Gun control measures advance in Pennsylvania state House
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Democrats advanced four gun-control bills in Pennsylvania's state House of Representatives on Wednesday, after years of a virtual standstill on legislation amid a politically divided government.
The bills passed through committee on party lines. They could go before the full House as early as next week.
The measures come as the U.S. is setting a record pace for mass killings in 2023. In Philadelphia, gun violence is playing a big role in this spring’s campaign for mayor, and the city is asking the state's highest court to allow it to impose its own gun-control policies.
Democrats tout the bills as relatively moderate gun-control measures aimed at reducing gun violence, trafficking, suicides and accidents.
(Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)
The bills emerged from the committee barely three months into the Democrats' one-seat control of the House after a dozen years of Republican majorities.
For advocates of tighter gun laws this was a long time coming.
The package of four bills includes one to require long-barreled firearms to be sold with trigger locks. A second requires gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm to police within three days. Repeat offenders would face a misdemeanor charge.
Philadelphia State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta says the lost and stole bill targets those who traffic in firearms. "Get weapons legally and sell those weapons. We have to crack down and this is a huge step."
"Will this save lives in your district?" asked FOX 29’s Jeff Cole.
"This will save countless lives, I believe," Kenyatta answered.
A third bill would expand background checks on firearms buyers in Pennsylvania and end an exception for private sales of shotguns, sporting rifles and semi-automatic rifles, known as the "gun show" loophole.
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The fourth, a so-called red flag bill, would allow a judge to order authorities to temporarily seize firearms from someone if asked by family members or police. Nineteen states have similar laws, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, an anti-gun violence organization.
State Representative Jennifer O’Mara’s father, a Philadelphia firefighter, took his life with a gun when she was 13. She’s offered the bill to temporarily take guns from those who would hurt themselves and others. "We lose more first responders to suicide than we do in the line of duty both here and nationally. This is a tool we can put in place to help people in crisis."
Ahead of the committee's votes, Rep. Tim Briggs, a Democrat from Montgomery County, said it was no longer an option to do nothing.
"We have a responsibility to protect our children, our neighbors, our schools, our houses of worship, our business, people in crisis and our law enforcement communities from the dangers of gun crimes of violence," he said. "Today is a first step. I assure you it will not be the last."
Republicans, who voted jointly against the measures, raised concerns about exactly whom they would affect. Rep. Rob Kauffman of Franklin County, said the legislation didn't get to the root of the problem.
"If folks are using guns illegally, they're doubtfully going to be going through the law-abiding process to acquire that gun," he said as the committee weighed the background check bill. "I appreciate the intent but it seems to be a lot of symbolism over actual substance."
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The Pennsylvania Legislature, long controlled by Republicans, has not seriously considered broadening gun-control measures since 2018. With a newfound one-seat Democratic majority in the House, the chamber kicked off this session’s debate over gun violence with a hearing in March.
Even if the bills win House approval, the package will come up against the Republican-controlled Senate, which has historically been protective of gun rights, while working with Democrats in boosting funding for anti-violence and mental health programs.
"Gun control, at the end of the day, is about disarming their political opposition. That's what you just saw in there," stated Chris Dorr with the Pa. Firearms Association.
Representative David Rowe, a Republican from Union County, said, "Criminals don't follow laws and these bills only impact law-abiding citizens. You're from Philly and we're seeing skyrocketing murder rates and crime."