Manayunk and was about to get his hair cut when a Fifth District police officer on bicycle patrol observed Rodriguez’s holstered Glock 23, a compact 40-caliber pistol that the gun’s manufacturers say is well-suited both for both open and concealed carrying.
According to Rodriguez’s account, the officer asked Rodriguez to “cover up” the firearm, and when Rodriguez refused the cop’s request, the PPD officer asked for Rodriguez’s license to carry firearms and began an on-the-spot investigation.
Rodriguez could not be reached for comment but the encounter was preserved for posterity via Rodriguez’s phone in this YouTube clip.
‘I just know the law’
In the video Rodriguez stated that his Glock’s magazine contains 13 hollow-point bullets, and “one in the chamber.” Rodriquez added that he’s allowed to carry up to four magazines on his person.
Asked by a second police officer whether this was legal, Rodriguez responds that everything he is carrying complies with relevant Commonwealth statutes.
“You have all these laws, man,” said the second officer. “Did you go to law school?”
“No, I just know the law,” responded Rodriguez, who was told explicitly by the second cop that he was not supposed to have hollow-point ammunition.
On several points, Rodriquez was right.
Open carrying and ammunition regulations
As noted by the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association, Pennsylvania law does not regulate the open carrying of a firearm, except in Philadelphia.
Under Pennsylvania’s Uniform Firearms act, section 6108 states that “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 such person is licensed to carry a firearm or such person is exempt from licensing under section 6106 of this title.” Section 6106 refers to exceptions for law enforcement, military, and various other uses.
With his license in hand, Rodriquez is ostensibly compliant.
With regard to ammunition, under section 6121, “Certain Bullets Prohibited,” the only ammunition expressly banned are Teflon-coated bullets or other armor-piercing ammunition used while committing or attempting to commit a crime of violence.
Section 6121 says nothing about hollow-point ammunition. Attorney Joshua Prince, a Bechtelsville, Pa.-based attorney with expertise in firearms law, confirmed that hollow-point bullets are indeed legal. Prince added that loaded weapons are also legal, whether open-carried or concealed.
In the video, Rodriguez began to lose some of his footing with regard to the amount of ammunition allowed to be carried by an individual: There are no restrictions, nor as Prince pointed out, anything closely related in state law.
“He could have a bandolier,” said Prince.
Restrictions on where to carry
When Rodriguez claims in the video that the only prohibition upon where he can carry is at federal buildings, there are at a least two other institutions protected by commonwealth code.
Under section 912 of Title 18, a person commits a first-degree misdemeanor if they possess a weapon – pistol or otherwise – in the buildings, grounds, or vehicles providing transportation to public or parochial elementary or secondary school, unless it is in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity or is possessed for “other lawful purpose.”
Prince said that “other lawful purpose” is a bit of a grey zone as it is not defined in the statute. In fact, he said, the phrase could be interpreted as including having a firearm with a proper license to carry.
Private schools licensed by the Department of Education are also protected under this statute.
Court facilities receive similar protections, with section 913 describing penalties that range from a summary offense for failure to check a firearm to first-degree misdemeanor for possession with intent.
Lastly, Prince mentioned two further restrictions: Firearms are prohibited in mental institutions, as well as the mental wings of hospitals. Private property owners can also prohibit the presence of individuals with guns, but fortunately for Rodriguez, his barber expressed no such qualms in the video.
Philadelphia Police response
While the PPD has acknowledged the existence of the YouTube clip, department spokesperson Lt. John Stanford said that he hadn’t seen the entire video, and would not be able to comment directly on the actions of the officers.
In addition, as no complaint had been filed by Friday afternoon, nor had an internal investigation begun, Stanford said the PPD would not be identifying the officers in the video. However, he said that if there were inappropriate responses by the officers, the department would look into it.
Stanford confirmed that a license to carry firearms affords the bearer the right to carry a concealed weapon in Philadelphia, but also affirmed that police officers have the right to investigate any individual seen carrying a firearm.
Despite this, Prince said that Rodriguez has a right to file a civil rights lawsuit, even though there were no immediate damages in this instance. Prince based this assertion upon Rodriguez’s being detained and what Prince termed as an “ongoing problem” with the PPD, referring to a $25,000 settlement by the city to Mark Fiorino after he was detained in February 2011 for carrying a gun.
Prince said that the interaction on Main St. was “sufficient to successfully litigate.”
Even though carrying a firearm may be permissible, Stanford was posed with the question of whether or not it was a good idea to be brandishing a piece on the streets of Manayunk, Roxborough, or anywhere else in Philadelphia.
“Not in this city,” he said, and emphasized the additional responsibilities that gun owners have. “Based on my experience, it’s not a smart idea.”