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Appeals court OKs handgun database

Thursday, January 10, 2002

By George Strawley, The Associated Press

HARRISBURG -- A Commonwealth Court panel yesterday dismissed a lawsuit by sportsmen attempting to prevent the Pennsylvania State Police from keeping records of handgun purchases in the state.

The court, in a 5-2 ruling, rejected arguments that a database of handgun sales kept by the agency violates the state's 1995 Uniform Firearms Act.

Gun owners and sportsmen from southwestern and eastern Pennsylvania had sued over the issue, maintaining that the computer database constitutes an illegal registry of firearms ownership.

Writing for the majority, Judge James R. Kelley found that the database of sales did not constitute an ownership registry.

But in a dissent, Judge Rochelle S. Friedman said the database was in fact a registry of ownership.

The lawsuit was filed by the Allegheny Sportsmen's League, the Lehigh Valley Firearms Coalition and four individual plaintiffs.

Michael Slavonic, a board member of the Allegheny Sportsmen's League, was encouraged despite the dismissal and said he would recommend that the case be appealed further.

"We think the dissent is extremely strong, and we believe the case merits further consideration," Slavonic said.

The state has kept records of handgun purchases since 1931, and it has been a state police responsibility since 1943.

About 250,000 handguns are sold in Pennsylvania each year, and information from the purchase forms is shared with state police.

That information, as well as criminal history data from other sources, and the database is shared with local police throughout the state for use in criminal investigations.



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