Reports, Gun Hearing in PA House, Rally Calls for More Laws

HARRISBURG – WHTM is reporting… The State House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on preventing gun violence in a decade, bringing hundreds of supporters together, hopeful that changes could finally be coming.  Gun control rallies aren’t new and were mostly ignored by the Republican-controlled legislature. But now, Democrats control the House.  New Pennsylvania Rep. Venkat is an emergency room doctor who has treated gunshot victims but says his fix wouldn’t take firearms away from law-abiding owners.  “I want red flag laws, safe storage laws requirements on reporting lost and stolen firearms, and closing any background check loopholes,” Venkat said.  Republicans say Democrats’ singular obsession with guns ignores the broader causes of violence and solutions to address it.  And Republicans argue that more enforcement is better than more laws.

“Pennsylvania has one of the most stringent gun background check laws in the entire country,” said Jason Gottesman, House GOP spokesman. “We would say that they need to be taking tough on crime laws, we already have gun laws already on the books and take them seriously. You have prosecutors in Philadelphia who have been instructed to not prosecute gun crimes.”  And there’s Pennsylvania’s constitution, which provides more protective gun rights than the United States Constitution.  “I don’t think there’s a constitutional barrier to this, I think it’s a matter of political will,” Venkat added.  So the gun question in Harrisburg — which has new members, new leaders, and a sympathetic governor — can political will bend to the motherly wail?  While many remain frustrated as the debate continues inside the capitol, the death toll continues to mount outside of it.

HARRISBURG – PennLive is reporting… Hundreds of advocates for tighter gun laws rallied Thursday in Harrisburg, demanding action on a slate of bills that were described as common-sense measures to combat violence committed with firearms.  Thursday’s rally capitalized on a changing of the guard in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where Democrats gained a slim majority this year and thus control of the gavel in the House Judiciary Committee — where a Republican majority had previously scuttled gun legislation.  “We had a majority chairman for the last four years that outright said under his leadership no gun legislation was going to be even discussed,” Judiciary Chairman Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, told rally-goers Thursday, referring to Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin.

“What did we do?” Briggs posed. “We took over the House.”Briggs’ committee was to meet for a hearing on gun legislation Thursday afternoon. Citizens organized by March for Our Lives, CeaseFire PA, and other groups spent much of Thursday morning circulating through the capitol, trying to get meetings with legislators and handing out materials on the gun proposals they support. “I believe there is more hope at this point that at least we’ll have legislation brought out of committee,” said Ginny Mazzei of Columbia County, a sentiment shared among other advocates. “We’ve been fighting for years and we’re so encouraged,” said Lori Swensson of Pittsburgh. “It looks like they might get something done.”

Assuming the tighter gun laws generally favored by Democrats make it through the House, support in the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate remains less clear. But Thursday’s attendees hailed from around the state, even from more rural, conservative areas where they said the tone has changed more recently. “It’s not a big city issue anymore, it’s moved into small towns and rural communities,” said Heather Hackenberg of Montour County, citing growing gun suicide rates in rural areas. “I think they’re at least willing to have the conversation because it has hit them,” Hackenberg said of her more conservative neighbors.

Advocacy groups are specifically backing four pieces of legislation, according to literature handed out Thursday, which include:

A safe storage law that would require guns to be secured with some sort of locking device when not in use.  Requiring owners to make a report to law enforcement if a gun is lost or stolen.  The establishment of “extreme risk protection orders,” often called “red flag” laws, which allow judges to order the temporary confiscation of a person’s firearms if they are found to be a danger to themselves or others.  Requiring background checks to be performed on all gun sales, even the sale of long guns between parties who are not licensed dealers, where background checks are currently not mandated.  Gov. Josh Shapiro has also expressed support for a wide swath of gun legislation, including the above measures.

Attorney General Michelle Henry was also asked about some legislation during a Senate budget hearing Thursday morning, telling Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks, that she would be supportive of a mandatory reporting law for lost or stolen guns.  “It really helps law enforcement to be able to know where the guns started,” and figure out where they subsequently went, Henry said.  Dozens of people who had lost loved ones to gun violence spoke at Thursday’s rally; groups of students described having to lock down classrooms as gunshots rang out near their schools  “A mother’s weeps and pleas cannot continue to fall on deaf ears,” said Jeani Garcia of Allentown, whose son was murdered with a gun in 2012.

Garcia said the gun had been acquired via a straw purchase, in which someone buys a gun specifically to re-sell it to another person who would not be able to pass a background check. Stolen guns, as well as those sold without a background check, circulate widely in her community, Garcia said, prompting her advocacy for safe storage laws and stricter background checks.  “I think they get the message mixed up,” Garcia said of some lawmakers. “I’m not against guns, I’m for background checks. Owning a car has more rules than owning a gun in Pennsylvania, and that’s scary.”.

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