Gov. Shapiro, House Democrats pressure Senate Republicans to greenlight gun reform bills

Gov. Josh Shapiro visited East Lansdowne to rally support for what he called “common sense” gun reform which faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

Governor Josh Shapiro speaks at a podium.

Governor Josh Shapiro joined House Democrats and local law enforcement leaders in Delaware County on June 2, 2023 to rally support for gun reform bills that have advanced to the state Senate. (Courtesy of Commonwealth Media Services)

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Six months into his first term, Gov. Josh Shapiro is dialing up the pressure on the Pennsylvania Senate to pass a couple of gun reform bills.

“Let me be very clear. Here is how we can support law enforcement and have safer communities. We can pass legislation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who would use it to inflict damage on others,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro stood alongside House Democrats and local law enforcement outside of East Lansdowne Borough Hall on Friday touting the two gun reform bills, which the Democratic-controlled House passed in May with the support of several Republicans.

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“Their actions were brave and bold and will save lives. Their actions were also common sense,” Shapiro said.

The two bills were initially a package of four, but the state House voted down one and another failed to receive a vote. The two surviving pieces of gun reform legislation, which took over a decade to get approval in the state House, must now make it through the Republican-controlled state Senate.

“These two bills are important steps towards a safer Pennsylvania,” state Rep. Gina Curry said.

One is a “red flag” or extreme risk protections bill, which would empower law enforcement to take away the guns of someone the court deems a threat to others or themselves. The second bill would end the “gun show loophole” and allow for universal background checks — something that even a handful of local Republicans, like former state Rep. Chris Quinn, have pushed for in the past.

For state Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, the extreme risk protections bill has a personal connection.

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“In 2003, we lost my dad to gun suicide. He was a career firefighter in Philadelphia. I have been the prime sponsor of extreme risk protection orders for the last five years because I fundamentally believe that this is a tool that we can put into place to prevent deaths like my dad’s,” O’Mara said.

Shapiro’s trip to Delaware County served as a call to action to get the bills to his desk.

“It’s time next week, the opportunity for the Senate to return to Harrisburg, pass these critical bills, and ensure gun safety throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” state Rep. Perry Warren said.

Gun control advocates have been pushing for such legislation for years, but before 2023, the bills did not stand a chance in Harrisburg, where the GOP previously controlled both chambers of the General Assembly.

But even with a slim majority in the state House, it is still far from certain whether any gun bill can survive the state Senate. The National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm has already spoken out against Pennsylvania’s latest round of gun reform proposals.

Before any legislation can go for a vote, it must first make it through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I’ll be candid with you. I’ve been pretty pessimistic in recent years that Harrisburg can come together and get this done. The reason I wanted to assemble today with these fine leaders is because I want to express to you just how hopeful I am right now, how I believe we can get this done,” Shapiro said.

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