This year, dozens of states have passed significant gun bills. Pa. isn’t one of them

But lawmakers and advocates are pushing for changes

  • Ed Mahon

Update: The state House and state Senate both passed House Bill 2060, the bill to increase gun restrictions in domestic violence cases. On Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf said he will sign the bill. Meanwhile, the “red-flag” bill, House Bill 2227, hasn’t come up for a full vote in the House.

 

In recent days, with the legislative session nearing its end, one gun rights group in Pennsylvania has been pushing to stop two gun bills.

One would increase gun restrictions in domestic violence and protection-from-abuse cases, and another “red-flag”bill would allow a judge to temporarily remove someone’s gun rights.

“The gun control insanity that has gripped much of our nation has finally raised its’ ugly head here in PA,” Firearms Owners Against Crime wrote on its Facebook page this weekend.

On Monday, members of the group were in the state Capitol, lobbying lawmakers.

Meanwhile, about 100 people — most wearing red Moms Demand Action T-shirts — had gathered in the Capitol rotunda, urging passage of the domestic violence legislation, House Bill 2060.

“Today better be the day. These victims are counting on us,” Marybeth Stanton Christiansen, Pennsylvania legislative lead for Moms Demands Action, told the crowd.

The debate over the domestic violence gun bill is part of a larger one in Pennsylvania — one that has been stuck in a sort of stalemate.

It’s a different story in dozens of other states, where significant gun bills have passed. But Pennsylvania — with its large Republican majorities in the General Assembly and its Democratic governor — was one of seven states where a Legislature that was in session didn’t pass any type of gun bill, The Associated Press found in a nationwide survey.

The survey examined the success of efforts to increase gun restrictions, following the Valentine’s Day shooting at a Florida high school that left 14 students and three staff members dead.

Legislatures in 39 states either imposed restrictions or expanded gun rights, according to the Associated Press analysis.

For instance, the AP data shows:

  • Tennessee enacted the most gun bills of any state: 12. Most expanded gun rights, including one to allow county commissioners with permits to carry handguns in buildings where their meetings are held. Another allowed local law enforcement agencies to offer gun safety classes to elementary school students, as long as they don’t use live ammunition or live fire. But the state also expanded the definition of domestic violence crimes that result in the loss of gun rights.
  • Florida passed the most comprehensive gun-control measures of states dominated by Republicans. Legislation there created a three-day waiting period for gun purchases and raised the purchasing age from 18 to 21.
  • Nine states banned bump stocks — devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to mimic the firing speed of automatic weapons (bump stocks were attached to the guns of the Las Vegas mass shooter in October 2017). Those states are Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
  • Eight states enacted “red-flag” laws, creating procedures for law enforcement to seize guns from people considered a risk to themselves or others. Those states are Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont. Similar legislation passed in Maine but was vetoed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has called on lawmakers to pass a number of proposals dealing with gun violence.

In addition to the new restrictions on firearms in domestic violence cases, he has supported measures to ban bump stocks, expand background checks and create a new “red-flag” emergency order.

Those measures haven’t reached him.

Meanwhile, he has threatened to veto legislation backed by the National Rifle Association aimed at preventing cities and other municipalities from passing their own gun ordinances.

The lack of action in Pennsylvania comes despite days of hearings on gun bills last April and some votes.

Kim Stolfer, president of Firearms Owners Against Crime, said “anti-gun groups” have stood in the way of passing legislation his organization supports.

As for why there haven’t been more gun restrictions passed, Stolfer said: “Our Legislature has, in my opinion, a better understanding of the fact that gun control is an utter failure.”

 

Kim Stolfer, president of Firearms Owners Against Crime, was at the state Capitol on Sept. 24, 2018, to lobby against two gun bills.

Ed Mahon / PA Post

Kim Stolfer, president of Firearms Owners Against Crime, was at the state Capitol on Sept. 24, 2018, to lobby against two gun bills.

This past Monday’s rally focused on a bill that would require people convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence to relinquish guns within 24 hours, instead of 60 days.

It would also require defendants with final protection-from-abuse orders against them to give up guns, although supporters of the measure created an exception for defendants who reach a consent agreement with the alleged victim.

Under federal law, it’s already illegal for people with a final protective order against them to possess a gun. But there have been multiple cases of defendants still having access to guns and using them to kill.

A vote on the bill is expected today.

At Monday’s rally, multiple speakers emphasized their support of gun rights. The NRA is neutral on the proposal, according to its backers.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Marguerite Quinn of Bucks County, talked about enrolling in a hunter safety course as a teenager. Rep. Fred Keller, a Republican from Snyder County, talked about how he’s a member of the National Rifle Association and the owner of semi-automatic rifles.

“Every right has a responsibility,” Keller told the crowd.

Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, which supports increased gun restrictions, said the domestic violence focus is one reason the bill has come close to becoming law. But she said the measure also shows how effective activism can be for other bills related to guns.

Moms Demand Action said the outreach efforts this month included six billboards across the state, airplane banners in western and central Pennsylvania, and multiple news conferences.

Rep. Todd Stephens, a Montgomery County Republican and former prosecutor, was one of the lawmakers who spoke at the rally in support of the domestic violence gun measure. He’s also the prime sponsor of House Bill 2227, which would allow a judge to temporarily ban someone from possessing a gun.

The NRA opposes his bill, Stephens said. So does Firearms Owners Against Crime, which says these types of laws lead law-abiding people to lose their guns after “an Orwellian SECRET hearing.”

That’s a reference to the ex parte proceeding, where the court can issue a temporary order. A final hearing is then supposed to take place within 10 days, unless the defendant requests a continuance. And a defendant would have the opportunity to participate at the hearing for a final order, which can last up to one year, Stephens has said.

Stephens recently said he was “looking forward to having a robust discussion with my colleagues” during a caucus session. He was hoping to deal with all the amendments and have the bill voted out of the House within a week.

He said similar efforts in other states have led to a reduction in suicides by gun.

“As that conversation continues about the public health benefits of extreme risk protection orders, I think support also continues to grow,” Stephens said.

Deb Marteslo, volunteer leader of the Pennsylvania chapter of Moms Demand Action, was in the state Capitol in Harrisburg on Sept. 24, 2018.