From left, Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone, Washington County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Don Jones, State Rep. Jason Ortitay and State Rep. Jim Christiana hosted a concealed carry seminar Thursday at Avella Volunteer Fire Department.
AVELLA – “We live in a great country in which you actually get to carry a firearm.”
The opening proclamation of Washington County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Don Jones was met with enthusiastic applause Thursday as he and Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone discussed the state’s concealed carry laws.
Hosted by State Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, and Jason Ortitay, R-South Fayette, Jones and Vittone provided the specifics of carrying firearms in Pennsylvania during an educational seminar, held at Avella Volunteer Fire Department.
Most of the 100-plus attendees raised their hands when asked who had a license to carry.
About 28,000 Washington County residents have a concealed carry permit. Jones, a firearms officer for the sheriff’s department, said he processes about 100 applications a day.
In 2014, the department issued about 5,375 permits. So far this year, about 3,500 were issued.
The application for a license-to-carry permit is a one-page document. Requirements include state identification with a Washington County address and a $20 fee. After a criminal background check, permits are usually issued within a week and expire every five years.
Sheriff Sam Romano, who did not attend the event, said firearm seminars are a good source of information for citizens.
“I’m all for the right people having weapons,” said Romano. “It’s when they get in the wrong hands that we have problems.”
Jones told those in attendance being a responsible gun owner means knowing how to operate your weapon. He stressed to those with carry permits that, if they are approached by a police officer, to be courteous and respectful.
“Tell the officer, ‘I have a gun. I have a license. What would you like me to do?’” he said. “Keep your hands visible.”
Pennsylvania is an “open carry” state, meaning citizens can openly carry a firearm, except on federal property, courthouses, schools and state parks. In order to carry a concealed weapon or to carry a gun in a vehicle, a permit is required.
Vittone advised gun owners to use a common-sense approach to handling weapons.
“My job and the job of my people is to make sure gun laws are enforced and that they are enforced for the right reasons,” he said.
Vittone said he sees very little problems between police officers and gun owners in the county.
“Most police I know, they are about as enthusiastic about gun rights as everybody in this room,” he said.
Vittone and Jones also discussed Pennsylvania’s “castle doctrine” laws, the use of deadly force to defend your home against an intruder.
According to state law, the use of deadly force is justified when it is immediately necessary to protect against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual assault.
Many participants asked questions about castle doctrine. Vittone assured those in attendance the law is on their side should they have to defend themselves.
“Before castle doctrine, you had to have reasonable belief (an intruder) would cause you injury,” he said. “After castle doctrine, it eliminates you having to prove you had a reasonable belief. It creates the presumption you were in danger.”