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Open Carry Laws At Pa. Polls At Center Of Controversy Heading Into November Election

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The stakes are high this presidential election, and so are the passions about several of the issues surrounding it.

This includes whether people can bring their guns to the polls. The open carry of a firearm is legal in Pennsylvania, but the controversy doesn't end there.

According to a recent study, Pennsylvania is one of five battleground states with no restrictions against the right to open carry at the polls. Gun advocates say it's for self-defense but others worry about their own protection.

"It's really important that people understand that you have a right to defend yourself, whether that's at a polling place or downtown. That's why we have these rights and laws," said Kim Stolfer from Firearm Owners Against Crime.

Few presidential elections have ever been as hotly contested, and local law enforcement is preparing for Election Day unrest. Stolfer says citizens are within their rights to open carry at the polls for their own self-defense.

"Considering the vitriol and the craziness going on, there's very likely going to be some disruption," Stolfer said. "So why would a person not have that right?"

But gun-control advocates worry about the protection of unarmed voters and say that right is not unlimited.

"It's legal to open carry your firearm. What's not legal is voter intimidation," said Adam Garber from CeaseFirePA

Pennsylvania law is clear: local government can't institute their own restrictions.

"No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms," according to Pennsylvania's Firearm Preemption Laws.

But Garber says those who open carry can't brandish a weapon or otherwise intimidate.

"If you have a permit and you're going to take your weapon to vote and leave, so be it, that's legal under the law. If you're going to hang outside the polling location with a firearm, potentially scaring off people that are trying to exercise their democratic right and duty, that is not allowed," said Garber.

And here in Allegheny County, there is one major restriction. About half of our polling places are in schools and District Attorney Stephen Zappala's office says prohibitions against bringing guns into school buildings still apply, even though Stolfer disagrees.

"He says he will prosecute those people, but that doesn't make it lawful because a Pennsylvania law says for any lawful purpose," Stolfer said.

Stolfer says his group is considering a legal challenge to DAs who ban open carry at school buildings, but other people might be relieved not to stand in line behind someone with an open gun on their hip.

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