In PA, Picking on PICS

Pennsylvania General Assembly. Rep. Jason Ortitay

Two Pennsylvania legislators, claiming their state’s instant check system for gun purchases is redundant and expensive, have sponsored bills to get rid of it and save taxpayers about $6 million a year.

House Bill 763 and Senate Bill 224 are pending in the judiciary committees of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Rep. Jason Ortitay and state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, both Pittsburgh-area Republicans, filed their bills recently.

Both have said the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) is excessive. They said the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) is sufficient to screen gun buyers.

“In addition to being unnecessary, PICS is also expensive,” costing about $6 million a year, Ortitay said in a House memo.

In her Senate memo, Bartolotta said PICS originally was intended to be self-sufficient, but now, 95 percent of its budget “covers personnel costs.”

Attorney Justin McShane of The McShane Firm, and an Independent Program Attorney for U.S. Law Shield of Pennsylvania, said PICS was created in the 1995 legislative special session on crime, and it officially began operation in 1998.

State Sen. Camera Bartolotta

McShane said county sheriffs and licensed firearms dealers use PICS to determine a person’s eligibility to buy a gun. It’s also used to check someone’s worthiness to get a license to carry, the attorney said.

“If a person gives false information on the form, an investigation is started and referred to a local law-enforcement agency,” McShane said. “It’s a felony of the third degree to make a false oral or written statement on a 4473 or the state form, in the case of a handgun purchase.”

McShane noted, however, that since 1998, PICS has cost taxpayers about $120 million.

“I believe this money,” Bartolotta said, “as well as the fees used to sustain PICS, can be put to better use than supporting a duplicate firearms-background-check system of limited value.”

McShane explained that under NICS—also launched in 1998—licensed gun dealers call a toll-free number to reach the Federal Bureau of Investigation and request computerized checks, looking for criminal histories or mental health records.

“If there are no red flags, the purchaser can walk out the store with the firearm,” McShane said.

Ortitay said Pennsylvania’s Legislative Budget and Finance Committee looked at getting rid of PICS a few years ago, but officials questioned if NICS was sufficiently comprehensive.

Ortitay said, “NICS has added the capacity to check for state prohibitors, i.e., the prohibitions based solely on state law. This was something previously lacking in the NICS system.”

“With the elimination of PICS, the revenues from the General Fund will be available to fund other programs throughout the Commonwealth,” Ortitay said.

Thirty states, including the District of Columbia, solely rely on the NICS system for background checks. —by Bill Miller, contributor, Texas & U.S. Law Shield blog

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