Gun rights rally takes aim at Pennsylvania House Democrats' new majority

GREELEY, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 09: Hand guns are displayed in a store during the Rod of Iron Freedom Festival on October 09, 2022 in Greeley, Pennsylvania. The three-day event, organized by Kahr Arms/Tommy Gun Warehouse and Rod of Iron Ministries, h

Organizers warned at an annual gun rights rally at the Pennsylvania Capitol on Monday that with a slim Democratic majority in the House, there could be more attempts to pass gun control measures, weeks after Democrats narrowly advanced the first gun control legislation in years that Republicans criticized as attempts to "dwindle away at our Second Amendment rights."

Gun rights supporters "begrudgingly" find themselves at a disadvantage with Democrats empowered by a one-vote majority in the House, said one of the event's organizers, Rep. Abby Major, a Republican from Armstrong County.

"Expect more and more attempts to take away your rights this year," she told about a hundred attendees gathered on the Capitol steps.

Last month, the House advanced two pieces of gun legislation that would allow authorities to temporarily seize firearms and expand background checks for gun buyers.

Democrats have described the proposals as relatively moderate measures to cut down on gun trafficking, suicide deaths, accidental shootings and day-to-day violence. Republicans oppose the bills, saying they punish law-abiding gun owners.

The bills face strong headwinds in the Republican-controlled Senate, with Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro previously calling on the lawmakers to send the legislation to his desk.

Adam Garber, executive director of CeaseFire PA, the state’s leading gun violence prevention organization, called the bills that passed the House "lifesaving."

"Pennsylvanians want solutions to a gun violence crisis that has spiraled out of control," he said, "and our elected officials should focus on what is going to keep firearms away from people who want to hurt themselves or others."

The legislation came as the U.S. is setting a record pace for mass killings in 2023, and as the state's largest city grapples with rising gun violence.

In Philadelphia — where in 2022 there were 473 shooting fatalities and 1,789 nonfatal shooting victims, according to city statistics — gun violence took center stage in the recent Democratic primary for mayor. The city is asking the state’s highest court to allow it to impose its own gun-control policies. At the rally, advocates of gun rights said it was even more important for citizens to be armed.

"The Second Amendment is dear to us," said Jerel Crew, co-founder a gun safety training Philadelphia-based organization That Gun Talk. "I don’t want to kill anyone, but I want to be able to go home. And I want you to be able to go home to your families. Our city is a mess right now."

State Sen. Cris Dush, a Republican from Jefferson County, dismissed the notion the bills are a matter of common sense.

"Radical progressives want us to believe the government can protect us and we should willingly surrender our God-given right to keep and bear arms," he said. "I say no way. Our sacred right to arm and protect ourselves, our loved ones and our property is non-negotiable, and we will defend it."

The annual Right to Keep and Bear Arms rally saw about a hundred attendees its 17th year, organizers said. Last year, the event saw potentially its slimmest turnout for an event that historically has drawn hundreds of people, at times packing the Capitol’s Rotunda.